If you’ve travelled through Asia or South America, you will have undoubtably found yourself in a place where bargaining was necessary. It’s a way of life in many regions of the world and you wont be able to buy anything without going through the process, unless of course, you feel like getting ripped off all the time. It’s understandable that you may feel a bit weary about it, or that you don’t even know where to start. So we’ve complied a list of things to keep in mind to help you navigate through this cultural wonder. Its a skill that needs developing, so don’t give up on your first try. Remember, the locals you are bartering with have been doing this all their lives, it takes a bit of practice , but using these tips will have you on your way to becoming a bargaining master.
1) Language: If there’s one thing that will help you out in any situation while abroad, it’s putting in a little effort. Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out and take an international language course or anything, but never underestimate the power of the local language. Simple things like hello, thank-you, no thank you, I’m sorry and I don’t understand will all bring a cheek to cheek grin on a local you’re doing business with.
2) Mind Your P’s and Q’s :No matter what happens and regardless of how terribly you think you’re being treated. Swallow your pride and your urge to put someone in their place. Remember that the people living here (or there) come across jerks everyday. You may have swung by their shop just after someone tried to take the shirt off their back. No matter what happens, you’re interacting with a person. This isn’t just their livelihood. You’re participating in a part of their culture. Bargaining is probably second nature to you , so if things aren’t going your way, please remember to keep your cool. No one likes to see someone screaming at an old lady because the dude down the road is offering the same old same old for a dollar less. Go see him and shut your damn mouth.
3) Dress Down: The old man selling fake Ray Bans over yander is going to do a quick evaluation of you while you browse. The first thing he is going to notice is your age. If you’re a bit on the younger side, you’re already at a disadvantage (In most Asian countries, respect comes from age, not beauty) (I am in no way saying older people are not beautiful) (Lets not get too sensitive here). The second most prominent thing starring him in the face will be how much you look like you can afford to pay him. So please, do yourself a favour and remove that big ass Nikon from your neck, put way your iPhone and leave your designer purse at home. That sweet new shirt your brother picked up for you on his recent rendez-vous in Ibiza will not help you here.
4) Rock the Attitude of “Meh…”: NEVER ever ask for the price on ANYTHING, unless you’re willing to throw down in an all out bargaining brawl. You might be followed around the store with kind little “try it on” or “how much you pay?” and the classic “I have good price for you.” Always respond with a sweet smile and a kind “I’m just looking” attitude, unless of course you’re completely prepared for battle.
5) Browse With Your Eyes and Ears: Price tags and bewildered tourists are more of the norm these days. A bunch of people stumbling around, uncomfortable with the bargaining process and unwilling to engage are making this age old “lets make a deal” process ever more difficult. Shopkeepers know we’re not into this so they have started posting signs to “make us more comfortable.” In reality, they’re just ensuring a good price on their end. Yes, you’re being ripped off. I’m going to tell you something that may make you uncomfortable, but just like you’re evaluated by the people you’re buying from, you need to evaluate your fellow tourist. Yes, I’m telling you to judge people. How old are they? What are they wearing? Did they raise their voice or get upset? What price did they get? Now if you’ve got yourself together and you can pick out the ones that made a bunch of mistakes, go ahead and take about 30% off of what they just paid and throw yourself into the game.
6) Ask A Local: Hotel clerks, restaurant owners and locals browsing will often be able to tell you the standard cost of local transportation and street prices on something you’ve been eyeing. As I’m telling you this, you may believe you can go out and get something for this price. This is not the case. There will always be a local price and a tourist price and there’s no use in getting all worked up about it. You do however have something to shoot for and a general maximum to work towards.
7) Timing Matters: In many parts around Asia, superstition and concepts of luck are still very prevalent in everyday living. Being a vendor’s first customer of the day could possibly get you one of the days best deals. An example of this in action is in the early hours of the morning, a vendor might be waving a trinket or luck charm over their table. Luck is very important to them and everyone wants a lucky day. The first customer paying a vendor might see them touching each item on their table with the money they just paid, as it brings the luck of a swift sale for the rest of the day. People also willing to let something go at a cheaper rate to get the day going. It’s bad luck for them if they make it to noon without having sold anything. The first sale is a very big deal. As the day reaches sunset, people seem more willing to let things go for cheap. Either they haven’t sold what they wanted to throughout the day and they’re trying to up their quota, or because they had an amazing day of sales and they’re in a good mood, there are many steals too be had as the vendor is just packing up. If you could choose a bad time of day to shop, it would be lunch. They’re hot, they’re tired and all they want is a nap and a good meal. Be careful at this time of day, I have been quoted outrageous prices because the dude I made an offer to was in the middle of lunch and just wanted me to go away.
8) Be Loyal: Within two hours of being in a new place I have a water lady, a snack lady and a sandwich or noodle lady (or man, of course) all picked out. I always choose local vendors that are not a part of a chain store and I’ll often choose a little old lady over a young up and comer. If she’s seventy years old selling bananas on the corner, you can bet its because she has to. I will go out of my way to frequent these people while I’m in town. Over time, snacks become bundled for cheaper prices, stories are shared and friends are made. Once you’re friends with a local they are more than willing let something go for cheaper and happy to introduce you to other local vendors in the area (as their friend). This is where deals are swift and you don’t have to bargain your way down from an outrageous price. Because you’re a friend, you’ll only have to bargain down from a normal rate (still not a local rate, but one of the best you’re going to get).
9) Do as the Locals Do: Where are they eating? What are they eating? What brands of water or snacks are they eating? You can bet these places and things are some of the better deals in town, follow suit.
