Understanding the art of bargaining is key to immersing in local culture. Where bargaining is popular, it is an art, but never to be done for sport. Do it right, and you win the respect of locals plus some pretty cool trinkets. Handle it poorly, and all you have are a frustrated buyer and a frustrated seller. Below are our best tips, honed from years of making mistakes, learning and now finally, enjoying the bargaining experience.
Know a rough item value
Ask around at a few market stalls to get a rough idea of the item’s price. If possible, pay close attention to what a local pays for the item, though this is usually in the case of food rather than tourist trinkets at a market aimed at foreigners. You could actually ask a local, but it is hard to know who is in cahoots with whom.
Don’t bargain with the first guy
Especially true for taxis/tuk-tuks, try not to even enter in to a bargaining situation with the first driver who approaches you. Listen to what he says (if he mentions a price, know that to be the highest possible price) and move on. Taxis/tuk-tuks away from the center of the action are cheaper.
Start at less than your highest bid
This might seem obvious, but your price will only go up, so start low, but not too low or you might offend. Some people recommend halving the price, but others, like Dani, will go as low as one-third their original offer to start. If you know the price beforehand, this is an easier risk to take.
Keep it fun and light
In countries where bargaining is common, negotiation is an art. It is best to keep a smile on your face but a hard line on your price. Keep a sense of humor about the situation rather than a mentality that someone is out to rip off a foreigner. With tuk tuk or cab drivers, we often make more of an astonished face at the price, and it usually goes down at least 50 per cent by the time we get on our way.
Only get into serious bargaining when prepared to buy
If you engage the seller through the whole process with you, it can not all have been for fun for you. You must be serious about your purchase, especially if you make him/her hit their rock bottom price. Remember that bargaining is an art, but not for sport.
Ask about multiple items, never obviously singling out the item you really want until you are ready to get into the bargaining. If you act excited or show too much interest, the seller knows s/he can charge you more.
Always carry small bills or change
This is important for two reasons. One, it makes it so much easier to play the ‘but this is all I have’ card. That often works if you can just empty your pocket (but you have other small bills in other pockets, too, of course). Second, we do not like making vendors have to go get change. As much as you think they should have change for the equivalent of a $20 bill, this often causes fifteen minutes or more of fairly embarrassed standing around waiting.
Bargain in local currency only
This is hard for us to even have to say, but there are people out there paying around the world in dollars. Don’t. Unless the currency of the country is U.S. dollars (El Salvador, Panama), always bargain and pay in local currency or getting a fair, local price is next to impossible.
Be prepared to walk away
We employ this method all the time and it works. Remain polite, but if the vendor just won’t budge and you’re aware of the price, just say no and walk away. Don’t worry, they will almost always ask you back over or follow after you if you were in the right range with your quote. We employed this method several times during our hunt for the perfect houseboat in Kerala, India.
Keep anger out of it
In the end, if you are in a hurry or really want an item, you might have to give in and pay their price. It is only one small part of your day and something you won’t even remember later. So don’t get angry about it. In this particular game, the seller won and you lost. Follow these rules, and you will get your price more often than not, plus you always get better with practice.
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