Pedestrians between Nathan Road and Harbour City in Hong Kong

How to Bargain at the Street Markets of Hong Kong

Unlike in some other regions of the world, the sellers in the street markets of Hong Kong are quite restrained while you’re browsing through their stalls. They usually don’t bother you with their offers. However, if you take an item by your hands or if you ask for a price, they will entangle you in a sales talk quicker than you want.

Street Market in Fa Yuen Street

The Fa Yuen Street hosts one of many street markets in Mong Kok.

The sellers typically open the conversation by naming a far too high price. I don’t know if they name such excessive prices also to Asians, but at least to Westerners they consistently do, no matter which particular street market you go to. I concluded that there must be at least some Westerners out there who effectively buy at these prices without questioning. Those people must be out of their minds…

Below, I’ve put together some of my thoughts listed in the form of a guide which you may want to follow when going to one of the various street markets in Hong Kong.

Browse the stalls
Essentially, if you don’t want to be bothered by salesmen, avoid touching their merchandise. Also be aware of illegal bootlegs in the street markets. If a product shows a brand name, it’s quite probable fake. If you want to make sure to acquire a genuine product, you’re better off in one of the retail stores.

Set your personal price limit
Just before you talk to a salesperson, you should already have set your personal price limit for a particular item in your mind. If you have no clue about an item’s value, resist the urge to ask the seller! Assume that it’s cheap! In the street markets, the merchandise is often of low quality.

Attract the seller
This part is easy. Just ask for the price of an item or take it by your hands. The seller will be quickly by your side in order to advertise the product. Essentially, the seller will stress that the item is good quality at a cheap price.

Lose interest
If you haven’t already asked for the price in the last step, you might want to do so at some point in order to get ahead in the process. Once the seller has told you his price, you should signal that you’re losing interest, regardless of the price named. You can signal disinterest in various ways. Put the item back. Tell the salesperson that you had not expected that the item was such expensive. Indicate by your body language that you’re about to walk away, e.g., by turning your feet away. Act distracted, e.g., by taking a quick look at your mobile phone.

Name your price
While you’re demonstrating disinterest, the salesperson will immediately name cheaper prices, which you should ignore. At some point, the seller will ask you how much you would pay. Name your price. It’s a good idea to start with a price about half of your personal price limit. It might well happen that you end up naming a price which is just a tenth of the price initially named by the seller. Don’t be embarrassed. The seller wasn’t embarrassed to name a ridiculously high price, so why should you be when naming a price that may appear ridiculously low?

The bargain loop
The salesperson won’t accept your price. Everything he says will suggest that HIS price was already a cheap price for a good quality product. The seller will eventually tell you a cheaper price but quite probably it will still be above your personal price limit. Don’t name your next higher price immediately, but demonstrate disinterest first. After a short while, name a higher price which is still below your personal price limit. You may repeat this step several times until you and the seller agree with each other on a price. If you end up in a deadlock, proceed with the next step.

Walk away
Finally, if you and the seller cannot agree upon a price, tell the seller your final price. If the seller doesn’t accept, walk away slowly. The seller will have time to reconsider the bargain and will eventually call you back or run after you. If he does, insist on your final price. If he doesn’t, don’t go back to the stall as then it’s the seller who may dictate his price to you. You will find similar products in every other stall anyway.

Collect the product
If you buy a product, make sure that you leave the stall with exactly the item that you wanted. Hong Kong is known for a scam tactic by which the seller replaces the product in the box by an inferior one. Even though this tactic isn’t widely used, you should always be vigilant about the seller’s actions.

Ladies' Market on Tung Choi Street in Hong Kong

The Ladies’ Market on Tung Choi Street is one of the most crowded street markets in Hong Kong.

Below are a few more general tips:

Don’t take the bait
The seller may take actions to make you think of him as your friend in order to restrain your bargain efficacy. He may do so by making compliments on your clothing style, offering you tea or just by prattling empty phrases like “just for you my friend“. Don’t take the bait.

Don’t believe the seller
Assume that the seller is lying to you about everything. If you cannot verify the genuineness, the age or the material of an item, assume that it’s fake and that it’s produced inexpensively. Those patinated bronze figures you see in every other stall – they’re not ancient, they’re intentionally processed to look old. Don’t believe what the seller says.

Don’t let yourself be pressured
Some sellers may exert strong pressure to you to buy a product. If you don’t accept their dictated price, they may even become aggressive. Walk away if you feel pressured!

Food Stalls in Hong Kong

Where there is a street market, there are also often food stalls like these ones near the night market in Temple Street.

Going to the street markets is an essential item on the agenda for many tourists in Hong Kong. The illuminated neon advertisings and the crowds of people shoving through the narrow corridors between the stalls create an unique atmosphere that visitors should have experienced. However, going to one of the stalls in order to bargain about a product can be both a fun and an exhausting activity at the same time. I felt pressured by salespeople a few times and walked away without a purchase. But most often, going through the bargaining process as described above was the greatest pleasure for me.

Once, I negotiated the price of a belt with a saleswoman. As she realized that I had stated my final price and that I wasn’t willing to bid any higher, she became really angry and almost yelled at me. She was intimidating me, so I slowly left her stall and walked away. A few moments later, as I was already around the corner, she ran after me with the belt in her hands. She still looked very angry, but she agreed on my price, so we made the deal. If this deal had not been profitable for her, she wouldn’t have come after me. The fact that she became so angry just showed me that sellers usually achieve higher profit margins than when I come. :-)

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