Bargaining at Markets in a Foreign Country
Shopping in local markets is one of the best ways to explore a country. It’s a great way to interact with locals, try new foods and get unique souvenirs that will remind you of your trip for years to come. There are also amazing deals to be had! Souks, Marchés, Bazaars, Night Markets whatever their name, they are all similar in that they carry everything under the sun, you name it they’ve got it! Traditional clothing, spices, key chains, bowls, delicacies, scarves, paintings, jewelry, sculptures, rugs, bags, shoes, lamps, wallets, postcards, even animals are a just a few of some of the hidden gems that you can find! Most vendors in markets sell their goods for about half the price of items sold in store fronts or at the airport but there is a definitely an art to bargaining and getting the most bang for your buck. It is a challenge and can sometimes be overwhelming since there are no fixed prices. At times you may feel pressured to buy things you don’t even want and all of the sudden you are walking back to your hotel with not 1 but 5 throw pillows that you had no intention of buying and no room for in your luggage. Here are some tips for bargaining when shopping at international markets.
Walk the Market Before You Buy Anything
Take a tour of the market to see everything that it has to offer. It’s the worst feeling in the world to buy something right away and then two tables down you see the same thing but in a more appealing color. It’s also helpful during this time to hear what the vendors are charging other shoppers for certain items so that you have an idea in your head what the average price for the items are. Just listen from a distance.
If You Aren’t Interested in Buying Something Don’t Show Any Interest
If you really aren’t in the mood to shop or spend money it will save you a lot of time and energy to not show interest in the items being sold. There is no such thing as “I’m just looking” when shopping at a market when you are abroad. If you pick something up they basically assume that you are taking it and the incessant badgering begins.
If You are Interested in a Particular Item, Pick it up
This is the first step in negotiation. Pick it up, turn it around, cock your head to the side and look indifferent as if to signal, “it’s ok but not THAT great”. Usually during this time the vendor will greet you and ask you where you are visiting from. This is not because they are trying to be nice, well sometimes it, but usually it’s because they are sizing you up for how much they think you would be willing to pay for an item. What can I say, westerners are suckers and overly trusting!
Ask the Price
Only ask the price if you are somewhat serious about buying the item because as soon as you ask, it’s “go-time” for the vendor. They will immediately respond with, “how many do you want?” This is a sneaky sales technique that they will use to try and pressure you into buying more. It’s meant to make you feel like they can’t give you a deal because you aren’t buying multiple items. Don’t fall for it!
Never Accept the First Quoted Price
Once you ask the price the vendor will give you a price that is usually double, tripled and sometimes five times the actual price (as Amy and I found in India). The price is dependent on what part of the world you come from. If you are willing to pay a little over half of the price that was quoted than you can start negotiating. If not, don’t even start, trust me it will save you a lot of time in the long run. If you are interested though, then tell them that you will pay half the price.
They will usually smile or laugh and act offended that you are only willing to pay half the price. This is ok and again, don’t fall for it! You would be offended if you actually knew the true price of the item, which probably costs next to nothing.
Always, Always Always Negotiate!
Once you ask to pay for half of what it costs, the vendor will play hard ball and knock off a few dollars (or cents depending on the item). Now it’s your turn to smile and laugh and act offended. Don’t say a word, just look at the item, shake your head and act like it’s not worth it.
This will usually prompt them to say, “I can’t give it to you for half but how much are you willing to pay?”
Even at this point, do not give them the limit that you are willing to pay, make it a little bit less than that, depending on the price of the object.
Make a Decision
Once you give the second price that you are willing to pay, a few things will happen. They will either accept, or they will agree to that price if you take multiple items or they will come back with a price a little bit higher than your last offer- which will probably be the price you were willing to pay at the very beginning.
If they don’t budge then you walk. Only walk if you are 100% sure that you can live without the item. Once you set it down politely say no thank you and walk away. If they want to make the sale they will come down and say, “ok for you I make a good deal”. If not then you keep walking knowing that you weren’t willing to pay that price in the first place
Walk back to your hotel and dump out all your spoils and do a happy-dance. Then start to re-work your suitcase to find room for it!
** A few other tricks to watch out for
- Sometimes in the middle of negotiating they will start to put your item in a bag before you have settled on a price. Kindly tell them that you are still thinking about it.
- Sometimes vendors will act like they don’t have change if you have a big bills, this happens a lot. It’s always best to carry small bills when shopping at a market and keeping them away from the rest of your money so they don’t see how much you have.
Shopping in international markets is meant to be fun and can be a very rewarding experience. There is definitely an art to haggling but it’s also important to keep it light-hearted. Selling techniques in developing countries such as Southeast Asia, Morocco, India and Mexico just to name a few, are very different from how we shop at home. It’s easy to take offense, as sometimes they may appear to be a little aggressive. Just remember you are a guest in their country while also representing your own.
Someone once gave me some really good advice that I take with me wherever I go. If you feel the item is a fair price-even if you could get them to come down a little bit more-then go for it! It’s probably much cheaper than if you were buying it at home. And don’t forget it’s not just about the souvenir but also the unforgettable memories of the purchase that helps to make it that much more valuable.