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Haggling 101

Written by Kobus on August 24, 2011

Jessica and Vi in VietnamHaggling is not for everyone and not everyone is good at it.

True hagglers know that it is not about undercutting the seller or over charging the buyer. Haggling is the ancient art of negotiating a mutually beneficial deal over fine and often blurry lines.

10 Simple Rules for Negotiating

  1. Mutual respect often seals the deal. Don’t be rude or condescending when negotiating
  2. It’s supposed to be a fun cultural experience, not about pinching pennies.
  3. Be flexible. Set the high and low price you are willing to pay and negotiate within them.
  4. Plan for big victories. Give in or pay full price for cheaper items so you can save more on big items.
  5. Take your time to consider the counter offer, don’t be aggressive or pushy.
  6. Beware of your body language, open hands and stance means you’re friendly and willing to negotiate. Don’t cross your arms.
  7. Purchasing multiple items with one vendor will usually get you a better deal.
  8. Know the estimated market price for the product. Shop around, and don’t assume things are cheaper because you are in a third world country. Some things may be more expensive.
  9. Sweeten the deal. Be willing to barter for part of the cost.
  10. Be prepared to walk away.

Dos and Don’ts

Do Don't
Haggle when prices aren’t marked Don’t haggle when prices are clearly marked (with few exceptions)
Have fun, smile and be friendly Don’t waste time haggling, if you spend 10 minutes to save a dollar it’s a waste of time.
Be realistic in your offer Don’t be a bully or rude
Use cash rather than plastic Don’t beg
Don’t take counter offers personally Don’t lose your temper
Be Flexible  

Where to haggle

Vietnam MarketFarmers markets. Prices vary from day to day, especially produce and perishables.

Craft markets. Prices on handmade goods are normally up for negotiations, but take into consideration that the person selling the product might not be the one who made the product and might not be as flexible with the price.

A flea market is also a great place to haggle. There is plenty of competition for sellers.

When to haggle

Haggle when it is socially acceptable. Some cultures thrive on it, others will laugh in your face if you offer a price other than what is marked. Negotiating makes shopping a social event where people interact with each other.

When not to haggle

Uganda used Rubber salesWhen your highest offer for an item is detrimental to the seller, walk away. You never know how that price may affect the seller.

I once stopped on the side of the road in a rural Ugandan village to buy a strip of rubber to make a slingshot. The kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old, wanted $1 for the piece of rubber. I offered him 50 cents and a set of pens and pencils, an offer I thought was more beneficial to him. His response to me was, “I am sorry but my father will abuse me.” I was stunned, and realize that extra 50 cents really didn't matter that much.

Some things have firm prices, and are often set by someone other than the seller, as with this kid in Uganda.

Don’t be that guy

There is nothing worse than a tourist arguing over pennies just because they heard someone say “You should always haggle”.

You know the type. The rude-demanding-sun-burnt-cheapskate tourist who wants a $2 scarf, left arm and right toe from a crippled kid in the Cambodian market for 20 cents while his double-dipped-chocolate ice cream melts all over the floor. The “I-demand-a-discount” for my gourmet Kangaroo pizza because it was too cold, bland and tasteless even though I finished it all and said nothing while eating it.

Don’t be that guy. You give yourself and other travelers a bad name.

Everything has a time and a place. Haggling is no different.


#2 Kobus 2011-09-09 14:52
Great tip Si! You are absolutely right, You should not show that you are desperate for the product, and if you happen to return make sure you are willing to pay full price.

Negotiated prices are not valid for 30 days, so as you say "if you walk away don't return the following day!"

Glad you love the blog, is there anything specific you would like to see on here?
Si Salter
#1 Si Salter 2011-09-09 11:27
Great advice as always. I would also add when bartering, if you walk away don't return the following day! They will probably remember you, then you are on the back foot as they know you really want the product. It happened to us in Morocco. Conduct your business there and then so everyone is happy!

love the blog, regards


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