Bargaining is not an option in China…it’s the rule. For some travelers it’s a game while others consider it the worst part of shopping. Whatever your take on bargaining in China, there are a few rules you can follow to make things easier on yourself.
1. Decide What You’re Willing to Pay Before You Bargain
The best way to avoid disappointment when you’re shopping in China is to decide the price you are willing to pay. Don’t worry about what others paid – this is a recipe for disaster.
Just remember a few things when you determine your price:
- Name brands that you can bargain for are fake. Therefore, don’t let the name brand fool you into raising its value.
- If the same shirt would cost you $10 at home, you can probably get it for 25%-50% of the cost in China.
2. Start the Bidding, Don’t Ask the Price
Most China travel websites tell you to ask the price and then counter-bid at a fraction of the price. You can do this, but there is a better way.
Instead of asking the price, begin by offering 50% of your price (see #1 above). This usually puts the seller off guard and forces them to counter-bid. Work your way up to the price you’re comfortable with and then make the purchase.
3. Be Prepared to Walk Away
One of the most popular and used techniques in Chinese bargaining is the “walkaway”. If the seller isn’t getting down to the highest price you’re willing to pay, walk away.
Of course, you have to be willing to not purchase the item (or return with your tail tucked between your legs). Often, however, the seller will call you back and either agree to your price or restart the bidding process.
4. Don’t Empathize with the Seller
Getting chummy with a seller doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get a better price. In fact, it often works in their favor because subconsciously you don’t want to hurt this seller by cheating them out of money.
Get one thing straight: sellers will never sell at a loss. It doesn’t matter what they say or how mad they act, if they sell, they are making a profit. You have to be able to distance yourself from the seller enough to “hurt” them by getting the price you want.
5. Bring Small Bills
One of the most successful tactics used in bargaining is to determine what you’re willing to pay for an item and to put only that amount of cash in your wallet.
When the seller bids you higher you just take out your wallet, count your money in front of them and say “I only have 50RMB…that’s the highest I can go”. They’ll see that it’s either sell at that price or lose the sale, and most of the time they’ll bite (as long as it’s still profitable for them).
Don’t have cash? Usually these shopping centers have a nearby Chinese ATM.
Also, it’s a good idea to use small bills anyway. The use of large denominations is just begging for people to give you back fake bills.
Questions about money in China?
Download my FREE, 24-page Expat Guide to Banking in China, which goes even more in-depth on money matters in the Middle Kingdom!
6. Enjoy Yourself!
Some people consider bargaining a chore, but if done right it can actually be enjoyable. Give yourself plenty of time to shop (don’t do it last minute!) and figure out what you want to buy and your budget.
Once these things are set, the process can be…dare I say…fun.