How to haggle is something that causes a lot of stress to a lot of travellers. For one thing, if you are coming from a western nation, this is probably not something that you are accustomed to.
You may be intimidated by the prospect of something that seems almost like arguing with a street vendor over the price of a trinket or a scarf. Similarly, you may be worried that you may come across as rude.
In many places, haggling is not only not rude, it is to be expected. If you don’t haggle and you go ahead and pay the first price that is quoted, you are certainly paying an inflated price that is well above the real cost.
How to Haggle
Haggling is a common practice in the bazaars, markets, and souks of many parts of the world. Haggling should be expected if you are planning an adventure to places such as Southeast Asia, South America, or Middle Eastern countries like Oman.
You should also be prepared to haggle in parts of Eastern and Southern Europe. Even living in Greece, haggling can often be a part of day-to-day life – particularly when shopping in Athens, or at local farmer’s markets.
This guide on how to haggle will help you understand how to approach the situation. Who knows? After a while, haggling may become second nature to you. You may even start to enjoy it!
How to Haggle:
A Ten Step Guide
The process of successfully haggling can be broken down into ten steps. These are outlined below.
The aim of the negotiation is to meet a midway price point with the vendor. This way you agree on a price that you are both happy with. The vendor is not losing money, and you are not being ripped off.
- Shop around
- Never take the first price offered
- Consider how much you are willing to pay
- Ask locals for advice and guidance
- Implement the (optional!) use of dramatic gestures
- Look for bulk-buying deals
- Be prepared to walk away
- Watch other travellers and customers
- Don’t flash the cash
- Don’t try to beat the vendor down
If you are meandering through a souk and you have an item in mind that you want to buy, shop around. Never wander up to the first stall that you see and accept their prices as the going rate.
You will often find that prices of items vary substantially from one vendor to another. Say for example that you are hoping to purchase a scarf. Don’t be surprised that in some places, certain vendors price their scarves 50% higher than their competitors.
First of all, they expect you to haggle. Second of all, they believe that you are going to accept what you tell them as the “true” price and that you are not going to bother checking the prices elsewhere. Always shop around before committing.
Scan the various stalls and make a mental note of the prices charged. You can then use these as a benchmark in your negotiation.
For instance, if you find a scarf that you like, and the vendor is trying to charge an extortionate fee, tell him what his competitor is charging. Let him know that you won’t hesitate to take your business elsewhere. Once you have established a starting price, you can begin haggling from there.
Never Take the First Price Offered
Vendors at souks and bazaars always expect you to haggle. This cannot be reiterated enough.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to get the final price at least 30% lower than what is initially offered. The first price is always, always a substantially inflated price.
It will be presented to you as such because this is customary in the vendor’s culture. Never take the first price ofered.
Of course, if you DO take the very first price, the vendor will assure you that you are getting a great deal, a bargain, etc. However internally he can’t believe his dumb luck that you didn’t even attempt to negotiate.
When you start the negotiations, go in by offering 30% of the initial asking price. Of course, you are never going to end on this 30% pricing point, but it’s better to start the negotiations lower.
The vendor will scoff and tut in disgust at this insulting price. You can work your way up from there until you find a price point that you both agree on.
Consider How Much You Are Willing to Pay
Consider how much you are willing to pay before you are going into the negotiation. If it’s something that you don’t really care about, you may be fine walking away if the vendor won’t budge on the pricing.
Alternatively, you may be willing to pay a little more if it’s something particularly fabulous, that you will cry and lose sleep over if you don’t obtain. A magical, colourful beauty of a scarf they you’ve dreamed about all your life perhaps.
You may never be in this part of the world again. You may also never encounter another one of these items, so keep that in mind when trying to haggle. Keep your maximum price in the back of your mind throughout your discussions.
Ask Locals for Advice and Guidance
Before you head out to the bazaar, ask locals what they believe is the going price for the item that you are looking to purchase. You could also ask fellow shoppers what you think, however depending on where you are, they may not speak English.
Ask a front desk clerk, an Airbnb host, or a friendly waiter for their thoughts. Be mindful though of over friendly locals on the streets that suggest that you try their friend’s/cousin’s/brother’s store. More than likely they are obtaining a commission and the price may not be great.
Once you have obtained a rough price suggestion from your hotel staff or whomever, you can whip this out as a reference point during your negotiations with the vendor. This is a very useful bargaining tool.
The vendor now knows that you know the “local price” so he cannot trick you. You know the rates.
Optional Use of Dramatic Gestures
Body language is a huge part of communication. This is particularly true in certain parts of the world when it comes to haggling and negotiations.
There are several gestures and actions that you can use to express your dissatisfaction at prices quoted. Tuts, scoffs and exclamations emphasise your shock. It sounds comedic, but chances are, you’ll find yourself doing these naturally anyway!
Look for Bulk-Buying Deals
Many stalls offer discounts for purchasing multiple products. Let the vendor know if you are open to this.
Say for example, the vendor has a beautiful array of mystical, exotic scarves. His store makes you feel as though you have died and gone to scarf heaven.
As such, perhaps you are not satisfied with one little scarf. Maybe you want to go wild and buy two scarves or… wait for it… three or four scarves!
If the vendor knows you’re open to doing more business, he’ll possibly offer a deal for you making a larger purchase. For example, $15 for one scarf becomes $10 a scarf when three are purchased. Who doesn’t want a closet full of colourful, exotic scarves?
Be Prepared to Walk Away
If the guy’s really playing hardball and you feel like he’s ripping you off, know when you reach the point when it’s time to say sayonara. Oftentimes, you’ll find that when you begin to walk away from the stall, the vendor will come chasing after you with a better offer.
Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the process of haggling. The price goes up a little bit more, and a little bit more, and before you know it, it’s three times as expensive as where you started from. Know when to walk away.
Watch Other Travellers and Customers
If you’re still nervous, take a look around and see what other people are doing. You can then see first hand what works and what doesn’t with specific vendors.
It’s interesting to bear witness to the techniques that other people use. Some may point out faults in the item to push for a reduction, others may simply haggle confidently and persuasively. When you’re ready to have your turn, pick up your fancy, mesmerising scarf and go for it.
Don’t Flash the Cash
Try not to come across as a rich tourist when you are wandering through markets and souks. If you’re holding a purse or a money bag that’s bursting at the seams with bills, yet you’re telling this vendor that you can’t afford or don’t want to pay the rate he’s proposing, he’s going to continue to push it and not move on his offer. He knows you can afford to pay the extra.
If you’re going to a market to buy something, set aside your “shopping money” separate to all of your travel cash. This both allows you to budget and doesn’t reveal all the cash that you’re carrying around.
Don’t Beat the Vendor Down
Always have some empathy when you’re haggling. Acknowledge that there are instances where you may pay a little more than the locals, but as long as the extra amount isn’t extortionate, then it isn’t always necessary to keep pushing and pushing the vendor.
Remember that these people will earn a lot less money than we do. They will have a family to support, and bills to pay, and what is a little extra for us will go a long way for them.
Don’t get caught up squabbling over the last 50 cents. This money will probably go farther for them than it will for you.
How to Haggle:
The most important thing to remember about haggling is to just relax and try to enjoy the experience. Think of yourself as an exotic traveling merchant lady that’s out for a good deal. Regardless of your ultimate settling price, you will always have a good story to tell people when they ask you where you bought your fabulous item.
Do you have any additional questions on how to haggle, or on travelling in general? I have travelled the world alone for the last ten years and have been to almost 50 countries in the process.
Do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can help you with. Safe travels! Melissa xo