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What I Learned From Everyday Life in the Middle Kingdom

As I wrote in my previous article on 10 Ways to Save Money On the Road, in many countries bargaining is part of the local culture.

Negotiation skills require practice but also certain techniques.

Unfortunately as a foreigner living or traveling in Asia, you’re often automatically asked higher prices. So haggling becomes an everyday reality.

I spent 4 years living in China and this is where I mastered my bargaining skills.

1. If you want to buy something, don’t reveal your interest

Have a solid poker face - be neutral and indifferent about the product you want to buy. Showing initial interest in a product gives the seller a signal to raise the price. You’re in the losing position.

 2. Estimate the prices

Before starting negotiations with a vendor, estimate 3 different prices of the product, namely:

  • production cost per unit,
  • how much it’s worth and
  • how much you’re willing to pay.

Knowing these numbers will give you an good start into the bargaining process.

3. Start with a low asking price

You already know how much you’re willing to pay for the product. Now it’s time to start the bargaining. After having asked the vendor for the price, tell him how much you can offer.

Your first price should be about 20-40% lower than what you’re willing to pay in the end.

The 20-40% buffer allows you to slightly higher your price during the bargaining process before you both agree on a final price.

4. Down-talk the product (and give specific arguments)

Chinese vendors like to boast about their products, saying how good the quality is and expensive the production was etc. The truth is that the quality of Chinese goods on markets and in shops varies greatly.

I have bought stuff which lasted me for 1-2 weeks before going kaput, but I also made purchases of things which are similar in quality to branded items. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.

In order to get a good price, inspect the product and point out its imperfections, the low material quality or workmanship. Giving specific arguments instead of just asking for a low price is more convincing.

5. Walk away and count to three

If you’re fed up with bargaining back and forth, just walk away. This is a really cool and effective technique. It’s a bluff. But be aware that it doesn’t work with every vendor. By walking away from the seller, you’re trying to deceive him that you lost interest or that you’re giving up on buying the product for the price offered.

Usually within 3 seconds, the seller will call you back and agree on your price.

6. Compare prices on Taobao (淘宝) is the biggest Chinese online shopping website, similar to eBay or Amazon. Here you can buy absolutely everything. So before you head out to a street market, check prices of products you intend to buy online. This will give you a reference price.

7. Be polite but remain a strong negotiator

Haggling in China can be tiresome and annoying. Sometimes bargaining is just a quick, courteous process in which the seller is testing how much money he/she can make off you (especially foreigners). Be self-confident and reserved. Remember to stay polite and friendly with the person. Never start bargaining unless you have sincere intentions of buying the product.

Chinese Bargaining Phrases


多少钱?Duōshǎo qián?

How much is it?


太贵了!Tài guìle!

It’s too expensive.


能给我便宜点吗? Néng gěi wǒ piányi diǎn ma?

Can you give me a discount?


质量不太好。Zhìliàng bù tài hǎo.

The quality is just so so.


我可以给你xx块钱。Wǒ kěyǐ gěi nǐ xx kuài qián.

I can give you xx RMB.


不好意思,我不要了。Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ bùyàole.

I’m sorry, I don’t want it.

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