Haggling, or negotiating for goods, is almost a requirement in many parts of the world. While it might seem a bit odd, uncomfortable or even off-putting to those of us who grew up in the West, for those selling these non-fixed price goods, bargaining is all a part of the fun.
If you feel intimidated by thought of negotiating with vendors, just remember that it’s actually expected of you. That means that even though shopkeepers will usually make a show of being offended by your “too low” asking price – it doesn’t mean they actually are. The melodramatics are all part of the game, and once you learn to play along, you might even find yourself enjoying the ride. Heck, if you travel through these kinds of places for long enough, you’ll likely end up resenting the fixed prices on everything once you get back home!
So without further ado, here’s what you need to know to become a haggling pro.
1. Figure out the going rate for the item you’re looking to buy. You can do this by visiting fixed price stores selling similar goods (bear in mind the prices there will be marked up over what you could get on the street, but it’s a good starting point). You can also ask locals (e.g. people working at your hotel) and eavesdrop on other transactions that are taking place at markets.
2. Work out what you’re willing to pay. It’s good to go into the process with a rough idea of how much you would consider forking over the item and calculating what this would be in the local currency.
3. Go to the stall, pick up the item and admire it (but not too much). You want to seem like you’re interested in the product, but not 100 per cent convinced (more on this in tip #8). While you’re admiring it, inspect the product for any major problems/flaws (since you won’t be able to return it later) and choose the one that you like best out of the range that’s available. The salesperson will be happy to help you try things on, show you more goods hidden out the back etc. during this phase of the sale, but not after you’ve fixed the final price. So use this opportunity to figure out exactly what you’re going to buy.
4. Get the vendor to name a price first. You don’t want to risk naming a figure that’s higher than what they would have sold it to you for, so let them start the process. Simply ask, “how much?”
5. Feign shock. Once they’ve told you their price, you need to act like you can’t believe the item would possibly cost so much. For dramatic effect, you may even want to put the item back on the vendor’s table like it’s a hot potato you want nothing to do with.
6. State your price. The vendor will now ask you to name your price. Use the going rate you’d deduced as a guide to what to ask for, but remember to start well below the price you’re willing to pay so there’s room for counter-negotiation. In my experience, stating a price that is equal to one-third of the vendor’s asking price is a good place to start, however, it’s kind of tough to generalize. Some vendors will actually state a reasonably fair price to begin with, while others will try to rip you off, so you have to use your own judgment here.
7. Wait for the counter-offer. Some sellers will come down in price straight away, while others will try to see how steadfast you are. If the vendor doesn’t decrease his price by a significant margin, hold your ground and state your first price again.
8. Point out flaws in the goods. Try to bring the seller down in price by noting the reason you are asking for a lower price, specifically a flaw in the product. You need to be careful here, as you don’t want to offend the vendor (since they might be selling their own, or their family’s, handicrafts), so stick to things like minor damage in the product. Always keep the tone of the conversation light, and never get forceful or aggressive.
9. Offer to buy multiple items. If you spot a number of things you like, try adding something else to your “shopping cart” and ask for a better deal, since you’re willing to buy more products.
10. Raise your price in small increments. Remember, you want them to come down, so don’t move your offer up too quickly.
11. Decide how much the item means to you. Is this something you can’t get anywhere else? Do you love it enough that you would regret not buying it? It’s easy to get caught up in the process, but sometimes it’s not worth haggling over the couple of extra pennies you might save – especially when those pennies are worth a lot more to the seller. Decide on what a reasonable price would be and consider purchasing the item when you reach that figure. It can save you a lot of time (and as a tourist, that extra half hour may be worth more to you than the 50 cents you’d have saved haggling a bit longer).
12. Walk away. If the vendor refuses to come down in price and you aren’t satisfied paying what’s being asked, simply put the item down and walk away. You have to be okay leaving the item behind – but this is not so hard if there are 10 more stalls down the road selling the same thing (which there often are). Nine times out of ten, the vendor will actually chase after you shouting “okay, okay” and sell you the product at the last price you stated.
And a couple of final tips to help you get the best price for your goods:
Dress the part. If you go to the market dressed like a rich foreigner, then the vendor will assume you are one and try to sell his/her goods to you for a higher price. While you might not be able to get the “local” price, you’ll stand a better chance of coming close if you dress respectably, but casually, with no obvious designer labels or flashy jewelry adorning your body.
Have a “story” prepared. While browsing the seller’s goods, chances are that he or she will try to engage you in small talk. Inevitably, this will include asking where you’re from and possibly what you’re doing in that city/country. Not everyone will be comfortable doing this, but I find bending the truth is the best route to take – I don’t want the vendor to jack up his prices just because I come from a country that is perceived as being rich. If you have an ambiguous/ethnic look about you and/or speak other languages, you can be pretty convincing about coming from a less wealthy nation. It’s also better to pretend that you’re working in the city you are visiting (if that’s something that would be plausible) since you’re less likely to be taken for a gullible tourist, and in some cases, could be perceived as a potential repeat customer – which all adds up to better prices.
Shop with a friend and use a secret code word. One effective way to haggle is to express your uncertainty over the purchase price to a friend who is with you, rather than to the vendor. This way, it appears to the vendor as if a disapproving husband is trying to convince his wife not to buy a piece of jewelry or a friend is suggesting that the potential buyer go elsewhere because he’s seen cheaper prices at other stalls. The conversation between you and your friend is designed to be overheard by the vendor, who will hopefully lower his asking price rather than risk losing the sale. The reason I suggest having a code word is that you need to be able to indicate to your friend that you are playing a game and want them to play along. I have gone into negotiations and been so convincing in my hesitation to buy something that even my husband thought I really didn’t want the item (when in actual fact I did). A code word can definitely help in these situations.
What do you think? Do you have any other strategies for successfully negotiating prices?