Tips for Haggling over Goods with Local Vendors

It’s All Part of the Experience

Haggling is an art form. Do it well and you will get great deals and have a wonderful local experience. Get it wrong and you will offend the vendor, get ripped off completely, end up going home without a single souvenir and generally just have a terrible time.

These tips on how to haggle will make sure you fall into the former category.

Where Should You Haggle?

There are many countries around the Mediterranean where haggling is a custom including Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Greece. Haggling is also the norm in many African countries, India and in Latin American countries such as Colombia and Mexico. In short, there are dozens of places where haggling is expected.

The best way to find out whether you’ll have to barter is to consult your guide book, do a quick Google search or check with someone who has been there.

If you don’t haggle in places where haggling is the norm, you’ll be taken advantage of and have to pay ludicrously unfair prices — so it’s always worth checking whether or not it is the done thing before you go.

However, once you know where to haggle, you also need to know what to haggle for. Don’t start haggling over the price of everything — even in countries where bartering is the norm, there will still be many things that have a fixed price, such as bus tickets and bottles of water. Take the time to figure out when it is acceptable to haggle and when it is inappropriate or unnecessary.

Key Things to Remember

For haggling novices, there are a few important tips on how to bargain to be aware of before you leap into shopping at the local market.

  • If you are in a country where haggling is the norm, vendors automatically ask for prices higher than what they expect to sell it for. You aren’t being rude by asking for a lower price, so be confident about naming what you think is a reasonable price.
  • Stick to your guns. Often the hardest part of haggling is holding your ground, as the vendors have plenty of experience in bullying or wheedling money out of tourists.
  • Always be courteous and friendly in your negotiations; there is no call to get angry. Even if the vendor is rude to you, remain calm but firm.
  • Don’t haggle just for fun. When you offer a price you are committing to it and walking off without making a purchase at the end of the bartering transaction is a waste of the vendor’s time.

How to Figure out the Right Price

It can be difficult knowing what price you should name. You want to go low enough that you have room to give, but you don’t want to go so low that you will offend anyone.

To figure out a reasonable price to name, ask a local you can trust — such as the receptionist at your hotel — what a normal price is. You can also spend some time observing locals so you can see how much they pay. Once you have an idea of what they are paying, put your foot down and refuse to pay more.

Remember that you shouldn’t be absurd with the prices you name when haggling. If you offer $1 for a handcrafted carpet in Morocco, it’s obvious you don’t know the item’s true worth and you aren’t showing respect for the artisans. If you’re not sure what the true value of something is, as an approximate guide, never offer anything less than half of the original price the vendor says.

The best way to haggle is to first consider what the item is worth to you. At the end of the day, both you and the vendor want to be satisfied with the transaction. The fair price may still be more than you are willing to pay and sometimes the mental effort of haggling is more trouble than a few extra dollars, so think carefully about a price you would be happy with before you even start playing the haggling game.

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How to Haggle Better

Once you have an idea of how much you should be paying, there are a few price negotiation tactics you can use to help you get close to that amount.

Learning how to say numbers in the local language can be a huge help. Being willing to speak in the vendor’s native tongue may help to make them more likely to offer you a good price. Greeting the vendor in their own language and showing respect for their culture is also a better way to win respect and get good prices than by being argumentative.

Dress down if you plan on shopping. Obvious signs of wealth, such as expensive jewelry, hefty watches or designer clothes can cause vendors to name higher prices as they know you have a lot more money than them, especially if you’re in a country much poorer than your own.

You can also try the bluffing technique, which goes something like this:

  • You see something you like and ask for the price.
  • The vendor names an outrageously high price.
  • You make two or three lower offers which the vendor vehemently rejects.
  • You start to walk away.
  • The vendor stops you and finally agrees on a reasonable price.

Threatening to walk off is even more effective when you know another vendor is selling the thing you’re trying to buy, which is often the case in touristy markets. Playing vendors off against each other can be advantageous for you.

If things aren’t going your way, another bargaining tip you can try is to physically hold out the amount of money you’re willing to pay and say that it is all you have. Sometimes this is enough for the vendor to relent and accept your offer. Obviously in this case you’ll have to be careful about not accidentally opening your wallet and showing a whole wad of cash inside!

If you can’t get the vendor down to a price you agree with, see if they will throw in some extra goods when you accept their final offer.

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