To Bargain or To Not Bargain When Abroad? Plus, Some Handy Tips for Haggling.

Most certainly, you’re already aware of the countless benefits you can squeeze out of the skill of bargaining. But let’s face it, you are reading this because you find haggling stressful. It’s alright. Haggling is not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Feeling intimidated, uncomfortable, or distressed before and while you haggle is normal. Perhaps, haggling over low-cost items doesn’t come to you naturally. That’s understandable as well.

First, Know That It’s Okay to Haggle

As a tourist, especially from the West, you may be seen as a walking banknote by those with something to sell. While you roam with high-value currency in your wallet, vendors will see you as a chance to make a lot of money. Expect to be quoted premium prices on unmarked goods. An unwillingness to bargain can cost you.

If you feel this is unfair, remember that haggling is normal. Lawyers, freelancers, and CEOs all negotiate. What is haggling if not just another form of negotiation?

To save yourself from spending too much, it quite literally pays to learn the basics of haggling. Read on to learn all about haggling culture, etiquette, and methods, so you don’t waste your money.

Haggling Culture Across the World

Know that haggling is a part of the shopping experience in many countries, even though the unsaid rules of haggling vary across cultures. Your first lesson should be to know the cultural differences.    

Indonesia

In street markets and in private label retail stores, in Airbnb’s and in hotels, Indonesians live to haggle. They derive the same thrill from haggling as you do from bagging a favorite brand of jeans in a clearance sale. In Indonesia, backing out after haggling and reaching an agreed price is disrespectful. So, haggle only if ready to buy.

Vietnam

Haggling for food is considered rude in many countries, but not in Vietnam. Prices for tourists can be artificially high on event tickets, public bathrooms, and even drinking water. So, haggling for food is rather fair in Vietnam, don’t you think? 

Parts of Europe

In many European countries, haggling in street markets is accepted. In Italy, Spain, and Greece, learning the colloquial slang can give you an edge while bargaining, as vendors develop a liking towards you, or perhaps even mistake you for a local!

India

Haggling is an integral part of Indian shopping culture. The average Indian learns haggling from a young age, and is used to practicing it at fruit markets, local clothing stores, and even hardware shops. Hence, an Indian street vendor will be a tough nut to crack, unless you learn some of the strategies we will cover in this article.

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Smart Haggling Methods to Try

1. “Three-Shop-Stop” Research

Remember, street vendors can feed off of your nervous energy. To muster the confidence to get a good deal, research is vital.

Ensure you check out a minimum of three shops before striking a deal. Browse through a variety of products and get a sense of the ongoing rates and product features before contemplating a purchase.

For more valuable products, do some research on the internet. You can also ask your hotel receptionist, tour guide, or fellow tourists.

2. Keep the “Escape Card” Ready

Just as with a blind date, consider having an exit strategy ready before entering a store to haggle. You may get entangled in situations where a seller gets clingy, or tries to entice you by promising useless freebies.

If you play your escape cards right, you’ll be able to walk out without being impolite. Here are a few ideas:

  • Before haggling, inform the seller you’re on a time limit. For instance, tell them you have a flight to catch, or you have a cab waiting.
  • Ask a friend or relative to make a fake emergency call if you haven’t returned within a predetermined amount of time. If you’re still haggling, your phone will ring, and you’ll have an excuse to leave.
  • Ask a friend to act out or say something if the situation seems to get out of hand.

3. Be the Strong, Silent Type

You enter a shop, and a unique bag catches your attention. Since you’re too nervous to bargain, why not use silence to your advantage?

Start your conversation by asking for the price. If the vendor quotes too high, hold back from responding right away. To fill up that awkward silence, the vendor might slash the price to keep you interested. Once they do, haggle away.

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4. Shop at the Right Time

Opening Time

The first sale of the day is important for many vendors in India and neighboring countries, as it’s believed to bring good luck. By managing to be their first customer, you can land a good bargain, as the vendors are ready to accept your quoted price.

End Of the Day

Closing time is another opportunity to score huge discounts. Before packing, vendors will want to sneak in one more sale. Hence, your willingness to buy from the unpacked stock can earn you the chance of getting a great deal.

Inventory Clear-Out Time

Sellers rush to get rid of the unwanted inventory which is either out of fashion or season. If you offer to buy from that stock, get ready for massive discounts.

More Bargaining Tips to Use

To get started off on the right foot, memorize the following tips for a seamless haggling experience:

1. Dress Down for the Occasion

If you don’t want to spend like you’re wealthy, don’t dress like it. Avoid showing up in branded apparel, or expensive jewelry. You’ll be spending a lot of time shopping, so wear comfy clothes and footwear.

2. Mind your Body Language

Positive body language secures trust. For example, greeting a vendor in the local language, maintaining eye contact, and nodding can persuade them. Watch out, as they may try the same tactics on you.

3. Evaluate the Correct Price

You could be misled by vendors with calculation of local currency. If your math ability isn’t strong, use your phone’s calculator.

4. Carry Small Denominations of Cash

It’s important to always carry cash.

However, avoid carrying big denomination notes. Offering a big note for a haggled amount can make the transaction awkward.

The Intersection of Haggling and Shopping Etiquette

Know Where it’s Okay to Bargain

It’s bad shopping etiquette to haggle for an “I love London” t-shirt in a flagship retail store. And it’s equally silly not to bargain for one at a souvenir shop. Clearly, you need to know when to bargain before you start doing it.

 Your hints:

  • Observe the behavior of other customers
  • Look for “No Bargaining” placards
  • Ask the seller if they’re offering discounts

Note: In pharmacies, convenience stores, and restaurants, refrain from haggling.

Certain hotels, antique furniture, and fashion stores may let you bargain. Start a conversation about discounts to figure things out.  

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Don’t Go Overboard

Successful haggling isn’t meant to pick off stuff at the lowest price. So, when to stop?

If the vendor-offered price (say on a handcrafted product) seems fair compared to the price at home, go easy on haggling. That 20% premium (which translates into the cost of to-go coffee for you) can make a huge difference to the artisan or the vendor.

The sellers can often surrender to your price in desperation. You won’t like that either, so get a sense of the product’s price range by walking about in the market.

Tip the Locals for Services

Your tour guide, hotel staff, and restaurant servers cannot bargain wages for the services they provide. Hence, practice tipping when abroad, particularly in a country where you enjoy tremendous leverage because of your strong currency.

Remember, life comes full circle. So be an ethical haggler, as well as a responsible tourist.

Before You Go…

Being new at haggling is similar to being new at the gym. Unless you intend to make the best out of it, even a fun activity like haggling can seem dreadful. Put a smile on, strike up conversations, and enjoy working out some great deals.

In the spirit of saving money, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to protect your finances from unexpected expenses? When traveling abroad, one of the best ways to do just that is by purchasing travel insurance or travel medical insurance. A proper insurance plan can provide benefits in the form of financial protection for a variety of travel mishaps you may encounter, including illness, injury, lost luggage, or flight delays. The money you save could allow you to spend some more time haggling.

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