One for the road: Bargaining

“Lady, buy? Cheap! I give you good price!”

That’s the usual refrain I hear when browsing markets the world over. I love visiting traditional arts and crafts markets, local produce markets – in fact, any kind of market, anywhere in the world. However, for first timers to the souks, bazaars, markets, psars and mercados of the world, the lack of price tags, refund policies and sometimes, vendor scruples, can be intimidating. So how does one go about the fine art of bargaining?

Keep a poker face

Even if you love something, don’t show it! Once the seller senses that you really really want an item, they won’t be as willing to bargain with you. Don’t make the first offer. Instead, glance over the merchandise,  andhold a piece up desultorily for awhile. If the shopkeeper is watching you, he’ll probably name a price for it. Shake your head, express outrage at the cost, and put it back down.

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Start low 

Your opening bid depends on where you are – in Asia, you can usually offer a quarter of the vendor’s price; however this is location dependent. In Morocco, we were laughed out of shops, so we had to start at about half of the vendor’s price. Ask your hotel’s front desk for guidance.

Hold your ground

Don’t jump up your offers too fast or high. Take your time and enjoy the process. Make sure you have an upper limit in your mind, and stick to it. Don’t let shopkeepers goad you into a higher price. Stand your ground. Useful phrases include:

  • “I’m not 100% sure about it”
  • “My friend bought it for $x cheaper yesterday”
  • “The fit/cut/size of this is not perfect…”
  • “It’s okay, but I don’t really need it.”
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Keep smiling

Remember to stay friendly and build rapport. Make jokes, ask about shop, the wares, the shopkeeper himself. Never get annoyed or frustrated – any loss of temper is seen as a serious loss of face in many Asian countries, so don’t raise your voice or show anger. Honey catches more flies than vinegar, and if you can get the shopkeeper to like you, he or she will be more willing to give you a good price.

Be prepared to walk away

Make sure you know your upper limit and once you’ve reached it, be prepared to walk away. Sometimes, the most powerful tool in a bargainer’s arsenal is walking away. If you do walk away, don’t revisit the shop again. Instead, try to find the same item in another shop and attempt to give bargaining another go.

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Lastly, bargaining can be fun, so let yourself enjoy it. Don’t feel pressurised to buy – if you are not happy with the price, simply walk away. Similarly, it’s not good manners to open the haggling process with no intention to buy, or to reopen negotiations once you’ve both agreed on a price. While it’s not my favourite travel activity, bargaining is a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals, try the local language and hopefully, bag a bargain. Good luck!

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7 Comments

  1. travelrat says:

    All good tips; usually, he needs to sell more than you want to buy … Also, if you want a number of items, don’t buy from one stall, but spread your custom around several.

  2. mapofjo says:

    What a great little post. One ill keep in mind when I get to Asia!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Thanks mapofjo! Glad you found it useful. Have a great time in Asia!

  3. Vanessa Chan says:

    Love this! Very useful when I heard to Bangkok in a few weeks! Also voraciously reading your Spain travel tales before I head there next month! xoxo Van

    1. Yay! Have a fantastic trip! There’s a Bangkok itinerary on here that you may find useful. Where in Spain are you heading to? Very jealous! Safe trails! x

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