Sep 17, 2019

The Art of Bargaining in China Negotiating Tips and Strategies

This guest blog post comes from Harper Reid, a passionate freelance writer believes there’s nothing better than exploring new places, trying new food and writing about them. Follow Harper’s personal blog to get to know her more.

Haggling is a national pastime in China. From food markets to clothing shops, sellers and buyers alike are skilled in the back-and-forth of negotiation. This might not come naturally to overseas visitors, as haggling is less common in Western countries. Shops in New Zealand and the UK have barcode labels with fixed prices. However, it pays for visitors to China to learn the art of bargaining, if only to avoid overspending. Here are a few strategies to help you play the bargaining game like a local.

Chinese sellers are well known for playing fast and loose with their pricing, and no more so when it comes to dealing with foreigners. Yes, it’s true that some Chinese merchants will inflate their prices to get one over on unwary tourists. And who can blame them – they are skilled business opportunists. And tourists don’t always realise that they could have paid considerably less for their item. With this in mind, it is prudent to enter proceedings with a clear plan. Firstly, dust off your poker face. If you see an item you want to buy, try not to look too excited. Casually browse some other items so as not to alert the merchant to an easy sale.

Once you have selected an item, mentally establish the maximum price you would be willing to pay. Now you’re ready to start the negotiation process. Make an offer that is significantly lower than the maximum price you have in mind. About 50% is a good rule of thumb. You want it to be low enough to give you some bargaining leeway, but not so low as to offend. The merchant might seem reluctant to budge at first, but don’t allow them to anchor you to a higher price. Keep gradually increasing your offer until you come to a mutually agreeable outcome. If the seller still doesn’t lower the price enough, consider employing the walk-away method. As the name suggests, this involves beginning to walk away in the hope that the seller will relent and call you back with an agreeable offer.

Some of the best bargains are to be found in markets with lots of sellers competing with similar goods. After surveying the range of prices in the vicinity for a given item, you can then zero in on the lowest price and haggle away. In this way, wily shoppers become experts at comparison, negotiation and reading subtleties of body language. Another way to save is by buying multiples or in bulk. Ask the seller about a discount for buying more than one of a product. You should always try to bring small bills instead of larger denominations, to avoid being scammed with change in fake bills.

Tourists may find the language barrier a frustrating obstacle when it comes to communicating with sellers. But there are ways around this. Sellers often have calculators with which to display cash figures, or you can use your own calculator or phone to get your message across. With a few hastily tapped digits, gestures and expressions, haggling can be achieved even when nobody speaks the same language. While haggling is widespread in China, it is not the norm in every establishment. Larger stores, chain stores and restaurants generally have fixed prices, so don’t expect to use your haggling skills in these places.

Having to haggle might sometimes seem like a chore, but once you know how to play the game, it can be great fun. Enter the arena with confidence, keep your wits about you and stick to your budget, and you’ll be haggling like a pro in no time. Good luck!


By Harper Reid | A Super Chineasian

Harper has a passion for writing and adventure. When she’s not writing for blogs and Kiwi sites such as Working In (, Harper is constantly looking for the next postcard-perfect place to visit. To learn more about her travels, follow Harper on Tumblr.

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