In most instances in the US, when you see the price of something, that’s the price you pay. There really isn’t too much negotiation. In fact, you pay a little more once taxes are calculated into the cost. We don’t really have a big haggling culture here. I mean, sure, you can haggle at a flea market and negotiate the price of a house or vehicle but, for the most part, you pay the price listed. Of course, we don’t have very many street markets in the US either…maybe that’s the difference.
Haggling is part of the fun when it comes to shopping in foreign countries. In normal brick and mortar stores, the convention is the same as in the US. The price is the price and there is no way around it really. But in places such as Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and even many parts of Europe, most people do a large portion of their shopping in street markets.
And this opens the door to haggling.
Many Americans are uncomfortable trying to negotiate a lower price for most items and its something that usually ropes many into higher prices when traveling. Street vendors in foreign countries know this too. In many instances, they start with an exuberantly high price to test whether a person will pay it. If you agree immediately to the price then you’re suckered into forking over 2-3 times the cost of the item or food you wish to purchase.
I, for one, love to haggle. I get a little thrill from it. When I was 14, I lived in Mexico for a year and during that time I quickly learned to never accept the first price a vendor says. If you do, then your just hanging over loads of money for no reason. In most cases, the vendor is definitely willing to go lower in order to make the sale. It’s just the basic economics of a free market…so take advantage of it within reason.
Bottom line: It’s important to learn to haggle when you travel abroad (especially if you plan to shop in street markets). This skill will save you tons of money and you should never pay more than is necessary for anything. Don’t let yourself get swindled over and over again. If you want to learn to be an efficient haggler, keep these 8 things in mind.
Let’s face it, most vendors are going to attempt to charge you double or even triple the cost of an item. Don’t accept the first price out of their mouth. In fact, the best thing you can do is not even approach a vendor until you are ready to make a purchase. Walk around the market for a bit and check out what other vendors are selling. Chances are you will find the exact same items in a number of booths (and maybe at lower prices).
2) Know what the item should cost
This can be a little difficult when you are shopping in a foreign country. How much is something actually worth? The easiest thing to do is look at an item and mentally calculate how much you would pay for it in your home country. Then set that as a maximum but don’t let the seller know that information.Make a low offer to begin with and then let the seller counter. You should make the first offer comically low. This will most likely cause the seller to act offended and then he or she will come back with their starting price.
3) Be willing to walk away
There are times when you just don’t need to buy an item…especially if the seller is unwilling to budge on his or her price. Remember, most souvenir items can be found in other places. The vendor might tell you no one will offer a lower price but you should still be willing to walk away. Usually, as you are walking away, the price will come down again. Even if it doesn’t…you can find the same item elsewhere. In Paris, I wanted to buy a souvenir for my nieces at the Eiffel Tower. A vendor approached me and tried to charge a very high price for an item. After some unsuccessful negotiating, I decided I didn’t care anymore. I told him I would find the item cheaper elsewhere and began to walk away. He immediately stopped me, offered a price 5 Euros lower than my original price, and threw in 3 other smaller souvenirs. It doesn’t always work out this way but it’s worth a shot. (Funny sidenote: My husband was so nervous about this situation). No matter what, you won’t outsmart the vendor and they will not sale for less than profit.
4) Don’t make an offer you aren’t willing to honor
This is just an ethical issue, really. If you counter a vendor with an offer and the vendor accepts it, you should purchase the item/s. It’s very rude and offensive to not honor your offer. Don’t walk away when the vendor has agreed to your price.
5) Aim for a Win-Win Situation
The goal of haggling is not to take advantage of a vendor. The goal is to not be taken advantage of, yourself. You should try to negotiate a price that is mutually beneficial. Be reasonable. And keep in mind a seller might tell you your offer is below their cost but if they accept your offer then it certainly wasn’t at a loss of profit.
Sometimes the best way to understand local haggling practices is to watch others do it. Before you start shopping, walk around and observe how others haggle. I’m sure you’ll pick up a few pointers by doing this. You can also get a local to haggle for you (only if you know them) and learn from watching their negotiations.
7) Ask the locals where to shop
If you do a cheap bus tour on a trip, it can definitely seem like a steal. But usually these tours will stop at a craft shop or other business. Avoid purchasing items at these locations….especially if the shop displays a sign that says Reasonable Prices or the business boast having air conditioning. In many instances, your tour guide gets a commission from these shops for bringing in unsuspecting tourist. These places are tourist traps and prices are usually firm. Instead, ask the locals where they shop or for a recommendation. That’s your best bet for the haggle zone.
8) Be polite no matter what
This one is very important. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar as the old saying goes. Be sure to smile, speak in a positive tone, and treat the seller with respect. Sometimes vendors can be disrespectful but this doesn’t give you the opportunity to reciprocate. Just act as you would towards anyone and you are more likely to get what you want.
In most countries haggling is the norm. Sellers will not be offended if you offer a lower price than then what they express. It’s just part of the game and it is expected. In fact, sellers see it as the buyer’s responsibility to negotiate a lower price if they so desire.
Bonus: Learning helpful phrases when shopping in other countries can be super important!
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