In a typical Chinese market, you won’t find many price tags. The seller may adjust the asking price as he or she sees fit, and the bargaining can begin.
Haggling for the price is common in Chinese markets, no matter if for clothing, household items, electronics, jewelry, or any kind of knickknack and souvenirs. Bargaining is definitely a must in markets geared toward tourists.
With the right knowledge you can confidently approach bargaining and get a good price.
Here are my top 5 tips for bargaining in a Chinese market:
1. Know how much an item is worth beforehand
The starting asking price will often be much higher than the actual value of the item, so it is essential to know how much something should cost. I sometimes check out products online on Taobao or Amazon to get a sense for the price range. You can also try to listen in and observe what other people, ideally locals, are paying.
When trying to figure out a reasonable price, keep in mind that many brands at those markets are fake – although some do look exactly the same as the original. Makes you wonder…
2. Always smile and be friendly
But don’t get lulled in by the friendliness of the seller, it is part of the sales game. For them, getting the customer to laugh and to like them on a personal level can result in a better price. Laugh with them. Just don’t be disappointed if the smile of your new friend drops as soon as he realizes you are not buying from him.
3. Don’t name your price too early
Wait for the seller to drop their price, which they will do only in small increments. If you have to name a price, build in enough room upwards, so after a few more times going back and forth you will end up at your target, not above.
4. Be prepared to walk away
If you don’t like the price you are given, don’t be afraid to walk away. Many stores offer the same goods, so you can try again elsewhere. Even if you can’t find a better price for the same item, you can always come back.
Walking away is especially effective in tourist markets, where there is quite some room to negotiate. I recently looked at a pair of shoes at Yashao market with a starting price of around 650 RMB, when I walked away, the price kept dropping to eventually 150 RMB. If I had gone back, I might have been able to get the price down even further. I didn’t because the shoe was not comfortable (a concept the salesperson did not want to understand…).
5. Keep a positive attitude and thick skin
As soon as you ask for the price of an item, the seller will consider you a serious buyer and will not let up, even follow you or pull your sleeve. Just stay calm and friendly. Take your time to look around and don’t let yourself get pressured.
And a few more things…
Some people may ask: So how much can you negotiate a price down? Well, in markets geared towards tourists, a reasonable price for some goods sold there may be only a quarter or less of the first asking price. In other locations, you may not be able to get more than a 10 or 20% discount. There is no hard rule – you have to go through the process and apply the bargaining tips above.
But one important thing in my opinion is to not lose your perspective when bargaining. There is no point in driving the hardest bargain possible with an old lady selling some embroidery, only so you can brag about saving a few cents. Lowering the price by another 10 RMB may be a bragging win for you, but for the seller 10 kuai may mean a big bowl of noodles.
And one more parting note. Fruit and vegetable markets are a bit different because they are geared towards locals and usually have the price per pound written on a little cardboard sign. The produce is already very cheap and the sellers seem to be making only a very simple living. So I think there is no reason to drive a bargain here. But sometimes you can get a small item free if you buy other things, e.g. I often get some cilantro free with my veggie purchase.