Whether at home or abroad, these 8 tips will help you bargain effectively.
I’m a naturally economically-minded person and I enjoy numbers, so bargaining is a skill that comes naturally to me. It’s come in handy all over the world whether I’m perusing the Paris flea market, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, or a mercado artesanal in Peru. Here are eight tips to bargaining right.
1. Initially offer lower than what you plan to pay.
This is the most basic tenant to bargaining. It allows the merchant room to counter. Start out low enough for there to be a back and forth at least twice. This makes both parties feel like they’re getting a good deal. Depending on the situation, I typically start out at half of what their asking, or half of what I plan to pay.
2. Be willing to walk away.
In my experience, prices generally fall about 50% from the original asking price when I start walking away. Shopkeepers know and expect this tactic, and will generally go down to their final price once you start walking away.
3. If you know you don’t want something, be firm.
If a merchant solicits me with something I don’t want, unsmiling I say “no,” shake my head, and look/walk away. This isn’t rude; it’s the language of bargaining. It allows shopkeepers to know not to waste their time and energy.
In fact, being “nice” will only get shopkeepers’ hopes up, which doesn’t do them any favors. For instance, in Istanbul, a carpet salesman walked with us 100 yards to the blue mosque, then waited for us to exit on the other side a half hour later simply because my mom was “just being nice.” She never said she wanted the carpet. In fact, she said she wasn’t interested. But because she said it while smiling and making conversation it led the carpet man to believe she was just driving a hard bargain.
4. Bargain in bulk with the same vendor.
If you are planning on getting several souvenirs, try to get them from the same shopkeeper in order to get an even better deal and to avoid having to haggle multiple times.
When my friend Colina and I were in Peru, she did her Christmas shopping early. She just made a big pile of the things she wanted (scarves, beanies, etc.), then bargained for the whole amount at once. She ended up getting a killer deal — about 40% off the original asking prices — and both she and the shopkeeper walked away satisfied.
5. Keep the exchange rate in the back of your mind.
In Peru, sometimes Colina was thinking she was only getting a little bit of a deal, until I reminded her that she was bargaining in soles not US dollars. Once she divided the cost of her purchases by three to roughly figure out the dollar amount spent, she realized she was actually getting incredible deals.
6. Don’t penny pinch.
If the price feels fair to you, then do it (even if you think the merchant will go lower). There’s no need to bargain for bargaining’s sake, or to get the merchant’s absolute lowest offer if you feel like you are getting a fair deal.
When I was recently in line at Machu Picchu, a man came by selling pins, patches, and postcards. I had been looking for a Machu Picchu pin and the price he named seemed fair to me (10 soles, or about $3), so I paid it without haggling. Afterwards my friend said she thought I could have gotten it for lower, and I agreed. But I knew the few cents I could have saved by haggling weren’t going to make a difference to me and my budget.
7. Enjoy the banter.
I like to banter back with shopkeepers as they vie for my attention. By the end of our stay in Istanbul, one shopkeeper near our hotel knew us by sight in large part because of my Dad’s friendly banter. It was a restaurant my parents had lunched at on the first day, and the restauranteur continued to try and get my parents to come back. By the last day the seller, upon seeing us with our luggage smiled, and said, “Ah here’s my friend who will eat at my place tomorrow, heh?” And my Dad laughed, smiling back, “that’s right, my friend, tomorrow.” Then the shopkeeper laughed, too, knowing we wouldn’t be coming back.
8. Follow your gut.
Whenever I arrive somewhere, I like to walk around a little bit until I find someone who has the right approach for me.
For example, in Aguas Calientes, Peru, my friend Colina and I walked around until we found a very nice mother and teenage daughter working. We didn’t have much cash, so we said we’d come back the next day. They made such an impression on us, we searched the maze-like complex for more than a half hour the following morning until we found them. The daughter was at school, but the mother remembered us, and was very happy to see us again. She ended up giving us an even better deal than what she had offered the night before.
— Laura Rowley