10 Tips on how to bargain in China

Once in China, a lot of foreigners have to get used to the bargaining practices that are needed at a market place. It speaks for itself that it would be a wise move to take along a Chinese acquaintance when strolling a market for the first time. However, if you decide to dive into the deep all by yourself, this blog offers some tips and tricks that are evident for Chinese market shopping.

Tip 1: Do not bark to a horse
A first problem a foreigner might encounter in bargaining is the language. Although a fraction of the vendors will be able to count in English, they will only display this skill when it is in their advantage. Therefore, make sure that you are able to count in Mandarin. If this sounds too ambitious, it is useful to use your phone/calculator to show them your bargaining proposals.

Tip 2: Haggling: all that glitters is not gold!
Chinese markets are full of impressive and beautiful products. However, the monetary value of those products is often lower than it appears. Therefore, it is important to assume that the first price set by the vendor is way higher than ‘appropriate.’ Provisionally, it is advisable to set your counter-offer on 15-25% in most cases. And on any occasion, decide for yourself what you are willing to pay for a particular product (set a mental price before even starting the negotiation).

Above this, set your price lower than the price you are willing to pay. Stating your desired price as your first offer and endlessly repeating it will not be useful, whereas the vendor will expect your initial offer to be followed by further offers. This process goes on and on until a compromise is being met. It might seem frustrating and time consuming, but these are the rules of the game.

Blog haggling

Tip 3: Play it cool
To become emotional during the negotiations serves no purpose. It can be argued that showing emotions is interpreted as a weakness, and will definitely not add to the success of your deal. On the one hand, getting angry will probably merely entertain the vendor. And on the other hand, showing clear affection for a product will stimulate the vendor to keep his/her price high.

Tip 4: Dance the Capoeira
As previously mentioned, it is not desirable to show overt emotions in the negotiation procedure. An effective metaphor to describe an effective way of bargaining is dancing the Capoeira (Schlie & Young). This Brazilian phenomenon suggests a balance between fighting and dancing. The capoeiristas engage in athletic dance movements, during which they continuously explore their strengths and weaknesses.  In the context of bargaining the same game is played. It is a process of testing, but avoiding full confrontation at any time.

Tip 5: Stab with the competitor’s knife
A lot of market stands will sell the same (or at least similar) products. Therefore, it is a smart move to negotiate prices at several stands before engaging in an actual deal. Moreover, if your Mandarin language skills allow it, the technique of stabbing with a competitor’s knife is an effective way to improve your bargaining position: “The vendor around the corner sells its products at a lower price, so why should I buy it from you?”  In effect, this does not necessarily have to be true; bluffing is a widely accepted bargaining technique!

Tip 6: Buy tuna before caviar
When going to the market for the first time, it is advisable to first sharpen your negotiation skills on relatively cheap products. In this way, you are not only enabled to familiarize with the (body) language that is used during the negotiations, but also to make an estimate on how high (or low, as you will) you should set your bargaining proposals (see tip 6).

Tip 7: Be aware of the location of the market
If the market is located near places that are crowded by tourists, take the notion into account that the local vendors are thriving on ‘greenhorn’ foreign customers. This causes the prices to often be set ridiculously high. Therefore, at these places you should step away from the previously stated 15-25% rule, and bargain an even lower percentage of the original price.

Tip 8: Don’t show your cards!
A big no-no at Chinese markets is opening your wallet to see how much money you carry. Not only is it dangerous to flaunt your cash in any busy market street (consider thieves and other frauds), but it also indicates to the vendor that you have decided to buy something. Basically, this means that the he or she will be less tempted to lower the price of a product. Next to this, when vendors see a large amount of money in your wallet, they will use this as an argument in the bargaining ‘dance.’

Tip 9: Walk away!
One of the most efficient bargaining tools is to move away from the vendor. It will indicate that you are on the verge of leaving the negotiation due to a price that is too high. Make sure that your pace is slow, and you will notice that every step away from the counter is worth money.

Tip 10: The vendor always wins
In many instances of a purchase from a market, the buyer will walk away with a feeling of frustration when having bought a product for a particular price. Of course, it is true that in most cases the buyer could have reached a better bargain. However, no matter how low favorable a deal seems to be, the vendor will always make a profit and therefore will always win the game. Therefore, feelings of frustration are often based upon air and unnecessary.

In conclusion, although it is advisable to bring an insider on your first Chinese market shopping adventures, you can apply the tips offered in this blog to ensure a successful bargaining experience. It speaks for itself that there are many more tips and tricks concerning this issue. Therefore, it would be highly appreciated if there are people experienced on bargaining prices in China could add some suggestions in the comments sections.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.

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