Bargaining 101: Let’s Make a Deal

Posted on August 31, 2011


For many student travelers, bargaining is an exciting, new, and likely foreign concept. Students want to know when bargaining is appropriate, and also how to get the best deal. This article will outline the best practices in bargaining for those who love shopping in other countries. We’ll let you know how to determine when bargaining is appropriate and also provide some useful tips so you can be sure you’re getting the best possible deal. Follow this guide and you will walk away a satisfied customer!

By Lisa Koehler

Bargaining, sometimes called haggling, refers to a conversation that independent travelers have to lower the price of an item. Often bargaining takes place in outdoor markets, with vendors or sometimes even with Moroccan souks. Bargaining varies from country to country based on cultural expectations, so before you start to haggle down a price for an item it’s important to understand a few things about the culture of the person you’re haggling with.

When is bargaining appropriate?
Not all vendors are open to bargaining, but asking a few simple questions will let you know. If you’re interested in an item, we suggest you simply say, “It’s just too much money.” This will give the vendor the chance to make the first offer. If he or she lowers the price by 2% or more, start bargaining! You can’t hurt to ask for a discount, but don’t get upset if the vendor says no. Ask several times to make sure the door is closed to cutting a deal.

Before you hit the street markets, research the culture of the country you want to bargain in. For example, in China haggling is a fast-paced conversation where you never let on that the items have value — but beware the would-be haggler who insults the quality of a leather bag in a market in Florence!

Now that you know when you can give it a shot, here are some tips to save money:

  • Take your time. Bargaining involves patience. Have a chat and get to know the vendor with whom you are dealing. If he knows you are serious, he will be more inclined to accommodate your offer. Think about the price and never bid more than you are willing to pay. If the vendor accepts your offer, you must make the deal.
  • Determine what the item is worth to you. Before even looking at the price tag or asking what the cost of an item is, ask yourself what you would be willing to pay. Merchants often use a price tag to put a false idea of what an item is worth in the customer’s head. Buyers then feel satisfied if they are able to get a price lowered by half when the prices was artificially quadrupled in the first place.
  • Shop around. Prices for the same item in the same market can range significantly from vendor to vendor. One time in the Florence Market, I haggled a vendor down to less than half of his original asking price for a ring only to turn the corner and see the same ring being sold for €2 less than what I had just paid. In Moroccan Souqs (street markets), it’s typical to pay only 25% of the starting price. Make sure to haggle with several vendors for similar products to find the going rate on the market.
  • Stay serious while looking indifferent. Like their customers, merchants do not want to waste their time. You have to let them know you are serious about making the purchase, but also that you do not need to have it. When they know you really want something, they are will not offer the lowest possible price.
  • Dress down. While shopping through the market, you may have a better shot at scoring a few deals if you are not sporting your fancy tourist gear. If you appear as though you have money, you may have a more difficult time bargaining. Dressing more modestly may prevent vendor from inflating their prices based their perception of your wealth.
  • Tell them you want to buy more than one. If you are interested in buying more than one purse, scarf, pair of sunglasses, or any other item, your business is going to look a lot more appealing to that merchant.  You will be in a better position to bargain, and he will be more willing to lower the price of each individual item.
  • Show THEM the money! While you’re standing there deciding whether to buy or move on, whip out some cash. If the vendor sees in your hand the amount of cash that you are willing to pay, he is more likely to back down and make the deal.
  • Walk away. If you feel you have given it all that you’ve got and that the price is still too high, just walk away. Don’t feel guilty about wasting their time, that’s just what they want. You will probably find a better deal somewhere else, or they might even follow you with a bigger price cut.
  • Watch and Learn. Pay attention to the shoppers around you and the vendors they are dealing with. If you see a good deal being made, go over and try to get the same one. If you see a vendor who is being stubborn with pricing, move on to someone else.
  • Purchase multiple items. You can usually get significantly lower prices if you buy more than one item. See if your friend wants the same item and bargain together so you both get a better deal.
  • A deal’s a deal. Once you agree on a price and to make a purchase, you shouldn’t try to lower the price again just because you realize you may have gotten a better deal. This will often anger vendors, who may react angrily and kick you out of the store.
  • Wait until the end of the day. Oftentimes, you can get a better deal if you make purchases towards the end of the day as vendors are packing up to go home.
  • Be friendly. Do not insult or anger the vendor. Friendly bargainers get deals, not rude ones. Your tone of voice and body language is a huge part of this.

By following these simple steps, you’ll sure get the best possible deals during your first foray into the fun world of bargaining!

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