I’ve lived in the U.S. for 22 years and what still surprises me is how averse Americans appear when it comes to haggling. I was raised in a culture where haggling is the norm and then grew up in Germany, where department stores rarely ever had sales. Me? I used to haggle with the ice cream man and to this day refuse to pay full price for anything. When I travel abroad, I cringe when I watch my younger sister walk up to a shopkeeper and just fork over the asking price for an item. It’s not even about saving money so much for me, as it is about the sport of it all. Whether you’re traveling to the Middle East, Asia, Europe or everywhere in between, haggling is an important part of the shopping experience that we all should partake in. Here are five haggling tips for your next trip abroad:
1. Don’t dress like a tourist when you go shopping. I get it, blending in isn’t always possible. But you know what is? Not looking like a gullible tourist. Leave the fanny packs, visors and bewildered looks at home. Try to wear local garb and carry yourself with confidence. You’re much more likely to get a good deal when haggling for the best price.
2. Act nonchalant especially when asking for a price. When you’re shopping in a market and come across something amazing, it’s hard not to show excitement. That’s a great way to get a price mark-up, fast. It’s important to act nonchalant when you’re shopping and show absolutely no interest whatsoever. When it comes to asking about prices, don’t make eye contact as you look at the item with disinterest and ask the shopkeeper, “How much is this [amazingly gorgeous cashmere] scarf [that I know is like 90% cheaper here than elsewhere in the world]?” They’ll respond in kind with an absurd price that will have you thinking you’re shopping at Saks. Why? Because the shopkeeper knows the value of the item where you’re from. That brings me to my next point….
3. Know the value of what you’re buying. The most important tip for haggling abroad is to know the value of what you’re buying. Know exactly what the item worth and what other shops are charging for it. That’s why it’s so important to shop around instead of buying from the first shop you come across. On the same note, avoid shops in desirable locations (i.e. at the entry points of busy markets, touristy areas, etc.). They get more business than the shops that get less foot traffic and are less likely to let you haggle them down to a good price.
4. Start at half price, then negotiate a fair amount. When it comes to haggling for goods while abroad, my standard initial offer is half of the asking price. You might be wondering, “Isn’t that harsh?” No, it’s a starting offer. Chances are the price has been adjusted with a “tourist tax” and is significantly above what the shop runner expects you to pay. In many parts of the world, if you don’t counter with a lowball offer, they’ll laugh behind your back after they bag up the purchase. At dinner, you’ll become fodder for a funny story: “This tourist came in today and just paid the asking price.”
Countering with half the initial asking price does two things. First, it shows that you’re not a dumb tourist who just pays what they’re asked and second, lowballing to this extent gives them a more realistic idea of what you’re willing to pay. 100% of the time I do this, the store owner will offer me a price that is between the low ball offer and original asking. After one last counter-offer, I usually accept a fair price in between.
“Why lowball in the first place? Why not just offer the real price you’re willing to pay?” Because in many developing countries, that’s not how it works. It is expected that both parties counter-offer at least twice before settling on a price. By lowballing, you keep that number reasonable. Sometimes the shopkeeper might act offended at your first offer, but that’s just an act. You can be sure he’ll still counter and both of you will walk away happy when a fair deal is ultimately reached.
5. Walk away if you have to. So what if the strategy above doesn’t work? What if the shopkeeper really is annoyed with your low offer? Be prepared to walk away. I would say eight out of ten times when I walk away, the shopkeeper will follow me out the door and make a more reasonable offer. And if he/she doesn’t? Then chances are there are better deals to be found elsewhere.
The emphasis here is a fair price. It’s never my intention to rip off a hard-working shopkeeper. I also don’t expect the same price as the locals, especially in impoverished countries. I’m fine with paying slightly above market rate while supporting the local economy. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to pay the same prices I would back home. Haggling is customary in many parts of the world and countering the asking price not only makes you a more savvy tourist, but it also shows that you understand how things work in that particular culture and that you’re actively participating in their customs.
What are some of your haggling tips while traveling abroad?
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