Have you ever experienced the horrors of a language barrier?
Do you know how frustrating it is to talk to someone who barely understands you?
The challenge of learning Chinese intensifies when attempting to navigate marketplaces and negotiate prices.
The truth is, shopping in China requires a solid grasp of Chinese, as well as knowledge of some shopping-specific phrases.
Imagine this scenario. At an outdoor stall, a confused and anxious is foreign woman holding a shirt. Next to her, a native Chinese business owner is crossing her arms and looking agitated. It seems that they can’t agree on the price of the shirt, and tensions are high.
This is the result of a language barrier. Perhaps the foreign woman is actually trying to ask about the quality, or trying to find another similar item. The native seller may misunderstand the broken Chinese and have no idea what she’s talking about. She thinks they’re talking themselves into a price negotiation. They are on completely different pages here. How can you avoid this situation?
Short of immediately becoming fluent in Chinese, you have one more option: learn these essential Chinese shopping phrases.
We’ve gathered together these 15 frequently used Chinese phrases for shopping success. For ease of reading, the pinyin is provided together with the English translation.
15 Useful Mandarin Chinese Phrases for Shopping
Finding your destination
(bǎi huò gōng sī zài nǎ ér ?)
Where is the department store?
百货公司 refers to a department store. Breaking down the meaning of each word: 货 means goods, 百 means one hundred or a lot, and 公司 is a company. When these words are put together, the refer to a place where various commodities are sold, or a department store. Another term used is 百货商店 (băi huò shāng diàn). If you’re inquiring as to where the shopping mall is located, use 商场 (shāng chǎng) or 超级市场 (chāo jí shì chǎng) for supermarket or 夜市 (yè shì) for night market.
( jǐ lóu shì nǚ zhuāng?)
Which floor is the women’s section?
You can also use 女装 (nǚ zhuāng) for women’s wear or 男装 (nán zhuāng) for menswear. For other sections of the department store, you can use 化妆品 (huà zhuāng pǐn) for cosmetics, 家具 (jiā jù) for furniture, 家庭用品 (jiā tíng yòng pǐn) for housewares, 运动商品 (yùn dòng shāng pǐn) for sporting goods, 童装 (tóng zhuāng) for kids wear, 高尔夫/休闲用品 (gāo ěr fū /xiū xián yòng pǐn) for golf/leisure goods, 珠宝 (zhū bǎo) for jewelry and 进口商品 (jìn kǒu shāng pǐn) for imported goods.
(yùn fù zhuāng zài nǎ lǐ mài ?)
Where do you sell maternity dresses?
孕妇 refers to a pregnant woman so attach a 装 to it then, it becomes maternity dresses since 装 refers to clothing. If you’re looking for perfume, use 香水 (xiāng shuǐ) or 长裤 (cháng kù) for pants. You can refer to our previous post for a complete list of clothing items.
4. 我可不可以试一下? 你们试衣间在哪儿?
(wǒ kě bú kě yǐ shì yī xià ? nǐ men shì yī jiān zài nǎ ér ?)
Can I try this on? Where is your fitting room?
试 means to try. You can also say 我可以试穿吗 (wǒ kě yǐ shì chuān ma) since 穿 means to wear. When trying out clothes, you have to take into consideration how many items you can bring to the fitting room at a time, sometime you can try around 3 to 5 items depending on where you shop, so better read the signs carefully.
Normally there is a lady or a man waiting to assist you. If you have to call their attention, use 小姐 (xiăo jiĕ) or miss and 先生 (xiān shēng) or sir. Once you’re done in the fitting room, you can return the items to the attendants.
( nǐ men fù jìn yǒu méi yǒu xǐ shǒu jiān ?)
Is there a restroom nearby?
洗手间 refers to a restroom. This is the more common way of saying it although some still use 厕所 (cè suŏ). Either of the two can be used.
Purchasing your items
(zhè jiàn duō shǎo qián ?)
How much is this piece?
You can use various ways in inquiring about the price. For example, if you already have chosen your items, you can tell the cashier 请帮我算一下 (qǐng bāng wǒ suàn yī xià ). Then, the cashier would ring up all your items.
7. 简直太贵了! 给我便宜点吧!
