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Haggling at the Market Like a Pro


Haggling With Customers. Photos by claire rowland and Ironchefbalara

A leisurely Saturday morning stroll through the markets, hand in hand with your love or chatting with your best friend is no place for a knock-down-drag-out price war, right? Well maybe not for most Australians, but for some bargaining is a game to be played.

Haggling at street markets is viewed differently all over the world. In some countries it is a standard cultural practice and even an art form, while for others it is uncomfortable and even awkward.

One day you may find yourself in a city in which not haggling is an insult, as if you were just showing off your immense wealth by not asking for a lower price. On the other hand, trying to get a bargain at a Western grocery or department store would only result in incredulous looks and even irritation.

When visiting a new place, check travel guides to find out local practices (London- no, Costa Maya- yes).

Regardless, basic haggling skills are an essential skill that will come in handy more often that you expect. Take a minute to master a few simple rules and you will be on your way to talking down the price on that antique sewing bench or rustic oil painting in no time.

Just pick the vendors with portable shades so you don’t sweat yourself into a puddle on your first go-round.

Okay haggling rookie, there are three basic tenets to stick to. To bargain successfully you need to start with a lower offer than you would be willing to pay, maintain a poker face, and (above all!) be reasonable.

Enter the game respectfully and you could walk away with a little cash left in your pocket and an armful of goodies.

Santa Fe, New Mexico has some of the best deals on genuine turquoise and sterling silver jewelry. Meander under the permanent market shelter at the Plaza to gaze at jewelry spread out on woven blankets or walk into a pop-up canopy to sample other handmade wares.

Local Native Americans and Santa Feans craft one-of-a-kind pieces and typically sell them for below retail prices.

However, just because the prices seem reasonable, do not pop open your wallet to start shelling out the sticker price. Take a second to decide what you would be willing to pay if you could get a lower price. What is the item worth to you? Offer lower than your desired price. You will leave them a little wiggle room to renegotiate. When they counter, be ready to meet them in the middle. Sometimes all it takes is a simple back-and-forth while other times more involved tactics are required.


A Little More Of That. Photos by Graham Milldrum and Barney Moss

Depending on where you are in the world, your demeanor plays a large part in your bargaining success. In some European and Middle Eastern marketplaces, it is important to spend time getting to know vendors before haggling. Watch local shoppers haggle to get a feel for what is customary.

No matter where you are, your best haggling weapon is your poker face. Your face as you throw down a low offer should look like you are taking yourself and your offer seriously. Look like you can walk away from the purchase if you do not get it at the price you want.

Show the vendor that you mean business!

Even if you feel sheepish haggling, do not let this feeling play across your face. Bargaining is a fun game that can be mutually beneficial – play smart! Play your part!

If an item in a gazebo catches your eye, walk up slowly and somewhat aloof. Make eye contact and greet the vendor. If the prices are unmarked, make inquiries and unapologetically offer half the amount. You’ll sound crazy but try to look serious!

The vendor may look surprised or upset but remember that she does this all day! It’s survival! Look at that nice OZtrail gazebo with a window where she sells her wind chimes. It was paid for with market goers’ money! Maintain your poker face, appear perturbed when you have to offer more and perhaps even walk slowly away from the market stall.

Okay, okay so your end goal is to actually take home the newest object of your affection – whether it is a knock off Louis Vuitton or a hand woven rug. So be reasonable about what you are willing to pay. Consider the vendor’s costs. If you are buying from a new or emerging local artist, consider your payment as a method of supporting their work, even if the painting is worth pennies.

When they work with you to find a mutually agreeable price – buy it already! Once the haggling game is over you can return to your gracious, courteous self. Win-win.


Haggling at Beijing. Photo by gadventures.com

The Asian Haggling Pro’s Tips for when you plan to buy in a market in Asia:

Asian sellers tend to be smarter than they seem; for one thing, most of the time they know the language you speak, but you might not know what on earth they’re talking about! So take these beads of wisdom with you during your meanderings in the quirky and exotic markets on this part of the planet.

First – you can use, to your advantage, the fact that market stalls are often categorised in Asia according to what they sell, e.g. trinket sellers are placed together in one area with each other. This means that there will be heavier competition for the buyer’s attention between the stalls as compared to when a stall is the only one of its kind in the vicinity.

So be glad when the neighbouring vendor is standing nearby, because he/she is sure to have had attentive ears listening to you and the other vendor haggling over wares, and will surely be willing to give you the price you want if the other would not.

But if you already have your heart set on the item sold by that merchant you’ve singled out first, feigning to leave his/her stall and speaking frankly that you will just look for another vendor will more than often open a second opportunity to haggle.

Second – persistence is effective, but use with friendliness when in Asian marketplaces. Why? Asian people are naturally friendly and they don’t appreciate bully-like behaviour of any kind. Maintain a humble, “down-to-earth” aura. The poker face doesn’t really work as effectively in these territories compared to where we’re used to. Oftentimes the sellers will give to friendlier personalities compared to grumpy ones, so haggle with a smile.

And third – remember this fact because it’s true: the real bargaining usually starts after the seller saysno“. So don’t be discouraged almost immediately on the first instance you hear the word. You might actually bring home the best bargain because you didn’t let that grouchy vendor get the best of you.