Haggling a Chinese Vendor 101

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Author: tum
Date: 4-16-10
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Haggling is acceptable and expected in China.  Some exceptions may include large department stores where prices are clearly marked.  However, if you are not sure, it never hurts to haggle and the sales associate will tell you that the price is fixed.

Given the language barrier, it’s extremely handy to bring a calculator to avoid any miscommunication in prices (just make sure you are communicating in the same currency).  Many vendors will even provide their own calculators.

  1. Inspect the item thoroughly.  If you notice any visible defects (that you can overlook) then you can bargain for a cheaper price by pointing the defect out e.g. small dents, wrinkles or piling on clothing.
  2. Make sure the item works.  If it’s an electronic gadget, have the vendor show you how to operate it and make sure you buy that item. Unscrupulous vendors may go to the back of the store and replace it with a defective item.  If you are purchasing clothing, ask to try it on (sometimes alterations can be offered as well).
  3. Put on your poker face and employ a little acting. Don’t show your enthusiasm for an item as it lowers your bargaining position. Inspect it casually and ask for the price.  If you are a foreigner, the vendor will initiate with an inflated price to capitalize on your ignorance.  
  4. Counter with a low ball price (for example, 1/3 of the original offer).
  5. Anticipate multiple counter offers.
  6. If you still don’t like the asking price, see if there are other bonuses you can add on.  Buying more items or larger orders will give you more bargaining power.
  7. Try walking away slowly.  If the vendor calls you back, you know you are close to closing your deal.
  8. Compromise.  Remember, a successful transaction is purchasing an item you want at a price you find acceptable.  Many transactions fail because offers are unreasonably low.
  9. Leave a good impression.  Once you close your deal, be courteous and thank the vendor. Who knows? You may come back for another purchase.
  10. Congratulate yourself for partaking in the native Chinese exercise of haggling.

There’s no exact formula for a great bargain but paying half the original price is impressive. Some last words of caution: be careful not to break anything or else you will have to buy it.  However, even then you can haggle over the compensation amount!

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