Haggling in street markets and smaller shops is a part of everyday life in China. As a tourist you will be marked out as someone who might pay over the odds for something. Try to shop around a bit to get an idea of prices first, and stick to your guns when you haggle. Keep good humoured and have some fun, but respect that the vendors are trying to make a living.
Know when to haggle and when not to. Before you start haggling, you should get an idea about where it is appropriate and where it is not. Haggling is a big part of shopping in China, but it is not acceptable everywhere. Street vendors, open air markets and smaller independent shops will all be happy to haggle with you. Large stores and chain stores in malls, supermarkets and other places with fixed prices will not be prepared to haggle.
It is sometimes possible to haggle in smaller hotels. You can see if they will lower the price if you stay for an extended period.
You cannot generally haggle in restaurants, but it may be possible if you are in a large group.
Have a look around. Once you have found a suitable venue, such as an open air market, be sure to take a good look around before you get engaged in any haggling. Doing this will enable you to get a clearer picture of how things work. Pay attention to prices, and do some mental price comparisons as you walk around.
Don’t get drawn into any haggling until you are confident you have an idea of average prices.
Being able to say that you can buy the same thing for a third of the price around the corner will help you haggle.
Bear in mind that the marked prices may not be a fair reflection of the item’s value.
Ensure you have some small denomination notes. Before you approach a vendor, it’s sensible to make sure that you are carrying some small denomination currency and you have a good idea of how much cash you have on you. If the vendor catches sight of a high denomination note, you can expect the price to rise accordingly.
Keep your small change and larger notes separate and always pay with the small change.
If you are keeping your small change in your wallet or purse, put your larger notes somewhere else so there is no risk of the vendor seeing them.
Have a clear idea of how much you will pay. Once you have had a look around and sorted out your money, you should try to mentally come up with a rough figure for how much you are prepared to spend. You may have to be a little bit flexible, but it’s best to go in with a clear idea in your head so you can be assertive and get the haggling off to a strong start.
Haggling For A Fair Price
Start low. When you have spotted something you like, approach the vendor and start with a price well below what he says it costs. The first price you are told could be 7 or 8 times a reasonable price. Remember that after you offer a price, you can never go lower, only higher.
The mark up that the vendor attempts will depend on the person and the culture at the place you are shopping.
It’s impossible to provide a typical mark up, so it’s important to have had a look around and compared some prices first.
Act disinterested. If you are overly enthusiastic about the item you are interested in buying, the vendor will take note of this and think he can get a higher price from you. Don’t go rushing towards something, instead be more aloof. If you are with a friend you can work as a team. One of you will be interested and the other one can say how expensive it is and that you could find it cheaper somewhere else.
The vendor may not understand what you are saying, but he will understand your body language and facial expressions.
Be firm, but polite and good humoured. If you make your intervention and the vendor is dismissive, you should remain firm but always be polite and good humoured. There is a certain amount of theatre in haggling, so try not to get annoyed or frustrated. Equally, don’t feel pressurised or obliged to pay over what you think is reasonable.
The exchange could be quite loud and the vendor might hold your arm or push something into your hand.
Smile and be friendly, but be prepared to walk away.
Point out flaws in the item. It’s perfectly acceptable, and useful, to point out any flaws or problems with the item you are haggling over. If there are some chips or cracks, point to them and show the vendor. He will probably be telling you how perfect the item is, so pointing out some imperfections can prompt him to lower his asking price.
Walk away. If you feel like you are not getting anywhere, don’t be afraid to walk away. This can still be all part of the haggling process, and if worst comes to the worst you can always return. Make sure the vendor knows the price you are prepared to pay, and if he doesn’t accept it start to slowly walk away. You might find that he has a sudden change of heart and offers you a better price.
This technique will only work if he thinks you might actually walk away, so make yourself clear.
If you can’t agree on a price, respect the vendor and don’t waste each other’s time.
If you keep haggling for an extended period, but end up not buying anything, the vendor may become annoyed and aggressive.
Pay with small bills. Once you have managed to agree on a price that is acceptable to both you and the seller, always try to pay with small bills and as close to the correct change as you can. Revealing at the last minute that you have a wallet full of cash could cause some problems.
A vendor may be reluctant to find change for a large note.
It’s not unheard of for unscrupulous vendors to return the incorrect change. You might not notice this if you are new to the currency.
Communicating With the Vendor
Learn some basic Mandarin phrases. Picking up a few key phrases could help you to communicate better, and might even help the vendor warm to you. Someone who has made the effort to learn a little bit of the language might be taken more seriously than a more obviously clueless foreigner. Knowing a few phrases could also help you understand what is going on around you, and find out what sort of prices other people are paying. Some good phrases to start with include:
Duō shǎo qián – how much money.
Jià gé – price, cost.
Tài gui le! – too expensive!
Pian Yi Dian? – can you give me this for cheaper?
Use a calculator. If you are struggling to understand each other, writing down numbers or entering them onto a calculator is a good idea. The vendor will almost certainly have a calculator and pen and paper at hand for precisely this purpose.
It’s probably not a good idea to use your phone for this.
Pulling out an expensive phone will be displaying your wealth and may prompt the vendor to look for a higher price.
Use body language. If you don’t have a language in common with the vendor you will have to rely on body language and gestures. This can be easier than you think, with a simple shake of the head an easily recognisable sign that you are not paying that price. Try to be open and friendly, rather than closed off and prickly. They might be trying to take rip you off, but it’s nothing personal.
Unless you’re buying something very expensive, the actual difference in price when converted back to your home currency is probably not that significant.
Don’t feel bad if the vendor seems offended by your low price offer, it’s all part of the melodrama of haggling in China.
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