10 Top hints to successful and effective bargaining for travelers

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Top 10 hints to effective bargaining.

I’m not a big fan of haggling,  Many of us aren’t. . Yet it is a way of life in many countries.  It appears to be a form of conflict, and I am conflict averse. I think most westerners feel the same. We live in a society where everything is pretty much a fixed price. We can’t tell the gas station attendant “I don’t want to pay 2.80 a gallon for gas, I want to pay 1.50 instead”. Although admittedly, that does sound kind of appealing. Instead, we know what the price going in and our only two real options are paying it, or walking away.

In many parts of the world the situation is much different, especially for travelers. Many things, including  food, accommodations and souvenirs have fluid, negotiable prices. The price you are normally quoted is often markedly higher than the amount the merchant is willing to settle for, or even feels the item is actually worth

I used to just say alright  and pay the original quoted price (it’s that western mindset again) until I finally understood that if I do that I  lose. I end up paying much more than I needed draining resources I could use for more traveling and I perpetuate an image in the merchants mind that westerners are gullible. The merchant will most likely ask for even more money when the next westerner enters their establishment. If done correctly, haggling can be a win-win experience and may even turn out to be a lot less painful than we’ve been accustomed to believe. So here are my top 10 tips on how to be a seasoned haggle hound.

10) My Mama told me You better shop around 

Most merchants in a particular area will have similar items. Check around in a few of them. Once you spy an item you like, go to a few other shops. You can get a general consensus what price they are asking. This gives you an idea where to start the negotiation.

9) The most important question to ask yourself                                                                 Come prepared. Don’t wear anything fancy and keep your bling out of sight. Don’t let the merchant get the idea you have any disposable income. Then ask yourself : How much do you want/need what you are purchasing? If you aren’t that interested then move on. Know in advance what your limits are and if it is an item you want, know exactly what you want to budget and set a hard limit on that amount. Also ask yourself are you able or willing to carry that item the remainder of your trip, or pay to have it shipped home?

8) “Remember thou art mortal”                                                                                                The merchant haggles with locals and acclimated tourists every day. They’re gonna be good at it. They see their economic survival depending on it. Try to throw them off their game a little. Never tell the merchant how much you like the item or that you’d think it would make a perfect gift.  Keep your poker face. Instead of starting out by saying “how much for the…” try ” I’ll give you X  for the item” . You are starting the bidding. By starting you are able to take a leadership role in the haggling. You are in charge and are under no obligation to buy anything.

7) The buddy system (both the domestic and international version)                            This isn’t always possible, but if you can,bring a friend. If you have a friend who is local this is even better. Merchants are much less willing to try to gouge someone if they know they have someone local who speaks the language and can show up again if the deal goes sour.

Even if you’re traveling with a partner or friend who is also a westerner, try a little good cop/bad cop. Have your partner find flaws with the object you are haggling over, mention they saw it for less at another establishment and say they are tired and just want to go back to the hotel. Let your partner be ‘the heavy’. You get to tell the merchant you really want to buy the object there, but are afraid your partner may be right. You get to be the ‘good cop’. This especially works if you really don’t like haggling to begin with.

6) Know when and where to shop     

In many parts of the world merchants believe the first sale of the day to be a sign of good luck and may be more willing to work with you on a fair price. Conversely, in the evening the merchant may be worn out and willing to give you a good sale just so they can end the day and go home. Also avoid the tourist areas for shopping if you can. Go to the shops away from the main area. They get less traffic and may be more willing to work with you .

5) Learn the local language even if it’s just the words “too much”   

In many areas the merchant may speak English, but don’t let that deter you from trying to speak the local language. It gives the impression you’ve been ‘in country’ a while and have an idea what you should pay.  If their local language is a bit hard to learn (Turkish or Hungarian for example) the merchant will be amused that you know a few words or more. This alone may turn the process in your favor. Remember, this is not an argument but a polite discussion. Don’t take it too seriously. Humor is almost always an effective tool in negotiation.

4) It’s a lot like tennis         

You make an offer. The merchant counters the offer. There’s a lot of back and forth. The more back and forth there is the better price you’ll get. Don’t be rushed and allow for a possible ‘uncomfortable silence’. Let the merchant consider your counter proposal. And don’t respond too quickly to the offer they make. Once you agree to a price the negotiating ends, so forestall that for a bit if you’re not satisfied.  Again, NEVER purchase anything if you aren’t happy with the price.

3) Avoid touching the item but eyeball the daylights out of it.     

It’s an old sales trick that if you can get a person to touch the item they are more inclined to purchase it. Now, obviously if it’s an item of clothing you’ll want to try it on, but wait a bit. Let the negotiation unfold a while and use the touching to your advantage. Touching often denotes interest so get the process moving then let the merchant know you’re serious at the right time. Even though you aren’t touching the item look at it closely. Many merchants pack and unpack their items daily. Sometimes the items get superficial damage. Point it out and let them know you should get a discount for the damage.

2) Know the power of the “Walk Away”           

If you don’t get the price you want, walk away. If the price you requested wasn’t too low the merchant will usually accept it. You do run the risk of them not stopping you and you won’t be able to come back later and ask for the reduced price. Make sure you can accept the possibility of not getting the item.

1) Sweeten the pot           

If you can’t find an acceptable compromise on the price, sweeten the pot. Tell the merchant if they throw in another object to go with the original one, you’ll take it. Offer to buy a couple of the items. Let them know you’ll give them a good review on Facebook, or your blog, or Yelp. Tell them you have friends who also travel and you’ll promote the business. Offer something which gives the merchant an added incentive. Remember the merchant is trying to make a living just like you. Charm goes a long way.

So what do you think? Do you haggle when traveling abroad? What’s been your experiences? Do you love or hate it? Your feedback is very welcome.

8 Replies to “10 Top hints to successful and effective bargaining for travelers”

  1. Darryl, Sir, This is a great addition. I, for one, have had myriad opportunities to haggle, all around the world. I have haggled for airline tickets, hotels, meals, optional side day-trips,
    Massages, dental work & of course the usual souvenirs. I fancy myself at having become quite good at the art (or game, as some call it).
    I always attempt to haggle with the idea of a win-win situation, and never to take advantage of.
    It is considered – by many worldwide – to be a verbal sport, not only anticipated, expected, but also for the fun of it as well. Your hints are all great ones.
    If I may add, always try to laugh and enjoy the process and never look serious. Appear uninterested, and it is permissible to be upfront and allow them to know you enjoy their haggle-sport as well.
    A very good post indeed.

  2. Oooh a post for me! As a young woman who can still pass as a student, the ‘I have no money but I really want it look at these sad puppy eyes’ trick usually works, but yeah, good humor is definitely essential. I’d just add being humble and super exaggerately thankful to the list as it usually helps, but of course it depends on your haggling strategy

    1. You’re correct charm, humor and humility are all good resources. That strategy is clearly working for you.. if done right, haggling can even be friendship building. Thanks for commenting.

  3. This is very common in Southeast Asia, so I know how it works. You really need to do it or else you’ll spend much more than you’re supposed to. I try to ask locals whenever I can. In night markets in Hong Kong for instance, you can haggle for up to 70% off the original price. Everywhere I go I haggle as much as I can whenever possible.😆

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