Some Hard-Won Bargaining Tips

Mini Markets in IndiaMini Markets in India

It is a moment many Australian travelers dread, not just in one country, but also in countries around the world: being faced on the one hand, with an expectant salesperson, and on the other with a must-have, defining souvenir of their experience and little or no idea what it should cost. For those raised on the certainty of price tags, shopping in these places can quickly become almost as stressful as driving. Here are some tips to avoid a breakdown over what should after all, just is part of the fun.

The Reality Check does not start by knowing nothing. If you have something specific in mind, look around. Ask other travelers what they might have paid. Better still, find a fixed-price shop. These generally cater for time-poor tourists and, as a result, their prices will be on the high side. However they provide an excellent indication of the upper limit for what you should pay elsewhere.

The First Move

Once you see something that you decide needs to come home with you (and try to keep in mind here-after all, that huge Turkish carpet might look great in your lounge room but getting it from here to there may be more trouble than it's worth), try to get the seller to open the negotiations. Your first price can then be a response. If you know what you should be paying, make sure you start lower to give yourself room to move, If, after a little background research, you're still not quite sure what the price should be, an offer of about 50 per cent of their price isn't a bad place to start.

The Fake Insult

The salesperson may treat your first price as an insult (especially if it is less than half what the seller wanted). It is generally not. These people sell to tourists for a living and they use whatever strategies they can to get the best price. So don't be alarmed. Just ask politely what their next price is. It's important to stay calm and avoid being aggressive. To do otherwise will result either in a higher price or in a sudden end to the negotiations. Either way, no one wins.

The "Last Price"

This is also known as the "Best Price". Vendors sometimes nominate their "last Price". Often it's not, so keep going. The merchant may also tell you that something is "below my cost price". Again, it's all part of the game. Keep going (but always politely). Your offers don't need to be in symmetrical, halfway increments, and can more or less depend on how you think things are going. Offering to buy in bulk helps to bring costs down. If there are two or more items you want from the same place, you will always do better than if there is only one.

The Fake Walkout

Your real bargaining advantage is your willingness to buy whatever it is you're bargaining for, and so your ultimate tool is threatening to walk away. A fake walkout can sometimes bring prices tumbling far more than you would have dreamed. Sometimes, however, it brings nothing of the sort. The problem is that if you really want something you lose the ability to carry out this threat.

The Facts Of life

Only if you are fluent in the language and have lived in the country for some time can you hope to pay anything approaching "local price".

Enjoying the Game

Treating bargaining, as a game where the stakes are just a couple of dollars will help you keep some perspective. After all the vendor needs to make money too and it generally means a lot more to them than to you. The idea is not to get the lowest price possible and leave the vendor with no margin, but to reach a price both of you are happy with. Getting a hernia over rupees 100 or baht 3o is after all, only two dollars.

The Golden Rule

If you see something you will genuinely regret not having, don't take a chance. You can't assume you will ever find the same thing again even in the same shop. Assuming you can get it home, place more importance on having it as a memento of your trip than necessarily getting the best price.

Years of Training

The hardest places to bargain are invariably those most frequented by tourists. Here vendors are conditioned by day-in, day-out, encounters with tourists who think any price is cheap and are happy to pay whatever is asked. The vendors' patter is honed by constant repetition and they start them young. I've seen a child salesman in a Nepalese tourist
Market, barely waist high, perfectly parodying the lines of his elders with an assurance (and skill in the English language) that belied his lack of years.