Guide to Bargaining in Hong Kong's Markets and Shops

The crowded Mong Kok Market street in Hong Kong
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Bargaining in Hong Kong is a must if you want to get the real price for your purchase. Some people are naturally nervous about trying to bargain, especially when faced with the gritty veterans that man Hong Kong’s shops and markets. Below are some essential tips to help you understand the rules and etiquette of bargaining in Hong Kong and hopefully put you at ease.

It’s worth noting that the rules below are mostly aimed at those shopping at Hong Kong’s many markets, although the majority of the rules also work for smaller stores.

Rule #1: Start with a low price

Everybody and their dog has an opinion on how much below the sticker price you should start your negotiations; 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%. The truth is there is no hard and fast figure. It depends on the price of what you’re trying to buy. The higher the price, the lower you should start. Most Hong Kongers kick off their bargaining somewhere between 30% and 40%. The best rule to follow here is that you really can’t start ​too low.

Rule #2: Know your product

If you’re just buying trinkets or souvenirs, this doesn’t really apply, but for those buying bigger ticket items, you should know how much the item costs. This is particularly important for electrical goods and photographic equipment. Hong Kong’s swinging merchants are past masters at making you think you’ve got a deal, when in fact you’ve paid more than the item would have cost you at home. You should price the item online or at home.

Rule #3: Don’t believe the seller

Assume the seller is lying about everything. If you’re buying a piece of Jade priced at $5 and the seller says it’s real, use your common sense, it’s not. Hong Kong salespersons will spin you a web of tales to make you buy their product. That antique chessboard for just $10 - made yesterday in Shenzhen.

Rule #4: The walk away

If you and the seller have reached a deadlock and you’re still not happy with the price, it might be time to walk away. Tell the seller your final price and then slowly walk away, this gives the seller time to change his mind and call you back, which they often will. If the walk away doesn’t work, don’t return to the stall, as the seller is now firmly in the driving seat when it comes to dictating the price.

Rule #5: Don’t take tea

If the seller offers you tea, it’s generally not a good idea to accept. The seller is simply trying to give himself more time to wear you down. He wants you to think of him as your friend so you’ll find it more difficult to bargain effectively.

Rule #6: Pay in the local currency

You may be packing pounds or dollars, and the salesperson will helpfully offer to take them off your hands at a very good exchange rate, don’t accept. You will, at best, get a very poor exchange rate, at worst, get completely ripped off. Always use HK$.

Rule #7: Dress down

You don’t need to dress like you’ve been sleeping rough for the last week, but waltzing around with a Gucci bag, D&G sunglasses and a swanky digital camera are all signs to the seller that you have more money than sense. Dress plainly.

Rule #8; Don’t Try and Bargain in Malls

Major stores and chain stores don’t bargain and just like you wouldn’t try and get some money knocked off at Best Buy back home, you shouldn’t try here either. Smaller mom and pop stores will offer discounts, although they won’t be anywhere near as large as the markets. Look for 15% to 20% as a maximum.