Let’s be real. Haggling is a somewhat controversial thing. You tend to either love it or hate it. You also just might not really understand it if you’ve never experienced it before. For me, haggling or bargaining is this sacred dance between the seller and me. It’s this opportunity to have a cultural and financial exchange where we both leave feeling like we’ve won. And truly, haggling done right should feel that way. You’ve both won.
Below you’ll find my top haggling tips that have helped me bargain my way across the globe.
1. Is Haggling Appropriate?
The first thing you need to do is research wherever you’re traveling in order to make sure haggling is expected while shopping. Not every locale will have a haggling culture built into how they do commerce. Some places might find it completely rude. It’s best to go into every shopping opportunity knowing the status quo. That being said, initial prices are always a proposition until a final price is agreed upon by buyer and seller. If you don’t feel the price is reasonable, you always have the ability to try to negotiate. Just like the seller has the right to price their wares however they see fit.
2. Be Knowledgeable, Especially About Competitors
It’s always best to go into a shopping opportunity with an idea of what you’re wanting to buy. When I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico, I’m looking for black clay. When I’m in Iceland, I’m looking for a handmade wool clothing item to add to my wardrobe. Knowing what you want to buy will allow you to research your options beforehand. You’ll want to try to determine how much that item would cost a local. Not able to find the local pricing? Definitely price compare with other vendors, then. See what the market rate looks like. You can use that intel when negotiating. But never lie. Getting caught in a lie while haggling is a bad look all around.
Avoid expensive purchases if you aren’t knowledgeable about that market and haven’t done your research. For instance, I’ll only buy more expensive jewelry from reputable places I’ve always researched. So many times, I’ll hear stories of someone buying diamond earrings during a cruise only to find out they are horribly ripped off. If you aren’t knowledgeable, don’t shop. (Of course, it’s your money and if you want something bad enough that it’s worth overpaying, do you.)
3. How Much Are You Willing to Pay?
It’s so important to know what an item is worth to you. This is such an important part of the process. Before even starting to haggle, know your target price, as well as the most you’d be willing to spend on the item. This is where being knowledgeable about the stuff you want to buy will come into play. You’ll know the real market value and then be able to create an educated limit for how much you are willing to spend.
The sticker price of something can also really skew how you perceive that item’s worth. In the end, though, only you know how badly you want to own something.
4. Be Respectful and Courteous
Always respect the seller. They are offering you an opportunity to shop, have fun, grab a souvenir that will forever remind you of this trip. Don’t ruin that with a bad attitude. Same goes for the rules. Always follow the rules. Respect the haggling process. Remember, this is a dance. It will likely take time, so don’t rush the process. Honor it and enjoy the experience of getting to participate. Haggle when you feel it makes sense, but don’t lowball, either. Offering too low of a price, especially depending on the item, can be really disrespectful.
Finally, keep it light and easy. This is your vacation and their livelihood. And while you know your geek girl loves souvenirs, these are just souvenirs. Don’t create such drama and tension that everyone leaves miserable and unfulfilled. In the end, you want something they have. They get to determine what it is worth to them, just like you get to determine what it is worth to you.
5. Talk to the Decision Maker
When you are haggling, make sure you’re haggling with the decision maker. Not everyone working that shop will have the authority to negotiate. Or even negotiate to what you feel is a reasonable rate. Haggling is a labor of love and you definitely don’t want to go through the motions only to find that they need to get permission from someone else.
Not sure who the decision maker is? Ask honestly. Tell them. “I’m interested in this item, but the price is a bit too high. Are you the boss here?”
6. Determine the Seller’s Lowest Price
Once you’ve done your research, determined a fair market value for the item you want, and decided how much it’s worth to you, you can work on figuring out the seller’s lowest price. The easiest way to do that is to ask for their real lowest price. If that’s still not aligned with what you feel comfortable paying, tell them that and leave. If there is a real lowest price, they’ll let you know before you get too far.
7. Always Ask for a Bundle
Creative problem solving is always a strong tool while haggling. Want a better price, but just not finding that middle ground with the seller? See if they’ll give you a deal for multiple items. Sellers are often more motivated to give you a better price break if you’re willing to buy more items. This is just like a shop that offers a 15% discount if you spend $50, but a 20% discount if you spend $200. The more you spend, especially over multiple items, the more the seller will be motivated to keep the sale.
8. Have Cash Available
Cash is king. Credit cards have fees for the seller. Those fees have to be accounted for when thinking about how much money you’re really making on a sale. Ask the seller if there is a discount for paying in cash. Many times, sellers will extend those savings to you.
Additionally, you can use cash on hand as a bargaining tool. If your top price for an item is $60, show them $60 in cash. Cold hard cash can be very motivating. Let them know that’s as high as you can go because that’s all the cash you have.
9. If They Accept Your Offer, It’s Yours Now
If you spend all of that time haggling in order to achieve a specific price, don’t back out of the deal once you get what you want. It’s just bad manners. If you don’t want to buy something, don’t offer a price. Say no and move on. Don’t waste the seller’s time by dancing your way through a negotiation only to get exactly what you asked for and then reneging.
10. Be Willing to Walk Away
At the end of the day, you need to be willing to walk away. Haggling is all about trying to get to a price you feel is respectable and reasonable. If the price is too high, walk away. This isn’t just important after a long bout of unsuccessful haggling. If you walk into a shop and see the pricing is way higher than market value, walk away. No amount of haggling will get you to what you perceive as a fair price. This is especially true in heavily touristed areas. Quickly walk away from bad deals.
Your only real leverage? They likely want to make a sale as much as you want to get a good deal. Being willing to walk away will help determine their true lowest price.
Bonus Point: Don’t Approach Aggressive Hawkers
Some places you’ll visit will have more aggressive hawkers. Typically, they are unwilling to haggle. But worse than that, they will often put you in an uncomfortable position during the encounter. If someone comes over to you and tries to guide you to their shop, don’t go. If they get in front of you, yell at you, put their hands on you, don’t engage. Walk away. The interaction is not going to go in your favor and will likely make you feel pretty gross.
Bottom line? We’re ambassadors for our home countries. Haggling is a time honored tradition, but don’t be a jerk. Many cultures that have a healthy haggling tradition also have leaner wages. These amazing sellers are dependent on these sales for their livelihood and they deserve a fair wage. Don’t push toward aggressive and unfair prices, just to take advantage of the fact that they do rely on tourists. Over-haggling is gross and a waste of time. Remember, this isn’t a game for them. This is their life.