Let's face it; aggressive peddlers and pushy locals fighting for their share of sales can be intimidating. As tourists, we are at a great disadvantage as we search the world for treasures and trinkets; foreign languages, unfamiliar currencies and strange customs can all add to this daunting experience. Daunting? Isn't the bargaining process supposed to be fun?!
Bargaining thrives pretty much everywhere in the world except North America. Visit the stalls and marketplaces anywhere and you will witness the locals haggling, bartering and swapping goods; as common a practice as brushing our teeth.
Next time you are in a market, study the way the locals bargain, for not every culture bargains in the same way. In Brazil, for example, the women will stroll from stall to stall perusing each vegetable, touching, squeezing, weighing till at last she approaches a vendor and begins the process of bartering, until they settle on a price. In countries such as Turkey and Greece, the bargaining is extremely vocal leading outsiders to wonder if the two are having a terrible argument. In the end, they pat each other on the back, smile and go on their way. In Hong Kong, it's s a different story. The vendor and customer negotiate in hushed tones so that those crushing around them never know the final price.
Keep in mind that bargaining is not acceptable in all places and it's always good to ask if the practice is acceptable before you venture out to hunt for treasures. Having said that, it never hurts to ask if the price quoted is the final price. Remember the saying, 'if you don't ask, you don't get.'
So, when you stray into that maze of merchants in a crowded market, here are some tips to follow to ensure a good chance of getting the best price.
Learn the merchandise and the initial asking price at various stalls. Then go back and start bartering with one or two that you feel most comfortable with. If you find a one-of-a-kind item (rare), you won't have as much leverage to barter, but the vendor does want to sell that item, so put your bartering skills to the test!
Do not act particularly interested. Be casual and do not let them know that you simply can't live without that treasure.
Prior to departure, read up on the arts and crafts of the region you are visiting and learn what items they are famous for. Sound knowledgeable in discussing the item with the merchant. If you know what you are talking about, he may feel more inclined to give you a better price and may not try so hard to pull the wool over your eyes.
Be relaxed and take your time. If they offer you a drink, take it and enjoy! Itï¿½s all part of the experience and the fun! And there is no need to feel obligated to buy.
Dress down. Do not wear your Gucci shoes and expensive jewellery. In fact, donï¿½t wear any jewellery at all!
Never make the first move and never answer the question "how much you pay?" Insist that they give YOU their best price and keep asking for it, until you get the price you want or until you decide there is no deal.
Understand the local currency and always carry a little calculator to aid in the conversion process. It is also a good idea to carry U.S. dollars in small amounts. Sometimes an extra dollar can clinch the deal!
Take along a few friends; group purchases sometimes gets everyone a better price.
Many cultures love to trade, so take along things which are Canadian i.e. baseball hats, t-shirts you no longer wear, nylons for the ladies, lipstick, Canadian pins, nylon flight bags you've collected over the years, etc. They love these items.
Now you ask, as the bartering process ends, how much should I actually pay? Well, a good rule of thumb, wherever you are, is to start at half of what the merchant is asking. While they love to bargain, you do not want to insult them with a ridiculous, unfair offer. Don't be shy when you make your half-off offer. They expect it; it's a sport and you will not be thought of badly. If you cannot agree on a price, take a walk to another merchant and try your luck there. The merchants want to sell; you want to buy; it can be a win/win!
Bottom line - if you fall in love with it, buy it! Don't come home wishing that you had brought home that special memento! And most important - have fun! Tales of your bargaining wins and losses will be treasured stories for years to come!