In America, the UK, and most parts of Europe, haggling is not a huge part of daily life and culture, although there are times when it is expected. In these countries, haggling usually occurs over more high-end items such as luxury cars and homes, and rents for a new apartment or house. On the other extreme, you may find people haggling at garage sales or flea markets. As a result, many expats from these countries are uncomfortable with the idea of haggling, and try to avoid it entirely.However, haggling and bargaining, especially in the street and outdoor markets, are a part of daily life in some countries. Market stalls are where you will be find the most authentic and colourful items – these are the places where you will really need to use your haggling skills. As a matter of fact, it is likely as important to learn how to haggle in some cultures as it is to learn key phrases in the local language of the country you’re in. Another aspect of haggling in some cultures, for example in India, is that it is possibly one of the best ways (not to mention, the easiest way) to interact with the locals. It is also a great way to earn “street cred” and be taken seriously by the locals.
There are a number of areas where haggling is expected when you are out shopping, and these include:
– Most countries in the Middle East
– Many countries in Africa
In these countries, most stall owners at markets, expecting some amount of bargaining, quote a price that is much higher than they actually expect will be paid to them. Most expats are usually just unprepared to haggle, and a common mistake that they make is that they convert prices to their home currencies. They assume that the quoted price is fair for the economy that they are operating in. You must also consider that the shopkeeper likely assumes that since you are from a country with a stronger currency/economy, you will automatically be willing and able to pay a higher price.
Here is our list of tips that you can follow to help you haggle better.
Firstly, try to avoid going to a local market on your first day in a new country. Besides being jet-lagged, simply being in a new culture, especially if it is radically different from your own, is hard enough. The chances of your being cranky, overwhelmed, or too tired (and quite possibly all three all at once) are high, and you may not be able to deal with a busy marketplace with the necessary patience and good humour.
It is important that the process of haggling is fun. This exchange should be a way for you to interact with the locals in an informal way. Ensure that you interact in a friendly way and that your tone of voice is light and fun. In a place like India or Indonesia, having a smile on your face is essential to keeping the transaction going and getting a good deal. As a matter of fact, a number of people say that the art of haggling is very much like the art of flirting – the more you smile, the better the end result! Be both tactful and persistent. Remember that the person you’re negotiating with is someone you want as an ally and that you want them to give you a good deal.
You should have an idea of what the item should actually cost. You can do this by either speaking with a trusted local friend, or by people-watching before you actually try to buy something. This will give you a fairly accurate idea of what you should be paying for certain items. Going to a fixed price store in a hotel or museum will give you an idea of what the upper end of the price bracket should be. A word of caution to the wise: even if you fall completely in love with an item, try not to buy it on the spot, because the chances are that it will be still be there a couple of days later, giving you the time to do your research about the proper price for it. Despite all your research, you should know that it is quite likely that you will pay a little more than locals.
Another thing that you should do is to keep a final price in mind, and not go above that price no matter how much you love an item. Of course, there will be times that you will not be able to resist, but for the most part, do stick to your pre-decided upper limit.
Approach a stall owner when you’re actually sure you want to buy the item. When you begin the process of buying something, don’t act as if you are very enthusiastic right away, because you may inadvertently push up the price. It is a good idea to act a little distant and look around at all the things in the shop without focussing on the one item that you really want. Get to the item that you want discreetly, because excessive enthusiasm, while usually a good thing, can be quite detrimental to a bargain!
To begin the process, ensure that stall owner makes the first offer. He or she may ask over and over again what you would pay for the item. Smile politely and wait him out until he offers you his asking price. At this point, it is essential that you look shocked at the price. It may seem like an overly dramatic thing to do, but remember, it is all very much part of the process.
As a response, say that you will pay only half as much as his quoted price, which is the point where the stall owner will look shocked. Do not be taken in by his reaction. There is an unwritten script for the process of haggling that is followed throughout the world, and this particular moment, of the mortal offence that you have given him by making such a small counter-offer, is an important part of it. He will look upset, angry, and mutter to himself about how you do not value his goods, but this is all part of the act. Most stall owners will not sell an item for less than a price that they have fixed in their minds either.
In India and the surrounding regions at least, most stall owners will push back hard and say something about how it is so difficult to feed their families. This is a bargaining tactic – do not fall for it! The tactics of the merchants can sometimes get rather emotionally charged, but you have to keep in mind that all this is primarily a performance. He’s in it to make you pay as much as he can get from you! The stall owner has haggled with thousands of other customers, and he is the professional here – if anything, it’s likely to be you who will end up overpaying, even if it’s just slightly, for an item! So do not feel like you are cheating someone out of their livelihood, regardless of what the stall owner says about it.
At this point, the back and forth on the price will truly start. You will need to start making small increases in what you are willing to pay, but ensure that once you have reached your threshold price, you stand firm at it. This part of the negotiation is also a way for both you and the stall owner to feel each other out and see how serious each person is about the sale.
Remember that haggling is a dramatic performance for everyone involved. You must consider his counter-offer theatrically every time he makes one. Make noises of your own, and if you can pull it off, you should act mortally offended by how much he is trying to overcharge you, a poor hapless visitor to his country! At this point, you can also point out small flaws in the item.
Be firm and polite about pointing out flaws in an item that you are considering buying. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t buy an item that is broken or seriously flawed, but pointing out minor issues will often lead to an instant reduction in price, even if it is not the price that you are fully happy with. You should however exercise caution when using this tactic, because the line between haggling and giving offence is sometimes thin.
If you have a companion or a friend with you, you could get them to play bad cop. Agree beforehand for them to act disinterested and distant from the proceedings in general, and to walk in at this stage of the negotiations. Your companion should try and drag you away from the stall, citing a wide variety of reasons – they’re hungry, they’re tired, the both of you have somewhere else to be, or – the reason that usually makes most merchants panic, and try and bring the sale to a close – they saw the same item at another stall nearby at a much better price, and you should buy it from there instead. If you are alone, feel free to invent a partner or a spouse at home, who is going to be very irritated that you have spent so much on an item.
Remember that it is okay to walk away. Unless you feel very, very strongly about an item, the best way to find out the lowest possible price of an item is really to walk away. In India and China (and a large part of South East Asia), once you act like you’re losing interest and walking away, most stall owners will call you back at least a couple of times. You should start to walk away when the price is approaching a level that you are comfortable with. Don’t overdo it, but you must seem like you are serious about walking away. This will usually get the merchant to quickly quote their rock-bottom price, and you may have yourself an amazing deal! (Keep in mind that walking away is a very effective haggling tactic for car dealerships in the United States and Europe as well!)
Once you have negotiated a price that you are happy with, you must go through with the purchase. Understand that if you do not, you will not have only wasted the stall owner’s time but you also run the risk of seriously offending the person, which is always an avoidable situation.
In countries like India and China, the first sale of the day for all stall owners is an omen of good luck, and no one will jeopardise this sale, even at the risk of selling the item at cost price. It may well be worth your time to do a little research and go to markets right at opening time, even while the stalls are still being set up, so that you can get a great deal.
You should also know when not to haggle. If you are buying something directly from the artist or craftsman who made it, out of respect of for their craft, you should avoid haggling with them. A number of expats even report that they pay a little extra if they are buying from the craftsman. You should keep in mind that in such situations, you are most likely getting a great deal anyway, because there is no middle man in the process, and hence no added overheads and commissions. The story of your interaction with the craftsman and how you came to own your piece of art is also a great travel souvenir for you to go home with.
Have you learned how to haggle? Did you find it difficult? Share your experience in the comments!