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The Art of Haggling

Never be ripped off again with Ally's eight step guide to this essential travel skill.
In answer to yet another email query, this time from Jason who is a veteran of US and European travel but is about to tackle South East Asia, here's a quick guide on one of the most important skills in developing countries.

1. Know the rough price

Before you go shopping, it's important to have a rough idea of what you should be paying. This will help you figure out how badly a vendor is trying to gouge you, and will also stop you from demanding unrealistically low prices. The best sources for this information are locals (billingual hotel clerks are my favourite) and fixed price shops which will always be slightly more expensive than bargain-friendly markets.

2. Know your own limit

Decide how much you're prepared to spend on a particular item before you start haggling, and stick to it. Shopkeepers have had plenty of experience in coaxing buyers to part with far more cash than they intended. Don't be taken in.

3. Be cool and don't be desperate

Don't get to excited about an item, even if you really want it. The moment you show great interest in something, the shopkeeper will tack anywhere from 10% to 100% onto the price. Of course if you really need something that the vendor has, a unique sample of a local handicraft for example, then you're going to have to pay a premium since you can't afford to have the shopkeeper refuse your final offer and turn away.

4. Don't make the first move

The opening 'move' when bargaining is the starting price. Let the vendor make the first two to three offers before giving your counter-offer. This is often difficult as the vendor will be pressuring you for a price. Just keep refusing his price and saying "No, that's too high. What is your lowest price?".

5. Start really low

Whether you start at one-half or one-thousandth of their price depends on how badly they are trying to gouge you (see Tip 1) but don't be embarassed to quote an extremely low figure; I once bargained a $25 item down to $0.40.

6. The vendor's response

Once you've made your offer, the vendor will either laugh at you or continue haggling. If he/she does laugh, just walk away. You will invariably be called back with another offer. If they continue haggling, don't budge (much) from your initial offer. You will need to concede a little bit, though, to allow the vendor to walk away from the transaction with 'face' (self-respect).

7. Keep things light

A happy vendor is a generous vendor. Crack jokes with the shopkeeper and never get aggressive. This is especially true in Asian countries where aggression is an ugly trait in business and causes the vendor to lose face.

8. Don't reneg

Once you've agreed on a price, never walk away from a vendor. It is considered the height of bad manners to reneg on a mutually agreed upon price. So don't start bargaining until you're sure you want to purchase something.

Good luck, and happy haggling!

Got some more tips on how to haggle your way to financial bliss? Think I've got something wrong? Post a comment in the space below and let the world know what you think.

Comments about this page

It's about time! to show you're really not a rich foreigner who is willing to spend ten times what something is worth you may need to put in half an hour not budging much. but really once you've shown to yourself a few times how cheap you can get something, make a conscious decision to spend a bit more - you'll benefit the vendor and save your precious overseas time....
Curl (Melbourne) on Nov 9, 2004 at 7:36 pm

I just found your website, its superb.
Just a note about Step 5, you cannot start TOO low
In Nepal, I made a shopkeeper cry by starting way too low and hurting his feelings. I then had to have a heart to heart chat with him about how it wasn't intentional to hurt him like that.
Jen Z. (Canada) on Jun 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

It's always good to understand a little of the language too and try to communicate so that you look like you've been in the country for some time.
Fouzia Ouadi (London) on Dec 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

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