How To Bargain Your Way To A Good Price

March 27, 2008 by Anil Polat  

Negotiating a good price while shopping around the world will not only save you money on a variety of goods, but help you to forge relationships and learn about the culture you are immersed in. Tourists from the US and Europe often fall prey to higher prices because they’re used to a fixed cost at home and feel awkward trying to cut a deal.

Bargaining your way to a good price is easy if you’re firm and use the negotiating disadvantages of being a tourist to your benefit – here’s how.

  • Always Look At More Than One Store, Especially On Day 1 of Shopping – You won’t be able to know what an item is worth or how much the prices have been jacked up if you don’t compare. Most shopkeepers will try to convince you that their souvenirs can only be found there which is most always not the case. Find the store with the lowest price and begin your negotiating there.

  • Don’t Walk In With A Smile – There are tourists and seasoned travelers; you want to be in the latter category. A smile says you’re seeing everything new for the first time and are eager to buy the strange foreign goods you can’t get in your home country.
  • Never Seem Eager To Buy – The more eager you are to buy (and show it) the harder it will be for you to bargain. Being a tourist, shopkeepers know that your chances of buying are good. Once you give up your cover, either move on to another store or settle for a bad price.
  • Give Several Items Equal Eye Time – Never spend too much initial time on any items that you are interested in. Look at a few things spread out evenly throughout the store to deflect your interest. The shopkeeper won’t have a good idea of what you’re really interest in and try to push you toward one of the items. That’s when you’ll know what they make the most profit on and you can bargain down the most.
  • Talk With The Salespeople – Bargaining may be all about money for Americans and Europeans, but keep in mind that it’s all about building relationships everywhere else. Store owners around the world give discounts in order to get repeat business. They’re less likely to do so with tourists since you probably won’t be back. Start a light conversation, take any food or drinks that are offered, and tell them how you’d really like to come back to the place. Now you’re not just a face, but a potential repeat customer.
  • Go Close To Closing Or Off-Peak Hours – The traditional disadvantage that tourists have is that they’re crunched for time. Shopping is usually left toward the bottom of the to-do list and there is that flight to catch. Turn the tables by walking in close to closing time (or off-peak) and put the store owners on the clock. They’ll be eager to get a sale and get rid of you – giving you the advantage. It also increases your face time making it easier to build relationships.
  • Take The Initial Discount and Apply It To The New Price – Take a price that is dropped instantly 25% from 1000 rupees to 750 rupees. Now you’re working with 750 rupees so take 25% off of that (562.5 rupees). That’s the price you’ll be aiming for in your head. Anything less that 20%, double it.
  • Don’t Buy Into Guilt – Never allow the shopkeeper to make you feel guilty for any reason. You work for your money too and you’re not taking food out of anyone’s mouth. The assumption that all tourists are rich can work for you if you remind the shopkeeper that the same products can be found at the other store you compared prices with earlier.
  • Stay Firm – Stick to a number in your head and keep to it. Tell the salesperson that you have set a shopping budget and are going to follow it no matter what – remember not to tell them what that price is.
    • Never let a shopkeeper add items to the things you want – a common trick. “I’m giving you a good price, so here add this purse in” is always a no.
  • Keep Cultural Differences In Mind – If you’re going to a place where women wandering around alone is taboo, or shaking hands is rude, try to avoid these things when you enter the store (bring a guy friend or keep your hands to yourself). It’s all about building relationships remember?
  • You Can Always Walk Out – Don’t be afraid to flaunt that you’ll walk right out of the place if you don’t get a good deal, get bored, or simply because you’re hungry. Your interest should not seem like it’s in buying stuff but rather in looking around and staying entertained. Never settle on a price that you’re not comfortable with; just leave and look elsewhere.
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Also don’t completely rule out the possibility of bargaining in more traditional stores, malls, or in the US or Europe. Otherwise, do your best to blend in and remember that bargaining is not a confrontational effort to get the lowest price. The final result of negotiating should end in both parities being satisfied and you with a decent price.

[photos by: mick y, yxejamir]

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  1. Shannon OD says:

    I love all of these tips and use them all…except that I agree with Deb – I smile a lot. When I was with my cousin we did the good-cop-bad-cop routine, but when I am solo I am a madly skilled bargainer 🙂

    I find that the smile disarms them and a little bit of local language can also get them on your side and prove that although you are friendly, you know what’s what! 🙂

    • Anil P. says:

      I love bargaining, I actually miss it in places where it’s not an option. It adds some fun to the process of shopping. Good point – whether you smile or not being confident it probably the most important thing to convey.

  2. Aww, I always smile. I can’t help it. But you know what, I can get away with it because we always play “good cop bad cop”
    Dave is the real bargainer, I know what I want to pay, and have no problem walking away, but Dave is really good a getting the price he wants. So they think that they are going to get a steal, but we end up bartering pretty hard. It always surprises them. They look to me hoping that I will give in since I am the smiley one, but I don’t.
    Maybe it is the way people smile, I smile because I enjoy being friendly, but I guess that my smile probably doesn’t have that look of awe and wonder in it.
    But I will never stop smiling, I love people that smile:)
    All very good tips! Bartering can be a lot of fun and most of the time we have a good laugh and everyone walks away happy.

    • Anil P. says:

      The smile can go a long way and acutally you’ve given me an idea for a post about it and bargaining. I think in many cultures (especially Asian ones) it’s more acceptable for women to smile when bargaining. I’d say this is certainly the case in many cultures throughout the Middle East for example as well.

      It’s good to go in as a team, it helps balance the approach and give you perspective on prices and deflect the pressure. There’s that initial sizing up stage you go through in the beginning of the bargaining process but after that it can be a fun process leading to many smiles – especially if both sides walk away happy like you said!!

  3. Anil P. says:

    @ D:

    Good question 🙂 There are a number of ways to go about it, but I think it would be best to answer your question in a post, rather in the comments. That way I’d better be able to reply – although I will say this, body language, your knowledge of local customs, and knowing what you’re looking for are key!

    Look for that post sometime this week…

  4. D says:

    Hey Anil–I showed this blog entry to a friend, and he posed a good question: How do you deal with the language barrier? Can’t bargain when you can’t communicate in the local tongue…