10) The Rule of Fifty: No one wants to get ripped off. You’re looking for the best deal out there and so is your bargaining partner. It should be made known, that offering a price that is too low could land you in hot water. If you’re a novice, and you don’t feel like having cuss words spit into your face, it’s important to remember the “Rule of 50%.” Anything much lower than this shouldn’t be attempted unless you are absolutely sure of the true worth of something. I have seen and heard the side effects of a lowball bargain. Trust me, you don’t want to be involved.
11) Stay Clear of the Tourist Trap: Some things that let you know you’re in one include: posted prices on merchandise, the same thing being sold in every shop (maybe it’s a different colour, but ya, they found what worked and now they all want to cash in on it), catchy slogans and posters for events written in decent English (they have paid someone to write this), signs on almost every place of business saying “Trip Advisor Rated” or something similar, as well as the drop of the “Lonely Planet “ name. You will pay double, if not more in these areas, for all things, including accommodation.
12) Don’t Be Rude: It doesn’t matter how poorly you think you’re being treated. You never know what happened just before you walked in. Someone may have tried to steal the shirt off their back, for all you know. It goes without saying that no one should ever raise their voice, cuss or belittle anyone. The old lady you’re yelling at isn’t going to give you a better deal because you’ve raised your voice at her. She doesn’t care that the guy down the road is selling the same thing for cheaper, stop being an asshole and go buy it off of him then.
13) Marked Pricing: Unless you’re in a morning market that sells produce and meat (where things are usually measured and priced by kilo,) you’re being ripped off. Vendors know foreigners are uncomfortable with the bargaining process and they are setting themselves up to profit from the ones that don’t know what they’re doing. They know that many of you can’t be bothered and they just have to stick up a sign and you’ll gladly pay them the asking price. (If you see a lot of this going on, you’re in the middle of a tourist trap. These are great places to find all of the awesome stuff you want to bring home for your bestie, Susie, but you shouldn’t buy these things here).
14) Be Committed: You’re uncomfortable, you hate this and you just want it to be over with already. If you’re involved in a bargaining battle, you’re already halfway there. Dig in and stick with it, you’re getting mad respect right now. The local you are bargaining with is completely in their element and they are overjoyed at the fact that you’re even attempting to do this with them.
15) They’ve Cracked a Smile: You’ve been going back and forth and you feel like this may never end, until BOOM! They’ve cracked a smile. You’re right in the ballpark now, with a homerun just around the corner.
16) Don’t Brag: No one likes a show off. You got a great deal, awesome. Now be quiet. While you might be excited and ready to tell the whole world, the dude you just bought that from has a reputation to worry about. Yes, he’s probably still making a buck, and he wouldn’t have made the deal with you if he didn’t think it was worth his while. Just keep in mind that he’s living in a community where tourists are bread and butter. His neighbor may not be so keen to hear what you just stole that sarong for, and he’s going to hear about it when you wander off (and when your friends return looking to make the same deal).
17) The Walk Away: You just can’t seem to make a deal. You’ve reached your max and your bargaining partner is having none of it. Smile, say “no thank you,” turn and walk away. There are only two possible out comes here, one would be that you really weren’t as close as you thought you were and they’re going to let you keep walking. The second, more common response (because you were doing such an awesome job and they underestimated your mad skills) is that they will yell OK! OK! OK! They will run after you in hopes of selling the item for the last offer you made. Now either you accept their plea, or go try out your skills on another vendor for the same merchandise. Since you now know what it will actually go for, you may want to reevaluate and set this price as your new max (and getting yourself an even better deal than this one).
18) Make a Point: This step will pretty much only happen in the transportation sector. It is the kind of step that should only be implemented by the most seasoned traveler or someone incredibly stubborn. I have pulled this one a few times and it can go one of two ways, the first being that no one will notice you and you will be considered and idiot, the second will have you gaining respect all around town. People will call one another down the road to let them know you are coming and you will become a living legend (well, almost). This is not to secure a deal. You have to accept that it’s over. It’s not happening, you know it and despite the fact that you have been sweating since 8am and the road ahead of you is really freaking long, you’re going to implement the “walk away” and then you’re going to take it further (sometimes 3 or 4 Kilometers further) to “make a point.” There is nothing fun about this step, so only go into it if you’re fully prepared. Secure yourself some water from the nearest “water lady” because this is going to suck. People have been called down the road and they’re ready to make the same ridiculous offer to do as you walk and walk and walk, closer to your destination. If you accept their ride, you’ve lost and stories of your loss will be the source of entertainment for every driver in town over the next few days. If you succeed, you will more than likely get a free ride back into town. These guys know they are royally ripping you off, but what they’ll never expect is for someone who actually knows what they’re doing to come along. Someone with all the time in the world who isn’t going to play the game. There is an off chance that someone in town isn’t an asshole, they may drive by and offer a ride at a quarter of what you were bargaining for. It’s worth it, if it happens, but it rarely does. This person is willingly sticking his neck out and will get into serious trouble from his transport mates if he’s caught with you as his passenger. You will be asked how much he charged you and you’ll probably have to lie to save him (making your point worthless)
19) CASH ONLY: You may live in a plastic currency world wherever you come from, but here (or there) cash is the only real form of payment (unless you’re in a swanky hotel). So bring lots of it and never bargain on an empty wallet. Once you walk away, the deal is over and you may never be able to swing it again. (You wouldn’t believe the excuses people give not to buy something when it doesn’t go in their favour. The all mighty “oh, I need to go to the ATM” is very high on this list, leaving the vendor in the dust and with the buyer never to return and honour the agreement made. Oh, and while we’re on the topic make sure to use the local currency. If you were just over in Laos and you’ve got a crap load of Kip on you, it’s not super cool of you to ask the guy in Thailand to accept it. It’s called a currency exchange booth, and they’re everywhere.
20) Smile: No one likes a Grumpy McGrumpypants, give your head a shake.