I have bargained for Books in Bombay, Cards in Cambodia, Drivers in Delhi, Face-creams in Fiji, Household oddments in Hong Kong, Linen in Lebanon, Night time accommodation in Nicaragua, Sunglasses in Singapore, Trousers in Thailand, Zimbabwean stone carvings and more!
Yup, I love bargaining (also known as haggling)!
This shopping method for me is all part of the fun of travel. For other travellers, it feels annoying, confusing and frustrating and even terrifying. I have had friends insist I bargain for them. Others give up buying, lamenting “why can’t it be fixed price?” When I see people struggling with bargaining or when I am tired of the bargaining game I always think of a Life of Brian skit. Brian, on the run from the Romans, is forced to ‘aggle for a disguise…
Its well worth a look at to get some tips! In the meantime, here are my 12 tips to help you love bargaining:
1.Know your surrounds- In Asia, Africa and the Middle East, bargaining is part of almost every transaction except food. In duty free stores, supermarkets and department stores where fixed prices are displayed, bargaining is a rarity. In most Middle Eastern situations, the arrival of tea or coffee is the sign that this is a bargaining shop and the bargaining is about to begin. Accept the coffee/tea and get ready for the negotiating.
2. Treat bargaining as a game. See it as a fun way to get the price you want, the stuff you like and get to know a local. Enjoy the seller’s protestations, compliments and entreaties. Prepare to “flirt” a little! NB I have seen some awful berating and bullying of shop keepers. Don’t do that. Let me tell you I have seen also aggressive sales people. Walk away from them.
3. Do not buy at the first stall you see the item. Chances are you will see it a hundred times again
4. There is debate as to whether to be early and get the first sale of the day as it is considered lucky or the last sale. I don’t worry too much about that and just give it a go.
5. Know the price you are prepared to pay but do not tell anybody. I have had a laugh a few times where I have seen a couple decide on the price they want to pay in front of the shopkeeper and then start bargaining! Or as someone is bargaining, their friend chips in with “well done, you are almost at the price you want“. Make sure you have calculated the price correctly.
6. Do not bargain unless you are going to buy – unless the price really is more than you want. I find it a little rude that some one takes up a seller’s time and then says “Sorry I didn’t really want it”
7. Try and know some local language. Words for “yes, no, hello, thank you, beautiful, fine, good” thrown in suggest that you know more about what you are doing or can add some entertainment.
8. Never, ever offer the first price. Make the seller do it. If its more than double what you want to pay, say “thank you but that is too high” and walk away without looking back. If they chase you and offer a lower price, start the process. In Asia, many shopkeepers will hand you a calculator and ask you to type in the price you want to pay. Always insist on them starting the process.
9. Always start at 50% of the price the shopkeeper offers. Do not start below 50%.
10. Whatever price they offer you, make your next offer half way between their new price and your last price. Forget any previous prices they offered.
11. Do not assume, people will forget you. If you promise to buy something in the morning, they will remember you in the evening. This can work to advantage, I have a shirt man in Bangkok, I go back to each time. We do not bargain anymore. He sells for he same price, I bargained him to the first time. We are both happy!
12. Don’t be merciless. I am willing to give in slightly on the final price as the small difference in my money can help a local family significantly.
Here is how it should work:
All of the conversations below have been taken from real life situations I have been in!
Customer: Hola, Salaam, Gidday, Greetings, Salamat Pagi etc. You have many nice items for sale. What would your price be for these jeans in size 34?
Shopkeeper: For you, best price Sir. Just 40 dollars!
Customer: [feigning shock and disbelief] 40 dollars is your best price? I would pay 20 dollars.
Shopkeeper: Sir, these jeans cost me more than 20 dollars! See the stitching, it is the finest. My brother/father/cousin/uncle makes them himself personally. It is beautiful quality. But for you because it is my first sale of the day, I will drop the price. For you, only 32 dollars.
Customer: Yes, I can see the stitching is good and they fit very nicely but the pockets are not deep enough. I really think that 32 dollars is just too much for that mistake. [pause. hesitate. pause]. I would consider going to 26 dollars but that is more than I would normally spend.
Shopkeeper: Laughs. Holds up the jeans to the gathered crowd of locals watching or the next door shop keeper or his wife (I have had an audience watching me bargain more times than I have wanted in remote places in Africa and Asia!). He wants to pay $26 for these jeans. Don’t you think they are worth more than this? I tell you what, you buy two pairs of jeans for $60?
Customer: Thank you for the generous price for two but I will only pay $28 for one
Shopkeeper: You are a very hard man. I have to work early to late to pay for my family. I have a daughter at university to support. I need the money. But I like you. For you only, $29. My last price.
[Here is where you have a choice. You can either keep going or give in. As I said, I tend not to be merciless].
Customer: Congratulations on the success of your daughter. You must be very proud. I will take these jeans for $29 OR Congratulations on the success of your daughter. You must be very proud. I have family too and I need to be careful too. I will offer you $28.50.
At the end:
Customer: Thank you for the good price. I really like these jeans. I am very happy. Please thank your brother/father/cousin/uncle for his great stitching.
[sometimes regretfully, I have had the following happen:]
Shopkeeper: You only have a 50 dollar note to pay with? I am sorry I only have nineteen dollars in change.
Customer: that is okay. I will wait for you to get more change
Good luck and let me know how you get on!