Art of Haggling: Foreign Markets

Haggling in foreign markets will seem like an alien concept for any westerner but it’s part of the culture in vast amounts of countries around the globe. You will learn quickly that visiting foreign bazaars or markets will come with negotiating for almost every item. Visiting the local marketplace is a great place to find clothes, food, mingle with locals, and buy unique items. You better learn now how to haggle and make deals before you get there.

Summarize Haggling in Foreign Markets
  • SHOP AROUND – see what the average prices are for items
  • Never show high interest in any item
  • Always keep cool and try not to get emotional
  • Carry USD but don’t admit to having it unless you have to
  • Items on the street are usually cheaper than in the store
  • Keep the currency exchange in your head and do the math
  • NEVER let anyone see the money you pull out – try to be incognito as possible
  • Use “you’ll be back” as a tactic to drop the price
  • Do multiple item deals
  • Stay firm and don’t be a pushover – you’re not obligated to buy anything

Before you go

Do your homework. Haggling in foreign markets with some research can save you some headaches and money. See if you can find out prices people have paid before. See if anyone has advice for the area you are going to. Know the exchange rate in your head. Often when people offer me a price, I’ll convert it in my head and decide if I would pay that much or not.

Culture research. See if you can find out what the minimum wage is if there is one. Remember, locals have to buy these items too so knowing what they can usually afford will help you greatly. Learn to be polite in the local language and upon arrival greet the shop owners with a smile and greeting in their language.

Keep location in mind. Going to shops near very touristy areas will obviously have a higher price and less bargaining room. Try to find out where the locals shop and eat. Many places will a tourist market and then on another side of town is the more locals market.

When Haggling in Foreign Markets

Walk in smiling and be polite. Greet them in their language if you know how and feel free to small talk them a bit. Be cautious of answering where you’re from in certain parts of the world. I say this because in Africa if you said you’re American, I was never left alone. Also, people kept asking me for USD and not their currency. I started saying I was from South Africa and people’s attitudes toward me changed completely.

Keep it casual. When walking into a shop, keep it very casual. Acting interested in anything will have the shop keeper assuming you’ll take the higher price. Never show interest and just tell the merchant you’re just looking around. If something catches your eye, feel free to ask the price. Once they tell you a price, tell them thank you and keep browsing. This is usually how the bargaining starts.

During the haggling process, feel free to test the pricing a bit. If you feel the hit of a ridiculous highball, come back with a ridiculous lowball. Remember, the price is always fluid and there are not set limitations. Don’t be afraid to low ball them and see what they say. Stick to a really low price and if they seem generally upset or offended, try moving it up a bit. If it’s really that low to them they will tell you no way and let you walk.

Be sure to check the item thoroughly. Often you can find marks and scratches along items and these are your advantage. If they see you’re serious about buying it, they will start reducing the price for a damaged item. If you see the item is damaged, pretend like you are not nearly as interested anymore.

Don’t ever feel pressured or obligated to buy anything. Coming back with a low price will often have a reaction like you insulted them. You can play this same game back when they high ball you. There is mostly likely another stand that is selling a similar, if not the same, item nearby.

In the end, you can always walk away and this is the real deal breaker. If you say you’ll be back or you’re going to shop around, two options will happen. Suddenly, the salesman wants to make a deal or he will let you walk. If you do decide to walk though, don’t expect to have the same price for the item when you come back.

Need Help Closing the Deal?

Try doing multiple items to sweeten the pot. If a merchant won’t go lower on a price but is close to where you want to be, throw some extra items in the deal. Ask if you can have a small item included in the price? Add another item that seems a bit pricey but barely up the last price. Multiple items will definitely give you a better deal.

Have a friend constantly trying to talk you out of the deal. They can be your voice of reason, reminding you to save money for the next place. They can also mention about going back to your accommodation. The merchant doesn’t want you to walk if they think there is a deal to be made. I have found that keepers will often drop the price quicker when a mate is trying to get you out of the shop.

Things to Avoid while Haggling in Foreign Markets

Being Scammed

Be careful not to let anyone put anything in your hand or tell you it’s a “gift.” Gift means donation and donation will mean getting scammed. Unfortunately, as sad as it is, no one ever wants to give you a gift abroad, especially not in a market atmosphere. Just never accept anything from anyone.

Also, if people come up and try to hold a long conversation with you, it will usually end with trying to be dragged into their shop. Don’t ever feel obligated to enter a stall if you don’t want to. Be firm and tell them “no thank you.”

Watch out for Teams

A lot of times, merchants have people work for them. They will scout you out and reel you into their stand, shop, cart, or whatever. Here they will constantly remind you of how great of a deal you’re getting the entire time. Don’t feel guilty if someone took the time to walk around with you and talk your ear off while trying tog et you to visit their shop.

Often, I’ve seen shops use kids as a well to sell items or bring customers to their shop. It’s quite the tactic I must admit, but stay vigilant. The kids really know how to sucker you into buying things or making them feel guilty they spent time on you.

Don’t Show Off

Avoid showing any sign of money. Don’t wear flashy things or pull out your smartphone. It’s a sign of wealth and people will definitely notice.

Never let anyone see you pull out your cash or how much money you have. This can cause you to be followed and hassled for awhile to buy more things. Also, if you want to keep shopping, they may know how much you have now. This will be a complete disadvantage.

Don’t be Insulting

Sometimes haggling in foreign markets can be a frustrating game but don’t let it get the best of you. Never insult the seller or their country. Even if you get frustrated, just walk away.

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