I really, really, REALLY hate bargaining so it might seem strange that I am here giving you bargaining tips. I love perusing markets, however, and picking out unique gifts for the people back home, but the thought of having to haggle over prices in broken English with a savvy street vendor is almost enough to keep me away. Mostly it’s because I just hate conflict of any kind. I hate acting tough, I hate being pressured and I hate arguing, especially with people I don’t know.
As a traveler though, bargaining has become an essential part of my life. In South East Asia, for example, everything- from tuk-tuk rides to hotel rooms need to be bargained down unless you want to pay fool’s prices. So I bargain. I may not like it, but I can grit my teeth and do it.
So here are my bargaining tips for getting a fair price when you’d really rather just order online:
Bring a Buddy– Preferably a more assertive one. My boyfriend, for example, LOVES the challenge of a good haggle, so I’m happy to let him step up and do my dirty work for me. Is it a cop-out? Sure, but it’s an effective one.
You’re not always going to have someone with you though, so it’s good to master a few bargaining tips on your own:
Set a Limit- Before you even start negotiations figure out the absolute most you are willing to pay for that antique clock/boat ride/room for the night. Knowing your boundaries will help you stay focused.
Bring a Calculator– One of the most challenging parts of bargaining in another country is the language barrier. Many vendors in SE Asia have calculators that they use to type out the prices and to bargain. If you’re worried about getting your point across, invest in a pocket-size one for yourself.
Buy in Bulk- One of the easiest ways to drive down the price of just about anything is to up the volume. A seller might insist that a woven scarf is worth $5, but if you offer to buy two, you can sometimes get the price dropped to $3 each (this is only worthwhile if you want two of course). This works in hotel rooms too- stay more than one night and it is easier to negotiate a lower price per night. If you are looking to buy gifts this can be a wonderful bargaining tip.
Walk Away- Your feet are absolutely your best bargaining tool. The main weakness that most of these salespeople have is that there is far greater supply than demand. They know that if you don’t like their prices for hand carved buddhas you can just head to the next stall and start all over again. There have been times I’ve accidentally bargained down a price to record lows just by picking it up, looking at it and walking away. I didn’t actually want those panda chopsticks or wooden frogs or whatever but the sellers definitely wanted to sell them to me.
Don’t Look at it as a Fight- Most important of all is making sure you are in the right mindset. I always viewed haggling as a confrontational act, but for most local people it’s not personal- it’s a way of life. The locals are expecting to haggle- they’ve marked up their merchandise because they are expecting the price to come down. As my friend Anil at Foxnomad told me “the goal is to tie, not win.” Perhaps this is one of the best bargaining tips to keep in mind.
What’s one of your top bargaining tips?
Still struggling with bargaining? Check out these 7 tips to make you a better at bargaining.