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Market Negotiations. Yunnan, China.

Experience | Monita Roughsedge

The Art of Bargaining

5-Steps to Stressless Shopping in Local Markets

It’s hot, sticky and a little dusty. The narrow paths are topsy-turvy and the air is electric with the sounds and smells of humanity. The familiar scent of sweet ripe fruit mingles with the smell of something cooking but that quickly dissipates as you round the next corner. It’s busy. People are laughing, chatting, calling out, but except for the occasional word or two, often directed at you “hello, where are you from?” – you can’t understand a thing they’re saying!

Welcome to the local market – one of the highlight destinations of any overseas trip!

A place for people watching, discovering new tastes, taking in the local culture and of course, hunting down that special take-home souvenir. It’s a fabulous experience but one that can also be a little fraught, especially if you’re not comfortable with that sometimes scary word – ‘bargaining’.

From a single tomato to a silk scarf, in many cultures haggling over a price is considered completely normal. In fact, in some places it would seem extremely peculiar if you didn’t try to bargain. However, if, like me, you come from a country where the price that’s written down is the price you’re expected to pay and there’s no discussion, then the idea of embarking on a conversation with the storekeeper in an attempt to lower the price can seem like an intimidating nightmare! How do we communicate if we can’t speak the same language? Are they trying to swindle me? Is it authentic? Can I get it cheaper up the road? Sometimes the simple act of trying to purchase a small memento can just seem like too much trouble!

But don’t give up! It’s not quite as difficult as it might seem.

After years of scrounging around local markets, hunting down unusual souvenirs and local products, we’ve developed a fool-proof method that will see you haggling just like a local – in just 5 easy steps.

1/ Remember, we’re all human. The first thing to keep in mind is that we’re all in this together. No matter the language barrier or cultural differences – they want to sell and you want to buy. It’s a deal. An exchange. Nothing personal, no one is out to get you, it’s just business. While the shopkeeper is trying to make as much profit as possible, you, of course, are trying to get the lowest possible price. Don’t stress it, just take a breath and smile. You’re equal players of the same game.

But there are a few more crucial rules to this bargaining game…

2/ Play it cool. You’ve entered the shop and you spot it – Look! It’s gorgeous! The perfect thingamajig, sitting there in plain sight between the fridge magnets and the key rings; you’re thrilled! But hang on a minute, before you get too excited, remember the shopkeeper is watching you dancing around their store with your wallet out and they’re thinking, “Hey, that person really loves that thingamajig. I bet I can get double the price I was going to ask for it.” It’s a given – too much enthusiasm will up the price. Take your time and play it cool. Look it over, put it back, and take a few minutes to casually check out the rest of the store. Be friendly and polite but don’t rush it. Only then, after you’ve made the rounds, circle back to that perfect thingamajig you’ve been searching for everywhere and only then, casually ask the price – but keep your wallet in your pocket!

3/ Don’t haggle unless you mean it. They’ve told you the price but you’re having a little trouble getting your head around the exchange rate. Is that $10.00 or $10,000.00? Don’t rush in to it. Take a breath and get that calculator out. Once you’ve worked out the asking price, here’s the crucial part – decide what you’re willing to pay. It’s pretty much a guarantee they won’t sell for less than half the asking price, so if you’re not willing to even pay that much, stop now! The golden rule of haggling is that you only engage if you mean it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy it if the final asking price is still too high but if you aren’t seriously interested or can’t afford it, then step away now! Attempting to bargain without really wanting to buy is considered impolite and bad business etiquette and will only get you scowled at!

4/ Understand bargaining banter. So, you’ve established the asking price and you think it’s a bit high but not too bad. Let’s say it’s $20.00. Simply agreeing to it is one way of clinching the deal but most often that’s not what’s expected. It’s your move to come back with a counter offer. This might seem a little crazy but a safe place to start is around the half way mark, so you say $10.00 – you’re starting lower than you’re willing to pay because you have to expect that your first offer won’t be accepted and an alternative price will be offered back. You’re giving both parties room to move. So they say $17.00. Back to you – you offer $12.00 but the storekeeper says absolutely no way! That’s when you know their bottom line. They won’t sell unless they can make a small profit. Fair enough. You try $14.00, they come back with $15.00 and you agree!! You hand over the cash, receive your goods and shake hands. Done deal!  Oh, and if you can’t speak the language either write down the amount offered or show it on your calculator. Seeing it in writing also minimises confusion.

5/A bargain is a bargain, even when it’s not. You got a great deal and you’re feeling super pleased with yourself but then… you come across a similar item down the street for an even cheaper price! Oh no, you were swindled, you were conned!!! But actually, you weren’t. You agreed to pay the price you paid because you could and you thought that little thingamajig was worth it. You get to take home a fabulous souvenir that will be cherished forever and the storekeeper made a little extra profit. Don’t sweat it; it’s a win-win situation!

If you’re not used to it, bargaining can seem a little daunting. Take your time and try not to feel intimidated. It does take a little practice. Be friendly, smile, laugh and always remember, successful bargaining is when both sides win.