Bargaining, or haggling, is a way of life in many cultures. It is considered a normal and often expected part of any shopping experience. For many people, including me, this process can be somewhat uncomfortable. Will they be insulted if I bargain? How low is too low?
Bargaining, on the other hand, can be graciously and successfully done if it is looked more as a social event that could lead you to the best price possible.
Here are some tips that will improve your bargaining skills while keeping it casual and friendly with the locals:
1. Study the market
Hop around, scope the market, and ask for some prices before attempting your first bargain.
Whether it is the antique souk in Saudi Arabia, the souvenir market in Cancun, or the street market on Khao San Road, you must understand how the market works, what’s up for bargaining, and what’s not.
Take your time and watch the merchants interacting with other shoppers to see how they “play.”
2. Learn a few catchphrases in their language
Nothing opens the door for you like saying, “How are you?” or “How much?” in your destination’s native language. You don’t need to know much of their language; just a few words will bring a smile and set things flowing with the vendor.
3. If possible, strike a conversation before negotiating
Spend a few minutes chatting up the merchant before you attempt to open negotiations. Small conversations are great ways to connect with them. They will be more inclined to make a deal if they have already invested time in you.
Striking a Spanish conversation in a market in Cuzco, Peru got me a scarf for 10 soles versus the 70 soles my English friend paid for the same item.
4. Know what you want, but look indecisive
Play it cool, look around, and admire their merchandise. If you like something specific, don’t let them know you’ve fallen in love with it. If you do, you lose all your bargaining power.
5. Start bargaining at a fraction of the asking price
Deciding how low to begin your side of the bargaining depends on what you’re shopping for.
Typically, on markets that are open for bargaining, you can start your offer between 25% and 50% of the marked price. It’s almost guaranteed that won’t be your final price, but it gives you room to play.
There’s nothing more disappointing in a bargaining game than starting too high.
6. Be friendly
Always keep it cool and polite, and be respectful with the merchant all the time. Casually mention that you’d be happy to refer friends if they will work with you on lowering the price.
7. Practice a little on inexpensive items
Before you go for the big items, practice bargaining a little on things that you are less attached and can, therefore, walk away if need be.
8. Don’t make the first offer
Ask first what’s their best price on the item you’re interested in. Posing this simple, straightforward question nudges the seller to make the first offer.
If you state a starting price, you hurt your bargaining power because the amount can only go up from there. If the seller declines to answer, then start really low or at less than half the marked price.
9. Decide how much you’re willing to spend on an item
Before starting your haggling, decide what will be the maximum price you are willing to pay for that item. This will help you focus on the bargaining and when the price goes over what you want to pay, walk away.
10. Don’t be afraid to walk away
If the price goes too high, give a final offer. If it doesn’t work, be friendly; thank them for their time, and walk away slowly looking at other items.
Many times you will get called back with the final offer you made. Sometimes you won’t, but you can either hop around other stalls and shops or just resign and pay the lowest price they offered.
11. Always think of it more like a cultural experience rather than just shopping
No matter how much you haggle or what price you end up paying, always approach the haggling process as a way to experience the character of the souks, bazaars, and street markets from around the world.
This is a lively activity that often gives us a taste of their culture and way of life.
It’s true that we want to get things the cheapest possible, but remember, in many cases, every cent that you spend on them goes directly to their living and to feed their family.
Sometimes spending a few extra dollars than what we want actually does some good in this world, especially in poorer countries.
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