Haggling In China

So I was at Silk Street again today, as were many other foreigners. I have been studying the haggling process there and managed to put it into some perspective.

Essentially, the first rule of haggling here is to have a rough idea of the value of the item you are haggling for. Now somewhere like Silk Street, the value is generally going to be low. Regardless of the press reports (there was one recently that said all 1000 shopkeepers here at Silk Street had said they were no longer stocking copies and only stocking genuine articles … yeah right!) most items for sale there are copies and of reasonable to poor quality.

So, first step is to have a look around. See if you can find something you are interested in that is for sale in three or four shops. This is not so much as to play the shopkeepers off on the price but rather so that there is somewhere else to go to if you fail on the first haggling efforts.

The next step is to assess the value of the item. A good rule of thumb is to walk in and BEFORE asking about sizes or looking too closely, point to one garment and say “how much for this?” You will get a reply about size and trying and quality and how many do you want and so on. Ignore the reply and with a little annoyance in your voice say “look, I haven’t got time for playing around, just tell me the price or I’ll go somewhere else”.

This will normally get you a response of a price. This will normally be presented on a calculator so there are no problems with language and accent. It will normally be presented AFTER you have been told that the full price is something like US $109.00. The shopkeeper (usually a young lady) will then say “but for you, I give you discount, only 380 Yuan” – this is, of course, just under $50.00.

At this point, you best response is to say “that is too expensive” and start to leave. The shopkeeper will normally grab your arm and tell you to wait and ask you for the price you think it is worth. This is the important point as this is the real start of the negotiation. Most people make the mistake of believing that they are beating the price down. However, what is really happening is the shopkeeper is, in fact, beating the price up.

So, how much do you say? A good rule of thumb that I use now (after being taught by one of the best hagglers I have ever seen) is to start at 10-15% of the shops first price. So, in our example here I would, for a pair of trousers, say 40 to 50 Yuan.

Usually the shopkeeper will laugh and say “impossible – this is below my cost” or she will say “dollars?”

A good answer to “dollars” I have found is to say “yes … Hong Kong dollars”.

Shopkeeper will then say “seriously, what is your best price?”

The response to this is is “look, I have not got all day, what is your best price, your pretty lady/handsome man price, your last price – I have not got time for all this”.

At this point she will likely come back with with 320. The response to this is “too high, be serious, what is best price?”

Now she will either show you a price of 250 or stick to 320. At this point say “no, no” look disappointed, wave your hand in a dismissive way and SLOWLY walk off, looking at stuff in the other shops nearby – but keep an ear cocked to the original store.

She will likely grab your arm to hold you and say “OK. OK, what is your best price, no kidding price”.

If you feel a little guilty or uncomfortable then tell her (type it on the calculator) a figure 5 or maybe 10 Yuan more than your first offer – let’s assume it is 60.

She will look hurt, maybe even sound a little angry and tell you it is “too small, below my cost”. That’s OK, just start moving off slowly. She will ask you as you walk away “seriously, what is best price?” Just keep walking slowly and say “60”.

As you move off, she will now start calling “OK, OK, 200. Best price 200”.

Keep walking slowly.

“OK, 150”

Keep walking slowly and looking at other stores.


“80 – that is best offer”.

At this point you can either accept it or turn to her and pretend not to have heard and say “60 did you say?”

She will say “no”.

Start walking away again. One of two things will happen.You will hear nothing else (so move onto the next store selling the same garments and accept the 80 if you want) or you will hear “OK”. Turn back and then agree the 60.

Now comes the interesting part. Once you have agreed the price, you should buy unless there is some compelling reason not to. Now then, as you have agreed on the price, you can start to check the size. Ask to try the goods on. Most places have a sheet that can be pulled across for modesty … or up to you. Many places may try “cannot try”. This is more usual with tops than trousers so again, up to you. I usually say “no try no buy”, especially for pants.

Try them, buy them, give her the agreed price and you have been successful. Really, somewhere like Silk Street at the moment, you should be paying no more than about 20% of the first quoted price. Note also too that if you want a second item from the shop you have just bought the first item at, you will still need to go back through the whole haggling process.

Remember too, always agree the price BEFORE you try the garment on. This is doubly important as once you have tried the garment, the shopkeeper KNOWS that you will not really walk away from it and it is harder to get a lower price.

Happy haggling!

2 thoughts on “Haggling In China

  1. archilangelo 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    It is very big in the difference of the different place price.Usually all of a lot of merchandises are exorbitant profitses.The peddler of China have already made it a rule to talk price with foreigner.Under general circumstance, some foreigners will also seek the Chinese that acquaints with a circumstance to company to swim.The peddler's exorbitant profits space smaller.




  2. thomo the lost 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    I did notice that when I asked the starting price of something by myself, and my friend (a very east Asian looking lady) asked, I would be told 800 Yuan, and she would be told 600 Yuan – same garment, same stall just western looking person asking compared to Asian looking person.


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