How to Barter Like a Local in China

Pan Jia Yuan Bejing Antique Flea Market © Lyle Vincent
Pan Jia Yuan Bejing Antique Flea Market © Lyle Vincent
Photo of Julianna Tetreault
Contributer31 October 2017

Knowing how to barter in China is essential – prices are merely a suggestion in many places, so bartering exists practically everywhere. It is a process that almost everyone seems to be aware of but is seldom taught! So, before venturing out with your wallet wide open, here are some sure-fire ways to get you bartering like a local.

Pan Jia Yuan Bejing Antique Flea Market | © Lyle Vincent

To begin the bartering process, it is important to find both a market and an item that you’d like to test your skills at. Approach the seller and ask how much the item is, “zhège duōshǎo qián?” (how much does this cost?). The seller will typically respond with an outrageous number, but do not be alarmed by this, this is a tactic frequently used to catch foreigners who aren’t the savviest of hagglers. Answer the vendor with either a more reasonable price or by asking if they can reduce it – using phrases such as “tài guìle, piányí diǎnr” (too expensive, a little cheaper) can be extremely helpful in these scenarios.

After negotiating for a fair price with the seller, which typically takes a few minutes of back-and-forth haggling, you will either come to an agreement, or you will have to walk away. In some cases, walking away is the best thing to do. More often than not, the seller will request that you come back before you’re even out of their sight, and will sell the item to you at your desired price just to make a sale. Once coming to an agreement, decide upon a method of payment and ta-da! You have officially bartered like a local!

Pan Jia Yuan Bejing Antique Flea Market | © Lyle Vincent

Although there is no right or wrong way to barter in China, there are a few tips that can help you heighten your chances of getting a better price on a desired item, and help you barter even more like a local. For starters, learning the numbers 1 through 100 in Chinese can make for an even smoother buying experience. Although this will prove to be very helpful, knowing the numbers is not essential as sellers will always have a calculator in hand to assist in the haggling process.

Another way to haggle more efficiently is by buying more than one item at a time from a vendor, this can sometimes greatly reduce their asking price. If multiple items peek your interest, let the seller know and see what discounts they are willing to provide, and bargain from there. Upon purchasing the items, always be sure that they are both in pristine shape, and have all necessary parts included – vendors will sometimes attempt to leave buyers with items of lesser quality if they think that they are not situationally aware.

Finally, a good rule of thumb when bartering is to take 1/5 of the seller’s asking price and negotiate for that number. If after a while the seller will not come to a reasonable agreement, leave their store and try another. Chances are that another vendor will have the item you want for the price that you are willing to pay.

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