Negotiating 101: How To Get Your Way With Street Merchants

Here are some tricks to master the art of haggling.
Saturday 13 October 2018
Get better deals by venturing farther in to the markets. Photo: iStock

Ah, the art of haggling. It’s been around for centuries and will continue to be a part of Southeast Asian culture. If you’ve never had a knack for it but still want a bargain, here are some tips that will help.

Under no occasion are you allowed to name your price upon first contact. The vendor will immediately sense that you’re a newbie and take advantage of your naivete. Quote a price that’s too low and you may just get flipped off, so resist any utterance of numbers. The trick is to let the vendor call their fee and work downwards from there. Be friendly and have a laugh with the vendor. That way an insulting price won’t feel so hurtful. Shake hands when you’ve achieved detente.

Channel your inner Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and purse your lips with a glazed look in your eyes while shopping. That’s the trick to getting a good price because the minute there’s a glint in your eye that screams: “I want it!” – you’ve lost the battle. Even if you’re dying on the inside to own that stunning rug, keep your cool and continue bargaining like it’s no big deal.

What’s tourism without the double price standards? While it’s great for locals, it can be bad news for foreigners. Due to the assumption that tourists are richer, sellers will almost immediately hike up their prices if they see tufts of blonde (even if it’s a dye job) hair. To avoid this, observe and find out what locals pay. Try casual eavesdropping. Throwing in a couple of words in their native language helps too.

bargaining-markets-istock - markets
Best price can ah? Photo: iStock

Making an effort to learn a few words in the country you’re visiting may just open the doors wide enough to cut a few bucks off the sticker price. Plus, it makes you sound more polite – and not the obnoxious tourist they are used to dealing with – and vendors may just see that you’ve come prepared to haggle and give you that discount.

Don’t be overly proud of yourself if you got 50% off. Most vendors would have anticipated this and doubled or tripled the price. Don’t be afraid to offer 25% of that. They can always say no.

A basic rule of thumb is to never buy from the first shop you come across. Chances are you may soon realise that stores deeper into the market square are more willing to make a deal. Browse around before making that offer, you’re on holiday so what’s the rush?

If you come sashaying through the streets clasping a (real) designer handbag, chances are you’re going to be targeted by vendors. They won’t believe the audacity of you when you’re hollering for discounts. We’re not saying you have to rock a Bintang singlet or worn-in sweats, but just bring it down a notch.

If you’ve walked through a flea market you would have heard: “If I buy three more, can give discount?” That’s right, the more items you buy, the more flexible the prices get. You don’t really need that table runner in five different colours, but hey, at least you’ll have backup gifts in times of need. Or you could always put together a group of items. Ask for their best price, total up the figures, and ask for a further discount from there.

Sometimes all it takes is getting a friend to act exasperated, impatient or wanting to walk away with you in tow. The merchant of the store may hurriedly come running after you and concede to your lower offer with a less than ecstatic “okay” as they pack your new buy.

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