Bargaining 101


When I was a teenager, I went shopping for silver in a crowded swap-shop style mall with my family in Mexico.  It was the first place I realized my mom had some serious bargaining skills.  My whole family was in awe of how she so quickly and effectively bargained $100 items down to $16 (I still remember that necklace). I felt like my mom was exposing a super-power I had never known about before.

Fast forward many years and street markets later, I have my own bargaining skills to claim.  I will admit that with age and income my skills are not quite what they used to be (they were at their peak when I was a poor student in Beijing, China), but I still use many techniques that are still effective everywhere I go.

Bargaining should be fun

I think of bargaining as a kind of sport that you should try to enjoy.  Do what makes you comfortable, and feel good when you have gotten a good price that you were willing to pay.

Sellers don’t always tell the truth 🙂

You have to remember that sellers are professional  bargainers, and you must take what they say with a grain of salt.  Typical things you will hear while bargaining are:

  • “I would be losing money at that price.”
  • “The cost to make it is twice that amount.”
  • “You are my first customer today, so I am giving you the best price.”
  • “You are my last customer today, so I am giving you my best price.”

99.9999999999% of these statements are not true.  But hey – don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Bargaining Steps/Tips for Beginners

Step 1 – Ask the price

First ask what the price of the item(s) you are interested in; don’t bargain until you have selected everything you want.  Bundling purchases between more than one person is also helpful, as the more you buy the more people are usually willing to negotiate.

Step 2: Establish whether you can bargain

This can be an awkward segway for inexperienced bargainers.  Not every place bargains – those that don’t are usually the really high-end or really low-end; everywhere else in between usually has wiggle room.  My favorite thing to say once I have asked a price for something is usually, “If I/we buy several items, can we get a discount?” Even if you are really only interested in one item.  If they respond, “Yes,” or, “We’ll see,” they definitely will bargain with you.  It is a polite way of asking if you can bargain, without seeming like a total lost cause to the proprietor.

Step 3: Offer one price and stick to it

Determining the initial price you offer can be difficult.  I’ll use Delhi for an example: if you are in a touristy place, you should likely say one-fourth to one-half the initial price.  I know this is difficult, as the person will without a doubt act insulted, but let me tell you – acting insulted is half the game.  If the price you suggest really is absurdly low, the seller will completely disengage (i.e. take the item out of your hand and walk away). If they continue to engage you (i.e. convince you to pay their price) it means that you are not that far off.  Here is where the power-move comes in: don’t change your price.  Keep going back and forth, saying you know it is a good price, but never let up, this is the only way to see how far they’ll come down.

Step 4: Walk Away

After you haggle for a while (not budging on price) tell them you need a moment to think about it, but that you want to consider their lowest price.  See what they say, and then walk away.  This is where the seller will often run after you accepting your price, or offer you a lower price.  The lowest price you heard once you are out of sight will genuinely be the lowest price they are willing to give.  This move is also good to really give yourself a moment to think, or to test out prices in other shops that sell similar merchandise nearby.  If you take a walk for five minutes and decide you want to buy at that lowest price, return to the store and make your purchase.  A friend of mine the other day said she felt embarrassed by this walk-o-shame return, but in my experience you really shouldn’t be.  Sellers are never smug when you return – they are just genuinely happy you have come back to come back to complete the purchase.  Remember – they do this over and over again, all day, everyday.

Have fun, and make some good bargaining stories and skills to someday show your kids! 🙂

5 thoughts on “Bargaining 101

  1. I felt I have lost my bargain skills after living in the US for a very long time but it came back gradually while shopping in Delhi. Good job for describing the process!

  2. It’s so funny that we had almost the same childhood experiences only mine was in Jamaica and with my father. (Superpower parents!) I don’t like to haggle but I don’t like to be taken advantage. Just a few months ago my husband and I were in Hawaii and he had his first experience and I took control. I got a handmade photo from $160 down to $50. I used the walk away method and the “I only have this much in my wallet” method. If you are in a place that takes cash and credit you can usually bring the person down when you say ‘cash’.

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