Learning the Art of Bargaining in Shanghai

Aug 6, 2019 11:23:00 AM / by Absa Samba

Your first time bargaining may feel awkward so Absa has put together some helpful steps to ease you into the Chinese consumer culture. She also shares the things (affordable luggages and bulk souvenirs, anyone?) that she and her friends have gotten from negotiating with shop owners. You'll leave Shanghai knowing how to bargain, so put this new skill to practice while you're there!

If you live in the United States, you may not be familiar with the art of bargaining for goods and services. Most products and services in American stores and markets have fixed prices and there’s no room for negotiation whether you are buying groceries, cosmetics, clothing or equipment. Growing up in The Gambia, I learned from a young age how to bargain for almost anything from vegetables, to fashion wear, to gadgets. But most of the other students from Champlain had to learn bargaining as a new skill.

CAPA students shopping in a market in BeijingCAPA students shopping in a market in Beijing.

Similar to Gambia, it is often local markets where bargaining is still a big part of the buying process. One of the shopping sites popular among foreigners in Shanghai is the A.P. Mall, also known as the Fake Market. This mall, organized like any other shopping mall, is known for selling fake products of popular brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Nike. It also has a good number of stores with local Chinese products like clothing, hand fans, and local arts and crafts—products that foreigners buy as souvenirs and gifts. If you know how to bargain, you can buy anything at the market for very cheap.

A street in the A.P. MallA section in A.P. Mall.

So how do you bargain for things in Shanghai? Here are some helpful steps I developed with advice from friends and through my experience shopping and bargaining in Shanghai.

First, you need to understand the seller—the ways in which you will be persuaded into buying a product at the price the seller wants you to. You will hear "even I will buy it if I see someone selling it for that price" or "this is the only one left of this product". When this happens, the seller is trying to get you to give in to their demands.

MJ negotiating the price of a bagMJ negotiating the price of a bag.

So, ask yourself, what is this item worth to you? How much would you pay for it in the US?

Then get to it. When you are given the starting price, make your counter-offer at 70% off. So if they suggest 150 yuan, you should counter-offer with 45 yuan. I know it that sounds ridiculous, but it's only your first offer and you are in the negotiation process. The seller will immediately reject your offer. You may decide to go up with your offer, 65% off. And then go up to the price you truly think the product is worth. Often the seller will insist for more but keep your cool and walk away. Often, they will call you back when you decide to walk away. At that point, it’s your call to make whether to buy or not.

Me buying key chains at the A.P. MallI found a store selling keychains so I browsed and purchased some.

I asked a few of the other students about what they bought in the market.

Here is their experience:


“The seller wanted about 700-800 [yuan] but I got him down to 120, then I said I would buy 4 and also send all my friends there so I was able to get him down to 80.”


Lauren's Hand Luggage from A.P. Mall on the top right cornerLauren's carry-on luggage (top right) from A.P. Mall.

“I bought a carry-on suitcase. Originally 650-ish down to 150 yuan. Fake market—not name brand though. Happy—first shop I went into and I liked it. The experience was good. I originally wanted 200 and asked for 150 planning to barter. I walked away and she offered it. I prefer to take my time and look at items and overthink before I buy, and this experience didn’t allow for that—didn’t love that about it but made the process of picking a suitcase simpler.”

Thanks, Absa!

Absa Samba


Absa Samba is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2019, sharing her story in recurring posts on CAPA World. A Social Work major at Champlain College, she is studying abroad in Shanghai on a custom program with CAPA and Champlain College this semester.

Absa's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Shanghai Program

Topics: Shanghai, China, Local Culture