The Art of Negotiation

Market in Ho Chi Minh Saigon VietnamIn most developing nations around the world, it is not only common but expected that you bargain for items when you want to make a purchase. Many Westerners are turned off by the idea of having to negotiate a price—after all, why wouldn’t someone just toss a sticker on something with the asking price?—but the fact of the matter is that, in many parts of the world, bargaining is a way of life.

So how can you navigate your way through the tricky shopping world of negotiation? Here are a few tips that will ensure you pay a reasonable price for market goods or fun souvenirs without insulting the local shopkeepers.

Shop around.

Most markets have dozens if not hundreds of booths and tiny shops selling trinkets, foodstuffs, clothing, spices and other items. Don’t just stop in the first shop and start buying. There are likely to be many other shops selling the same things or items that are similar but in different colors or sizes.

Keep in mind which booths are selling items you are interested in, but shop around before settling on where you will buy your items. While you shop, get a feel for the shopkeepers and listen to other people negotiate with them. Who drives a hard bargain and who seems to be willing to make a deal?

hats at market Huatulco MexicoDecide what you want to pay.

Before you even begin bargaining, decide for yourself how much you’re willing to pay for a particular item. It helps if you have a price in mind so you are in charge of the direction of your negotiation, not the shopkeeper. There is a chance that the price you’ve decided on really is too low and at some point you’ll have to decide whether you want to pay more than you decided an item is worth, but at least you’ll have a price to aim for during the negotiation process.

Start low.

When you first ask what the price is, chances are the shopkeeper will provide an astronomical number. Figure out what the difference is between what you’ve been quoted and what you want to pay, and then begin your negotiation below your ideal price by the same amount.

For example, if you are willing to pay $50.00 for something, and the shopkeeper’s first asking price is $70.00, then start your negotiation at $30.00. This way both you and the shopkeeper have somewhere to go with negotiation to reach your desired price.

Purses at market in MexicoBulk items together.

You can often get a better deal if you buy two or more items from the same shopkeeper. If you want to buy several souvenirs to take home to friends, you can likely get a better deal for all the items if you purchase everything at the same place. Though there aren’t price tags on anything, the theory of one item for $10.00 or two for $15.00 still holds true when you’re negotiating. Use the power of bulking to your advantage when you negotiate.

Don’t earnestly bargain for an item unless you intend to buy it.

Though the actual act of negotiating for a deal can be fun, don’t spend time bargaining just for the sake of bargaining. If you don’t intend to buy what you are bargaining for, you waste everyone’s time. It is also considered a bit a of a cultural faux pas in most places to reach an agreement on a price and then walk away from the table without actually buying anything.

Walk away.

That said, there are times to walk away. If the shopkeeper just won’t go any lower on his prices and you aren’t willing to pay what he’s asking, then walk away. If you are pursued by the shopkeeper with lower prices after walking away, you can continue the negotiations, but if the shopkeeper does not try to continue bargaining with you, then the final price stated is a good indication of what you can expect to pay for that particular item at that shop and elsewhere.

4 Responses to “The Art of Negotiation”

  1. DTravelsRound

    Great tips! I put something similar to this together after spending so much time in Morocco and Turkey. The walking away tip worked great for me when I was in Thailand. I got some pretty good deals (for a Westerner) 🙂

    • JoAnna

      There’s always that “for a Westerner” thing …

  2. Joel Tillman

    I had to learn these tips the hard way in Korea 🙁 But once you start to get a little confident in it, it almost becomes a fun game you play with the shopkeep. I have, on a few occasions, gotten the item for cheaper than it was going for on the market. Also, because of Korean culture, they are more likely to not and try to mess with you too much if you are male.

    • JoAnna

      Bargaining can definitely take some practice, but once you figure it out, it is a lot of fun.


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