I was introduced to the world of bartering, haggling and bargaining at the young age of seventeen on a class trip to Egypt. Our group had been visiting numerous shop stands when I noticed a stunning statue of Anubis, the jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife. I had never haggled before and I quickly accepted the initial price that the vendor had offered me, assuming that it was a fair price. My confidence in that initial cost soon wavered as we visited hundreds of other shops that were offering trinkets and statues that were often half (if not more) the price of my Egyptian God figurine. Although I was introduced to the world of haggling in Egypt, I became a seasoned bargainer in Morocco, haggling my way through every purchase that I made in the country’s gigantic marketplaces.
I am the type of traveler that loves to buy keep-sakes in each country that I visit, searching for items that possess cultural and traditional significance. As a result, my search for the perfect item, including my failed and success haggling attempts, have taught me some invaluable lessons on how to haggle like a pro.
Don’t feel too guilty to haggle:
when I was in Morocco I was told that many local vendors often double or triple the prices of an item to allow some wiggle room through the whole bartering process. First of all never accept the initial price, as it is probably inflated. Secondly, although the final price might be half (or more) of the original asking price, never assume that you out-haggled / out-smarted the vendor. In all probability the vendor still got a decent profit out of the sale.
Know your environment:
vendors in extremely touristy marketplaces and locations are less likely to haggle and the prices can also be (at times) much higher. For example, thousands of people visit thee San Telmo marketplace in Buenos Aires every Sunday and I have noticed that many vendors will either refuse to haggle or lower the price slightly. In these types of situations, you either have two options accept the initial price or look elsewhere.
AVOID AVOID AVOID permanent souvenir stores:
these shops are located near or in tourist areas – each and every piece in these shops is over-priced and I almost guarantee that you will be ripped off.
Do your research:
when I was in Morocco I was on the hunt for a Moroccan pouf. In Fes I noticed that these poufs were extremely cheap (around CAD$20 in 2008) but decided to forgo in purchasing one since I did not want to lug it around for the rest of the trip. From Fes we visited Marrakech were these poufs skyrocketed in price. Instead of buying the pouf for CAD$60 dollars I decided to shop around. Sure enough later on in our trip I was bought a great small leather camel pouf for the original price of CAD$20. Which leads me to my next point…
Differentiating between the two types of shopping items:
here are two types of items sold by vendors that can influence the way you will shop. Firstly, there are common items that can be found in different marketplaces such as the Moroccan pouf, the Argentinian Mate cup or any type of jewelry with the country’s national stone. In these types of situations it is often best to compare prices and if the vendor is not willing to haggle, than the same item can be probably found three vendors down. On the other hand many marketplaces are also home to jewelry/clothing designers that sell their original and handcrafted designs. These types of items are often one-of-a-kind and designers are often hesitant to offer deeply discounted prices. Due to the originality of these types of pieces, they will probably not be found in another shop and you have to decide whether the product is worth the price.
Scepticism and Indifference are your best friends:
the most common phrase I heard in Morocco was “come in my friend, I give you a good price,” often followed by statements like “this is made with genuine leather” or “it is one-of-a-kind!” Even after all my experience abroad I feel for that shtick in Buenos Aires when I purchased a jewelry set with Argentina’s national stone. The lady swore it was made with real silver and guess what. It wasn’t. Along with being skeptical, indifference to the item will often lead vendors to drive down the price. My most successful bartering attempts were actually when I was not too interested in the item leading the vendor to drastically drop the price. You can even start to walk away – usually, vendors lower the price as they see their buyers walk off.
Keep small bills:
one of the best tricks that I would often try in Chile and Argentina would be to pull out a specific amount of cash stating that I didn’t have any more. Couldn’t you just please give me a deal, this is all I have I would often repeat at which point the vendor would often cave. Small bills are also better as you don’t want to loose out on a great deal as vendors often can not break larger bills.
Don’t be an A******:
yes, everyone wants a great deal but there is a limit to bartering. I meet a lot of individuals abroad that spent way too much time bartering over miniscule amounts of money. In the end, they come off as pompous buttheads so please don’t be THAT guy/girl. As the backpackerbanter wisely states “remember the pennies you argue over are meaningless to Westerners but far more valuable to the locals.”
Make it Fun:
my last point comes from the great people at Third Year Abroad who state “some of the best discounts I’ve been offered were because I managed to joke and muck about with the street sellers. If you show them you’ve got a sense of humour and use your charm (whether you speak the language or not), you’re more likely to get a bit of the price knocked off. Speaking with other friends who regularly barter, most agree with my opinion that it’s a lot like flirting – you need to seduce the vendor into giving you the item for a lower price, thanks to your honey-scented words!”