Bargaining is not something most Americans do on a regular basis and avoid really, if at all possible. In the United States we bargain in very defined circumstances for example for a car purchase, a real estate purchase, a salary increase at our job or at an antique store. There are other areas that are of much less importance, say at the flea market or a yard sale.
As you are planning to go across the pond, plan on bargaining at some point. Most, not all, bargaining or haggling is done in open-airmarkets, touristy souvenir shops, artisan shops and street vendors. You are not going to haggle over food prices. If you find yourself in a mall or large shopping center, you will not bargain there in most circumstances. If you do bargain, it would be done in a very discreet manner, similar to how we would bargain at an antique store here.Now that we know when to bargain, let's get started!
Let's talk about the rules of the haggle. You have to know the rules to properly play the game. In this game, we are looking for a win-win. You get an item to take home with you and the business owner earns some money. This seems simple, but it can get rough if you do not know what to expect when you are bargaining.
Rule #1: Never attempt to haggle when you are overly tired or for any other reason functioning at less than your best. Haggling takes a certain mental energy and the ability to read body signals, somewhat like poker, so to haggle at your best, be at your best.
Rule #2: Shop around. There are some items that you will need to purchase right then and there, but that is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time you will be able to find a very similar item or in some cases the exact same item in another booth or store down the road and by shopping around you will have a better idea what to pay for an item.
Rule #3: Know how much you want to spend on an item before you talk to anyone about price. Determine what the value of the item is to you and be willing to walk away if you don't get within your range. You have to be willing to walk away.
Rule #4: Once you have determined what item you are interested in, do NOT appear interested at all to the shop owner. This bears repeating: do NOT appear interested at all to the shop owner. You want to appear as if this is something you could purchase, but it is also something you could live without. This very well could be the item you've been looking for all day and you are super excited to have found it. You do NOT want to show that enthusiasm and certainly don't want to let the shop owner know this fact.
Rule #5: Do NOT try to hurry the process. These shop owners do this all day everyday and they are not in a hurry. You cannot be in a hurry either. You need to take your time and be prepared to be there a few minutes and endure the process.
Rule #6: Pricetags are meaningless. Ignore them. Haggle away!
Step 1: Initial Bid. You are at the shop. At this point, you are eyeing something and you should have a range in your head of what you want to pay for your item. The haggle has begun. It started the moment the shop keep laid eyes on you. Casually ask how much for the item. ALWAYS let the shop keep come back with the initial bid. NEVER say how much you are willing to pay first. After the shop keep gives you the number, say nothing for a moment. DO NOT ACCEPT THE INITIAL OFFER.
Step 2: Counteroffer. You have a bid from the shop keep. To get to your number, you need to go below your number. For example: If the shop keep offers $10 and your number is $5, don't say $5 right away. Make an offer of $2 or $1 even. He is going to be high and you need to be low so you can do the dance of the haggle. In some countries you can expect to pay about half of the initial bid, while in others you can get down to 25-30% of the initial bid. It depends on the country and shopping area. Some shop keeps will act offended or tell you about how wonderful an item you are getting at such a great price. Don't be fooled. They do this everyday. Every single day, all day. You are not going to get it below his "sell" price and you should not purchase above your "buy" price.
Step 3: Negotiation. This is going to be like a tennis match: The shop keep makes an offer and you make an offer. It can be quite interesting. Your goal is to get into your acceptable range. This is where the time and patience comes in. You will want to look at the item and set it down. Most likely, the shop keep will hand it right back to you. They want to sell this item to you. Go back and forth a few times.
Step 4: Have a signal. There comes a point where you may need to bring in help. This could be your spouse or friend. It might be someone who is traveling in your group who you may have only known a few days. When you give the signal, that person will be your naysayer. They will urge you to move on or something of that nature. This is where a little urgency for the shop keep will get things moving in your direction. You will know if you have hit the buy point. And if you still are not at in your price range move on to step five.
Step 5: Walk away. Take your time walking away. This is the moment you will truly find out the lowest price point. Sometimes it is well below what was the "lowest price" before. The shop keep wants to sell you this product. Don't overuse the walk-away. Shop keeps are always looking up and down the line and if they see you doing this all over the place, this will become your tell.
Step 6: Now it is time to make your purchase or not. If the shop keep gets to the number, make the purchase. If this does not happen, don't make the purchase. It is that simple. It is considered uncouth to haggle, get to the price point and then NOT purchase. You are essentially honor bound to purchase if you get to your price. Basically, don't haggle just to haggle. Haggle when you are truly interested in something.
Strategies and Tips for Your Next Haggle
Flash your cash. When a shop keep has your cash in sight, they know you are serious and are more likely to deal.
Offer to pay cash for items instead of using a credit card. A lot of shops will have a lower cash price.
Ask for a deal if you are purchasing more than one item. Sometimes a shop keep will give you a deal if you are getting a package.
Be aware of your environment. Pick-pockets are known to visit the markets, as well. A good anti-theft bag and your money belt will pay dividends here.
Download a currency app and use it. This will show you the price in US Dollars vs the currency you are bidding in.
Don't be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is you will be told no!
My final tip: Abide by the rules!
Happy bargaining your way around the world!