Editor’s Note: This was originally going to be part of our “DOs of Traveling” post, but kind of ballooned out of control. It doesn’t seem like there’s much out there on haggling, so we figured we’d do our part to contribute to the vicious blood sport of bartering.
Haggling is an essential skill in most non-Western countries or in just about every outdoor market, yet most Westerners are put off by the concept of bargaining. GET OVER IT.
If something doesn’t have a price tag, chances are you’ll be given a “flexible” price. In Shanghai we saw marked-up prices as high as 500%, in Marrakech this was probably closer to 300%. The vendors aren’t holding back, and neither should you. Here are some common techniques to make sure you leave with your shirt still on your back.
Never buy from the first place. Chances are that several merchants are selling the same wares – and the ones with the crappier location will sell things to you at a better price.
In Marrakech we shopped around for leather camels and checked their prices at about 8 stands to establish a base line cost.
Planning on buying gifts for the whole family? Might as well ask how much that camel costs when you buy 10 of those suckers!
People with low overhead can afford to cut you better prices. They also might not have a merchant’s license, so don’t be surprised if your bargaining gets better when the police get close.
It may seem like they’re making conversation, but merchants are probably trying to judge how rich you are before they offer you a price. America has an inflated reputation of being extremely wealthy, so in Asia we told people we were from Singapore since they couldn’t tell the difference in English accents anyway.
Pick a number in your head (like 40% of the starting point) and start below that. The merchant and you will usually meet in the middle, unless someone gets the upper hand.
If you don’t hear a price you like, walk away – chances are the merchant will drop it further. This worked especially well in Asia.
In Shanghai we saw a pair of “Chinese Silk Pajamas” for $120. The merchant made outrageous claims like “this is 100% Chinese silk” (it was obviously polyester), and “you can wear it to parties!” After a serious bout of double team ridiculing and several fake walk away attempts we bought the pajamas for $20.
If you’re traveling in a pair have one person play devil’s advocate – VOCALLY. This person will usually be the cheap skate in the couple.
If you see other Western shoppers don’t be afraid to ask them (ideally loudly, in front of the merchant), what price they managed to score. Watch out, however, as this can backfire if they are a bad bargainer.
Sometimes (or oftentimes) you get what you pay for. We bought a new Swiss suitcase in Shanghai that immediately broke after 2 flights. Fortunately the airline replaced it, but the $40 we paid for the suitcase went straight down the toilet.