How To Haggle

Those who grow up in countries where bartering and bargaining to get a good price for your shopping is the norm are probably not truely aware of what a skill they have. To the rest of us, haggling can be a real challenge for many reasons. You might be too shy to start a conversation, too polite to ever consider telling someone they are overcharging, too set on getting the lowest price humanly possible or just too unsure how the whole thing works.

It seems probable that the disproprtionate impact a small change to how something you do daily is done works both ways. People who see haggling as the only sensible way to shop must visit places where everything is carefully priced, labelled and where no amount of chat will budge the figures on the till and feel the thrill of knowing they are truely far from home. The world is slightly distorted and therefore, foreign. However, the rigid world of barcodes and price labels removes much of the human interaction, which is where most of the hesitation for those new to haggling comes from. Their thrill of the exotic is not as likely to be tinged with the fear of having to learn a new skill in front of strangers, of risking upsetting a shopkeeper or of not being able to purchase the desired item.

Haggling doesn’t need to be that scary though, although a little fear is often what makes travel memorable. While every culture will have it’s own approach to haggling, there are some good rules to bear in mind that will help make haggling an enjoyable experience.

Rule 1 – Do A Little Research

Don’t worry, I don’t mean spend days trawling the inernet, reading tales of how much other people bought things for. Just like in a fixed price economy, you will be much happier with your purchase if you’ve shopped around a little. If you know there is a certain type of thing you want to buy while you’re away, ask for the prices at a few places you see them, even if it’s not the one you really want. This way you’ll have more confidence that the person who is selling the one you want to buy is at least starting their price in line with others.

I would recommend doing this across different markets if you have the chance, some places tend to even out their prices across a small area.

Eavesdropping is also great research. Listen to locals and see the sort of prices they are getting. It also gives a good idea of the local style of haggling. Some places are insistently polite, and laughter goes a long way to getting the price dropped. Some places are more direct, and if you think they are asking too you have to tell them up front that’s what they’re doing.

Be careful copying the older women who clearly shop here every week though- they have built up their own goodwill over the years and have skills you newbies can only dream of.

Rule 2 – Understand the Point of Haggling

The point of haggling is not to get the item for lowest possible price. This is crucial. If you are set on paying less for something than anyone has ever paid before, you will not enjoy the haggle and you will likely come away feeling disappointed with the price you paid, or even empty handed if you are a really hard bargainer. The point of haggling is to ensure everyone goes away feeling they have gotten good value for their product. You might pay a bit more than a local. That’s fine, you are on holiday, you have probably saved a bit for this and can afford it. You might pay more than another tourist – that doesnt matter as long as you were happy with the price you paid. Also, haggling stories are like fishing stories and you ahould never trust anyone who likes to brag about the low prices they squeeze from shopkeepers.

Whilst I do advise listening out for the price others paid in rule 1, this rule, the most important rule in my opinion, actually goes against this. Once you have a rough price range you think your product should fall into, and you spy the dream item itself, before you start to haggle, set yourself an upper price limit. How much would this have to be for sale at in a shop at home before you wouldn’t buy it? Once you have this, the haggle can be fun – if you can’t get them down to this price, that’s OK, it was just too expensive for you. If you can, you can enjoy any haggling below your upper limit as it’s saving you money. You can stop when you are happy to rather than when you think you can’t possible wring any more from the seller. Even if you have overpaid by their standards, you’ve got a bargain by yours. Enjoy that part of it and don’t dwell on the former.

A street vendor in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Rule 3 – Don’t Be A Cynic

Ok. This one does have some caveats. If you are trying to get a good price for a camel ride outside a world famous tourist attraction, you can maybe be a bit cynical about the seller and their profit margins. However, if you’re in a regular market, trying to buy some food or clothing, don’t go in with the assumption people are trying to rip you off.

You may well experience a little tourist tax going on in places that are poorer in global terms, but most people aren’t out to gouge everyone they meet. They think you can afford a little more, and you almost certainly can, so don’t automatically scrimp on those few pennies or cents.

The beauty of haggling is the seller can balance their profits over the day. If they can make a little more from those who afford it, they can do a great deal for the person who can’t.

Rule 4 – Giving Up Isn’t Failure

In stark contrast to rule 3, some vendors are just profiteers, just like some shops are. You’ll quickly realise when someone isn’t playing the game and it’s time to cut your losses and leave.

Also, some items simply might not be as cheap as you hoped they would be. Walking away without a purchase isn’t a failure. It doesn’t mean you didn’t haggle right, or enough. It just means that product wasn’t the right price for you, like the beautiful clothing you might look at in a department store but can’t justify buying. Not buying that wouldn’t feel like failure, so neither should this.

That’s really all there is to it. Know the worst thing that can happen is you pay more than someone else for a product. As long as you had your ideal amount in mind before you started, how much anyone paid is irrelevant. And if that’s the worst thing that can happen, what’s stopping giving it a try?


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