Five Rules for Bargaining in a Chinese Market

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Having lived in South China for two years, I have spent hours shopping in markets. Known as the factory floor of the world, most products branded with the MADE IN CHINA label are made right here. While the bulk of these products are directly exported, a large amount of ‘samples’ and ‘over-runs’ end up in the markets of Guangzhou. These markets are a mad world of cheap products, dodgy labels, and bargains galore. However, to enjoy this experience to the fullest, it is important to know shopping in a market is a game, not unlike poker and here are the rules.

Rule Number One
Never let excitement show on your face. A cool, calm customer is going to have a better chance of striking a bargain, than someone gushing over a rare find. So, wander around, look at things, pick things up, but keep your poker face on.

Rule Number Two
Never ask a price unless you are ready to start the game. Once you ask for a price, you have entered the game zone. It is easy to spot the foreigner who has been randomly asking a price for something. They are usually the ones with a shopkeeper attached to their arm trying to get them to return to the shop and play the game.

Rule Number Three
Never suggest a price. The shop owner will always try to get you to suggest the first price. He is asking you to show your hand first. Resist. Ask the shopkeeper how much the product is. They will then take a moment to eye you up and down, taking in all visual information about your potential spending ability, and then suggest a ridiculously high price.

Rule Number Four
Never accept the first price. They are only testing your standing as a player of the game and are ready to play. Many new players will pay the first price and not only miss out on a great game, but will be the laughing stock of the market for paying double or triple the price of an item. Don’t spoil the game.

Rule Number Five
Have a price in mind that you would be happy to pay, and then suggest a figure significantly lower than your ideal price. This tells them the game is in full play. When you counter with a ridiculously low price, expect your opponent to pull a face and shake their head. If they are willing to play the game, they will counter with a price slightly lower than their first offer. You can keep playing the price back and forth until you are happy with the price or until your opponent digs in their heels and refuses to budge.

This is where the game can get interesting. When your opponent is no longer willing to reduce the price, you have two options.

Option One
At this point you can concede and pay the price they want. After all, you are probably at the point of arguing over only a few dollars. Smile, give in, and pay the money. Good game.

Option Two
If you have taken the measure of your opponent and think he/she is offering you the inflated tourist price; you can try the old walk away trick. Turn to walk away. If they call you back, the game is still on. If they let you go, you have reached the final price. You can keep walking and look for another game to join, or swallow your pride and go back and pay the price they are offering. Good game.

The Most Important Rule
Enjoy the game and be gracious to your opponent. This is their livelihood and they want to sell to you and will not sell below a price that makes them a profit. Don’t get too hung up over a few dollars.



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