Ten Tips for Haggling

Photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Creative Commons

Everyone loves shopping while traveling, and visiting a local market is often the best way to find treasures or souvenirs to bring home.

Many traditional local markets don’t operate the same way as shopping mall stores and boutiques, where the price tag has the final say. At these native markets, bargaining for the best deal is the norm.  It can be awkward getting started, so here are some tips to help you get familiar with the fine art of haggling.

1.    Stop worrying about looking cheap!

Canadians and Americans have been raised to pay the price and not haggle. We have a fear of looking cheap, aggressive or being inappropriate. But, in many other countries, bargaining is expected and it’s all part of the shopping experience. So don’t be shy: Jump in and let the haggling begin.

2.     Compare before you start haggling

Look through the overall market to see what vendors are offering. Often the vendors selling the same goods are all placed together and you can get an idea of who has the best goods. Sometimes, you need to do more legwork and scout out the vendors. It’s always a good idea to know what is available before you start the whole process.

3.    Bargain only if you are seriously interested in buying

Don’t waste the vendors precious time by engaging in the whole process unless you are serious about making a purchase. Touching an item is a signal you are opening up negotiations. If you’re just window shopping and not interested in buying, then keep your hands off the merchandise. Start off by asking for the vendor’s permission to touch the item, particularly if it’s fragile. It’s considered very rude to start the whole process if you’re not seriously interested in the piece you’re haggling over. Haggling is a serious business.

4.    Don’t cave! Stay firm

Many beginners want to just get the whole process over with and will jump at the first reasonable price or discount. Accepting the first price offered will get you pegged in the market as an easy mark and everyone will start overcharging you. Test the waters by asking about an opening price offered by a number of vendors. Avoid the ones offering either the highest price or lowest, since you want to go with the mid-range opening prices.

5.    Curb your enthusiasm

Put on your best poker face and keep it neutral. Start off by asking 50 percent less than the asking price. You’ll get a disappointed grumble from the vendor who will then offer you a price of about 10 percent off the price. Don’t grumble back, smile but look a bit disappointed. Counter with a slightly higher offer so the vendor can offer another price. This back-and-forth exchange is the heart of bartering.

6.    Keep it friendly and polite

Pick a vendor you like and start from there. In busy markets you may get a fair amount of aggressive vendors grabbing at you. Be friendly but firm if you are feeling pressured or not being given time to look at the merchandise.  Haggling is about supposed to be a friendly back-and-forth exchange. Arguing just ruins the spirit of the deal. Be prepared to walk away if you feel the vendor is too pushy or gets nasty when you don’t immediately respond.

7.    Slow down and be patient

Enjoy the process and get into the spirit of it. If not speaking the language is a barrier, then mime what you want or use body language to convey your emotions. Remember, numbers are universal so you can use a calculator and pass that back and forth or write the numbers down. The longer the process takes, the bigger your discount. You may just come away from the whole deal with a new friend.

Photo courtesy Reinhard Jahn, Creative Commons

8.   Look it over again

Seriously consider each offer by reexamining the item. You want to come across as someone who is discerning and looking for the best item possible. The exchange is about the vendor convincing you the item is worthy of the asking price while you try to find a reason for the price being lowered. Don’t be shy about questioning the vendor about the workmanship or the quality of the goods.

9.    Know when to walk

End the exchange by walking away. When you want to wrap up the deal, start to walk away as if you reached your limit. Walking away casually and slowly is the signal that the vendor must offer a final price.  Try offering one final price and see if the vendor will counter.

10.    Don’t be stingy

Everyone loves a bargain but you don’t want to squeeze the vendor too much so that they don’t make a profit. Know when to accept an offer and not get too cheap. As you get closer to the price you want to pay, offer cash and then pay in small bills. Know when to close. There’s haggling and then there’s being stingy.

Be sure to thank your vendor, give a warm smile as your being handed your newly purchased items.  Don’t worry if you didn’t get the price you wanted or forgot some of the steps. With each deal, you’ll get smoother and then you can really start to enjoy the subtle art of haggling.

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About the author: Shelagh McNally

Shelagh started her travel-writing career in 1997 working for the Miami Herald in Cancun, Mexico. She went on to contribute to 12 editions of Fodor's Guides while writing about Latin America for a variety of other American, Canadian and British publications. She is also the author of the Guide to Guatemala and as several guides to Maya Ruins. She likes nothing better than hitting the road to explore new places or revisiting favorite haunts to share with her friends and followers. She is currently based in Montreal, Canada.

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