One of the best things about living and teaching in China is the abundance of markets and local places to do your shopping.
However, many of them are missing something you’ll be used to seeing back home: price tags.
Bartering is a big part of the shopping experience in China and, for many people, half of the fun. However, as a foreigner, you’re a prime target for getting ripped off.
Lessen the chances of this happening with some of our handy tips for bartering in China.
Care less, win more
It’s probably best we start with the single most important thing to remember when bartering in China, or anywhere else in the world.
Whoever cares least about the transaction is in the position of power. If this isn’t you, you need to at least act like it is.
Never be enthusiastic about the item. Be aloof, look interested in other stalls, and show how easy it would be for you to walk away.
Walk away, get called back
If your vendor isn’t giving you the price you feel is fair and the negotiation is going nowhere, be prepared to walk away.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the deal is dead. In fact, it’s often used as part of the bartering process. A vendor seeing a potential sale walking away can cause a change of heart and a sudden price drop.
If it doesn’t, just keep walking, happy that you haven’t overpaid for the item you were looking at.
Know your price, go in low
Before starting to barter in China, you should always know how much you’d be prepared to pay for the item and commit to not going over it.
When asking how much something is, expect the opening price to be very high. Your counter offer should be somewhere around a third, or even a quarter, of this.
The final price will usually be a little higher, but remember: you will never, ever buy for lower than your first offer, so always go in low.
Learn some words, gain respect
Vendors in Chinese markets will never expect you to speak fluent Chinese, but a few words and phrases can go a long way.
Asking how much in Chinese, duo shao qian?, means making a good first impression, and exclaiming an item to be too expensive, tai gui le!, can help to bring the price down.
Offers and counter offers will usually be made by keying numbers into a calculator, but some basic Chinese, and of course a smile, can help keep these numbers low.
Deal with people, everyone wins
Although bartering in China can be a serious business, it’s important to remember that the vendor is a person too.
While nobody likes to get ripped off, there’s no reason to drive people into the ground over amounts of money that are insignificant to your living circumstances.
Yes, vendors are professionals, and will try every trick in the book to squeeze every last bit of cash from you, but some reading of the situation goes a long way in ensuring you can both win.
Barter hard for your 200rmb saving on the fake designer handbag in the tourist market. But don’t argue with the old lady on your street for a 2rmb discount on your vegetables.
Bartering in China is as much a part of everyday life as eating and sleeping.
We recommend getting used to it, getting good at it, and knowing when and when not to do it.