(jiăn zhí tài guì le! gěi wǒ pián yi diǎn ba !)
This is really too expensive. Please give me a lower price.
This is most suitable when you’re in the night market or when you’re buying from street side vendors where there are no fixed prices. The price you pay is equivalent to how good you are at haggling. If the seller gives you a price, you can say 再便宜一点 (zài pián yi yì diǎn). This means cheaper or make it cheaper.
This was particularly useful for me when I was shopping in Shanghai. I was trying to haggle for a lower price and I kept saying this. The lady really gave me a lower price. Just a tip when shopping, if in case they do not agree to the price you are giving, you can walk out of the shop. For sure, they would call you back and agree to your rate. It’s a foolproof method. It works all the time. So start practicing your bargaining skills and you’ll get the best price out there.
In fact, the best way to experience Chinese shopping culture before even setting foot in China is by watching authentic videos about it. For that, check out FluentU!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
( wǒ yào shuā kǎ .)
I’m paying with my card.
At the cashier, they’ll usually be asking you: “刷卡吗?” (Are you paying with your card?) When you’re paying with credit, you can nod and say “要刷卡,” but say “现金” ( xiàn jīn ) when you’re paying with cash.
9. 我要这件。 请给我大号的。
(wǒ yào zhè jiàn . qǐng gěi wǒ dà hào de .)
I want this piece. Please give me the large size.
For sizes, you can use 大号 if you want the large size, 中号(zhōng hào) for medium and 小号 (xiăo hào) for small. Do note that Chinese sizes are smaller compared to western sizes since Asians are more petite. I was surprised the first time I shopped in China, you would be too. So it would be better if you know more about their sizes.
小号 or small are sizes 88 to 90, this is equivalent to sizes 4 to 6 in US and 34 to 36 in Europe and their 大号 or large is 98 to 102 which is equivalent to size 12 to 14 in US and size 42 in Europe. That’s for ladies. For men, 小号 (small) is sizes 88 to 90, 中号(medium) is 96 to 98, 大号 (large) is 108 to 110 and so on.
But if in case you got the wrong size and would want to return your purchase, you can always tell them that 我想把这件退回去 (wǒ xiǎng bǎ zhè jiàn tuì huí qù). This means that “I want to return these items back”. Since to 退 means to return therefore, 退货 (tuì huò) means return goods. Most stores only allow returns within 7 days from purchase as long as you have the receipt and the tags on the clothes are still intact.
(zhè xiē yī fu yǐ jīng shì zhé kòu hòu de jià gé ma ?)
Are the prices of these clothes already discounted?
折扣 means discount. You can also use 打折(dă zhé) which means either discount or sale depending on how you use them in your questions. Whenever items are on sale, you can see a lot of signs announcing this. But be aware of their meaning. For example, if it’s written as 打七折(dǎ qī zhé), it means that the items are 30% off and not 70% off. Another is 4 折起 (sì zhé qĭ), it means that it’s up to 60% off. To help you get the best deals/discounts in night markets, you can check out these great bargaining tips.
Knowing your washing instructions
(jìn zhĭ piăo bái.)
Do not bleach.
漂白 means bleach. Always look at the tag before washing to avoid fading the color of your clothes.
(nǐ nà jiàn zhǐ yào gān xǐ jiù hǎo le .)
Dry cleaning is enough for that piece.
干洗 means to dry clean.
(qǐng dī wēn yùn tàng.)
Please iron at low temperature.
熨烫 means to iron therefore attach an 衣服 (yī fu) to it and it will mean to iron clothes or 熨烫衣服.
(bú néng shǐ yòng xǐ yī jī ,zhǐ néng shǒu xǐ .)
Do not use the washing machine. Hand wash only.
Some pieces of clothing are more sensitive so do watch out for words like these. 洗衣机 means washing machine and most tags would indicate that you should not wash that item using the machine.
( zhè shì bǎi fēn zhī bǎi mián ma ?)
Is this 100% cotton?
棉 means cotton. It is important to examine the clothing and look at the tag before ringing up any of your purchases. For silk, we use 丝 (sī).
Now, you’re all set to go shopping. Remember these phrases and you’ll surely have the best shopping experience in China. And while you’re there, don’t forget to look our for deals and use your great bargaining tips!