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Bargaining in China

Bargaining is acceptable in markets and some shops in Beijing. Expensive shops in Wangfujing with (real) designer labels will probably not do so at all, but it’s de rigeur in markets like Panjiayuan and Xiushuijie, and wherever you are, it won’t offend anyone if you ask.

Bargaining in China can be great fun when you’re in the mood, and saves you a lot of money. On the other hand sometimes it’s a right pain in the neck to go through the charade. To survive, and for the best results, you have to smile and do your best to enjoy it. The whole thing is often a bit of a pantomime. Ham it up and you can’t go too far wrong.

The first thing you need to work out is roughly how much you are prepared to pay for something. If you’re getting it for a tenth of what it would cost at home, then it probably won’t matter to you if you’re paying 20% more than someone with better negotiation skills would. On the other hand, in some places it won’t be any cheaper than home if you don’t bargain a little.

As a very rough guide, the seller’s first asking price will be somewhere between three and ten times what they expect to get. More in touristy places like the Yaxiu (Yashow) market in Sanlitun, less on random fruit markets where there aren’t many white faces.

In most places the vendor will whip out a handy calculator to type the prices on – feel free to grab it and type a much lower figure.

Chinese Bargaining Technique:

  • Smile always, even laugh when the seller tells you the price. Don’t get angry.
  • Don’t name a price unless you absolutely have to. Just keep saying the vendor’s price is too expensive.
  • Don’t worry if the vendor seems annoyed – it’s all part of the act.
  • If you can’t get the price you want, walk away. If the vendor calls you back it’s because they’re willing to negotiate. If they don’t then try somewhere else.
  • Don’t act nervous or shy. When you ask a price you know they’re not going to accept, say it like you think they will.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to labels. In places with fake goods, prices on labels are often ridiculously high.

If you’re in place where the vendors are used to foreigners then the negotiations will probably carried out in Chinglish (see the examples below), but even in this situation a few well versed Chinese phrases can be a great help.

Chinese Bargaining Example:

If you come across a vendor with good Chinglish, then the negotiations will probably pan out thus:

Vendor: You like this dress? Good quality. You say how much?

You: Umm, I don’t know. Lowest price how much?

Vendor: Lowest price 500 Chinese dollar.

You: Haha (pantomime laugh). 500 dollars too expensive. Cheaper please

Vendor: OK, you say how much? (Don’t say a price until you have to!)

You: No, no, you say how much? Lowest price how much?

Vendor: OK, best price 450 dollar, OK?

You: Haha, no no that is toooo much. Real lowest price how much?

Vendor: OK, ok, lowest lowest price 400 dollar, no profit!

If the vendor is being slow like this, it’s time to say a price. But don’t say the price you’ve been thinking of! Cut it down by at least 50%. So you want to pay about 100Y for that dress:

You: OK, (looking exasperated and very serious) best price 50 Chinese dollars.

Vendor: 50 dollar? OK 150 dollar. OK?

You: OK, 75 dollars.

Vendor: OK, 100 dollars. No profit.

Bingo! You got the frock, and you saved yourself 400RMB which you can now spend on a taxi to Houhai, about ten beers and a cheap hotpot.

Secret Bargaining Tips and Handy Chinese Phrases:

  • Don’t be afraid to flirt or befriend a little. Ask the person their name, chat them up a bit.
  • Make a few jokes – check out our handy phrases.

How much is this/that? Zhè/Nà ge duōshăo qián? 这/那个多少钱

Too expensive! Tài guìle 太贵了

I’m not American/Japanese! Wǒ búshì Mĕiguórén/Rìbĕnrén! 我不是美国人/日本人!
(ie, I’m not going to pay that much. They’re not going to check your passport.)

Oh! China’s more expensive than Canada! Aìya! Zhōngguó bĭ Jiānádà hái guì 哎呀,中国比加拿大还贵!

Can you make it cheaper? Kĕyi piányì yì diăn ma? 可以便宜一点吗

Or just ‘make it cheaper’ Piányì yì diăn 便宜一点

How about … Yuan ... yuán xíng ma? ... 元行吗?

What’s that? Nà shì shénme? 那是什么?

Are there larger sizes? Yǒu méiyǒu dà hào? 有没有大号?

For more cunning Chinese language phrases, see the phrase book.


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