Haggle Like a Pro – The Fine Art of Cheapness

typical asian market

It happens all the time.  The minute I approach a vendor at a marketplace in Mexico, Cuba, Thailand, wherever – the price shoots up drastically.  It is as though as a foreigner I either have to to endure being ripped off or prove my mettle as a haggler.  If you have shopped anywhere other than home in a setting where price setting is flexible, you know what I am talking about.  The hiked-up prices can either be seen as an insult or as a challenge.  Choose the latter and try the following steps to walk off with great deals:

1.  Refuse whatever the first price offer is, even if it sounds like a bargain by your home standards.  This is the beginning of the dance and even the vendor himself will be disappointed if you bow out and pay full price.

2.  Say that you can buy the same thing anywhere else for far cheaper and suggest a price that is 30% of the original price (It helps to read your guide book and find out the going rate for things; make sure your offer is a little below the going rate).

3.  Smile and laugh at the vendor as he starts to make you sound special.  (This happens in different ways depending on where you are.  In the Philippines you will be referred to as “my pren [friend]”.)  In most places you will be told what price the vendor is willing to offer “just for you”.  The price will only have gone down slightly at this point.

4.  By now the vendor will know that you are on to his tricks.  This is your time to shine.  Try: “I am not a rich American, that price is crazy.  Give it to me for (40% of original asking price).  I’ll send all the dumb tourists your way.” If you can muster it and if local culture is reasonably tactile, make some kind of physical contact at this point – shake his hand, put your arm around his shoulder, give him a fist bump… this will reinforce what you are saying.

5.  Tactics will now change.  The vendor, if he has not yet caved, will tell you that he would be robbing himself to give the item for your suggested price.  He will also begin referring to his latest offer as the “final price”.

6.  Play by his rules.  Counter by saying that your latest offer is your final price and deliberately let your eyes wander to other vendors with similar products at the market or make reference to another stand you’ve seen with far better prices.

7.  The vendor may give in at this point.  If he doesn’t, you have a choice: If the price he is offering is acceptable per the going rate, buy the item. But if he stands his ground and the price is still too high, smile, shake your head and say, “Sorry, too much for me,” and confidently walk off.  I can’t overstate the need for confidence as you do this.

8. Chances are you will be called back as soon as he thinks you are serious about walking out on the deal.  Generally, some kind of deal is better than no deal, especially when a tourist has dollars.  If the vendor can give you a bargain, he will at this point.

If these steps do not work and you are not called back, there are generally other vendors selling the same thing close-by.  Persistence will get you a deal.  Better yet, send a local friend on her own to buy the item.  She’ll get a fair price.


Bjorn Karlman

8 thoughts on “Haggle Like a Pro – The Fine Art of Cheapness”

  1. This is one of the things I HATE to do. The most I remember from growing up as a kid in Argentina and Uruguay was to get a discount or rounding down if you were buying large quantities of something… or maybe exchanging/bartering for another good or service (this done with friends, not with the corner store owner).

    Thankfully, most of my year in Hong Kong I shopped at markets with fixed prices. It would have been infinitely more stressful to do otherwise.

  2. In Bali, they will grab your wrist or arm and not let you walk away. If you manage to escape them, they will put a curse on you. Typically, I always do my best to avoid these kinds of markets especially when I am not used to the currency.

    In Taiwan, if my wife and I wanted to buy something at a market, I would always wait for her across the street until she would signal to me to bring the money after she made a deal. The look on the clerk’s face is always priceless–knowing that he lost the chance to jack up the price on a white guy. hehe!

  3. Hahahha!!! Sounds like when we would hitchhike in France and make sure we always had a girl with us that would stop the cars and then wave for us to emerge from the brush… those drivers hated us..

  4. We just came back from Thailand. As a Peruvian, I am used to bargaining. My husband, on the other hand, was completely exasperated by the whole experience and was willing to pay more at the “mall” where all expats shop (and where prices were marked) than to waste 30 minutes of his day to get a 2 euro discount. He also didn’t like the fact that people would almost beg him to buy their products at their price, when he knew they had bought it in China for a 10th of the price (mugs, keychains, etc)! Needless to say, we ended up not buying a whole lot of souvenirs!

  5. I have a really hard time haggling, but on the ferry ride from Spain to Morocco, I had resolved to be a firm bargain shopper. The first to experience this New Jael was a 10ish year old street kid, from whom I ended up buying a set of two drums for about $2 US. As I was walking away, he asked me for $1 more to buy a coca cola. I said, “NO! Go away” and he obliged. I cried the rest of the day.

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