By Vicky Anscombe on 21 May 2015

We’ve all been stung after a visit to a market. You walk away, feeling like you’ve bagged a bargain, and stumble upon your other half mooning over a pile of earthenware crockery. “You paid what for it?” they splutter. “That guy over there’s selling it for half the price. You’ve been robbed.” They will then return their gaze to the pottery, and you will realise that, yes, you’ve been had.

Is there a way of haggling like a pro, despite the fact many traders will see you for exactly what you are - a tourist? In a word, yes. And putting on your most sullen, businesslike face will get you absolutely nowhere. The key here is charm.

Look the part - and play it cool! Arriving at a market looking groomed and polished is a surefire way of saying ‘I’ve got funds’, which the market traders will interpret as ‘Please overcharge me’. Dress down - no expensive sunnies, watches or jewellery. And don’t go shopping on day one! Have a wander, become familiar with the shopping districts and the prices that vendors are touting. If you are too eager, you’ll miss out on all the bargains.

Be friendly and smile. When you spot a stall you like, smile at the owner and say hello. Being unfriendly won’t work - nor will charging straight in and shouting a price in their face. Make small talk, be nice - don’t recognise the haggling process straight away, play it cool. Top tip - if you’re hot, irritable or cranky, avoid shopping. You’ll either wind yourself or the merchant up, and make impulse buys you’ll later regret. Only hit the markets when you’re feeling calm and in control.

Don’t go over your limits. Before you set out, take a certain amount of cash with you and say to yourself, firmly, ‘This is what I’m spending today.’ If you think you might struggle, leave any credit or debit cards in your room. Once you decide what you want, determine how much you’re willing to pay. If you’ve done your research (see our earlier point about playing for time), you’ll know a rough asking price.

Let the shopkeeper start the proceedings. If you want to appear in control, let the merchant give you a figure, then take it from there. “What’s your best price?” won’t work, as the shopkeeper will know how much you want it. It’s also always tricky to know where to start the bidding, and it normally depends on the country you’re in. In India and Thailand, it’s normally considered good form to start bargaining at around one quarter or one fifth the original asking price, whereas in Marrakech - where shopkeepers have an abundance of European tourists to play with - you’ll get nowhere with that sort of rate. Leave your pride at the door and be bold, and remember - the lower your starting offer, the lower the price you’ll eventually pay.

Haggling in a market

Hold your ground, and be mindful of back and forth tactics. Shopkeepers will attempt to hassle you into paying more. Stick to your guns and remind yourself of your spending limit, and if you feel bamboozled or pressured into buying, just walk away. If you need to buy time, stay calm - phrases like ‘I’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere’, ‘The thing is, I’m not sure if I need it’ and ‘Let me just ask my partner/friends’ are invaluable.

Stay quiet. What are you, a parrot? If there’s a silence, let the shopkeeper fill it. If you’ve already stated how much you want to pay, you’ve said enough. Speaking too much will show nerves and a lack of confidence.

Be prepared to walk away. Don’t be surprised if the time isn’t right, or you’re tussling with the wrong shopkeeper. There may come a point when both of you realise it’s not working, and at that point, say thank you and make a hasty exit. Don’t look around longingly or do a ‘fake exit’ hoping they’ll call you back. The chances are, they won’t.

Seek out hidden discounts and freebies. Hmmm - you’ve reached a stalemate, and neither of you are budging on price. At this point, change tack and ask if the shopkeeper can throw in any added extras for free. If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get.

Finally, don't get too involved in the process. Don’t be too pedantic about haggling for every last cent – and don’t worry if you see something cheaper elsewhere afterwards. As long as you’re happy with your purchase, these things don’t matter and shouldn't spoil anyone’s trip. Plus, after all, this is the shop or stall owner’s livelihood, so you can just look at it as supporting someone’s living if you paid slightly over the odds.

Image credit: Flickr, with thanks to Ironchefbalara and claire rowland


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