Bargaining 101: Tips for fun and successful shopping around the world

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Shopping for unique items to bring home is something a lot of people look forward to on their travels. We’re not talking about Eiffel Tower key chains and Blarney Stone pint glasses, but one-of-a-kind items that will always remind you of your trip; perhaps a print from a local artist, a quintessential piece of street fashion, jewellery or regional pottery. And don't think that souvenir shopping is solely the domain of the female traveler! My (male) travel partner in a round-the-world trip years ago was definitely the keener shopper out of the two of us, sending home boxes filled with Nepalese Ghurka knives, Indonesian hammocks, Thai batiks...the list went on.

Some of the best shopping adventures can be had in local markets, where sellers are easier to engage in conversation, competition is fierce, and deals abound – IF you know how to bargain. Unlike shopping in a traditional retail environment, where price tags are non-negotiable, prices at a market stall are fluid, and getting the best price requires tact, diplomacy and strong negotiation skills. A local guide is your best resource when it comes to helping you find the exact item you’re looking for, knowing what price is a fair one – for both the buyer and seller – then helping you get that price. But if you’ve struck out on your own, we’ve provided you with a few tips to make the shopping experience a successful one.

So here we go! Bargaining 101:

1. Do your research. Have an idea what a fair price is for the item you’re interested in buying. See what it sells for in stores, talk to other travelers, and visit a couple stalls before you embark on some serious haggling. (Again, a local guide is a great resource for this!)

2. Be pleasant and polite at all times. Bargaining is a social activity and is supposed to be fun! An aggressive or rude demeanour will not get you a better deal, and will likely just leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. A smile goes far, especially when you’re offering a low price. That being said…

3. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you feel the seller is not coming down enough on their initial price, a polite “thank you” (in the local language!) and walking away often does wonders in bringing down an inflated price. If the seller lets you go, you know they won’t come down any further in price.

4. Bring along a pocket calculator. Use the display to show how much you’re willing to pay. Clear numbers sidestep any confusion buyer and seller may have over language, plus makes you look like a serious buyer who knows something about what they’re doing. Ask “how much?” to get the conversation going, and see if you can get the seller to lower the initial price a couple times before offering your price. (“You can go cheaper”, “Look, the seam is crooked”, etc.)

5. Also bring along your kids – or a cranky spouse. This is one of those times the reluctant shoppers in your family can be a blessing! Kids tugging at your sleeve to move along, a spouse telling you not to bother – both of these distractions encourage the merchant to drop the price faster!

6. Remember bargaining isn’t a contest. It’s a social and economic exchange. This is how the vendor makes his or her living, and often those few rupees, bhat or pesos you’re haggling over mean a lot more to him or her than to you. A fair price that leaves both buyer and seller happy is the best result.

Do you have any bargaining tips to share, or favourite shopping memories in a foreign country? Join the conversation on our Facebook Page!
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