Practice makes perfect. Even I still have lots to learn! But after my recent travels through Asia with my sister who has never been overseas before, I realised I had some tips to share.
Before we get started you should know that ‘bartering’ actually means exchanging goods or services for other goods or services, rather than for money. Though bartering is the common term used for buying souvenirs from shop vendors overseas.
Here are my 10 tips on how to barter:
1 – Poker face
Grinning from ear to ear with the product in hand does not help. Sure, it’s great to be a friendly foreign customer but you may as well hand over your entire wallet. Okay, bit extreme. But it does signal that you’re willing to pay whatever it costs to have that item in your possession.
I know it’s easy to get excited. Especially when the product is usually MUCH more expensive at home. And especially if you’ve never been overseas before and want the best memento for your time there. You might even be looking for a colourful scarf for your once in a lifetime picture in the Sahara Desert. Or a traditional shirt to wear to dinner on the last night of your adventure. Maybe it’s a gift for a friend or family member and it’s EXACTLY what they asked for!
Put – on – your – poker – face. It’s tip number 1 for a reason. And the first piece of advice I gave my sister as she was holding a pair of shoes with a big smile on her face for an asking price of $32USD. Read on for the final agreed price.
2 – Go for a walk
You’ve selected an item and been given an amount. You want it but you’re unsure if you’ve been given a much higher tourist price. Go for a walk. Take the opportunity to compare product quality and prices with nearby vendors. Nine times out of ten the current vendor will continue to drop the price until they no longer can before you even get a chance to walk. They don’t want to lose you as a customer and know that you’ll find it cheaper next door!
3 – Start low
You can’t blame shop vendors for starting with an inflated price. They’ll often ask you where you’re from and that combined with your appearance gives them a stereotypical idea of how much you might be able to pay for the product or service.
For example, for the shoes my sister wanted to buy in Vietnam, the initial asking price was $32USD. The shoes even had a price tag on them with this amount. After the poker face advice I told her to try for $15USD. To pay $32USD for a basic, comfortable, unbranded pair of shoes intended for this holiday alone was too much. Even $15USD was pushing it in my mind.
The vendor then asked for $25. I told my sister who was STILL smiling at me and telepathically asking me “can I PLEASE get them?” to offer $20 and no more. The vendor said no so I said we should go for a walk. Sure enough, the shoes were offered to my sister for $20 a few seconds later.
If you haven’t noticed, shop vendors are good at the bartering process. They’ve had LOADS of practice while if you’re living in the western world, you’ve probably had none. This doesn’t mean you should second guess yourself in the bartering process. Be firm and unwavering. Either trust in yourself or compare with as many shops as you need to be confident about the price.
5 – Watch someone else do it
Another way to help with confidence is to watch someone else do it first. Why do YOU have to jump in the deep end? If you can, watch a fellow traveller with experience in bartering first. Take the best of their skills and apply them to your OWN bartering experience!
6 – Know your budget
Go into the negotiation with a maximum price in mind. And remember where you are. It’s easy to think of the shoes as a great bargain in Australian dollars or US dollars (or whatever your local currency). For example if you’re in Cambodia where their monthly income is a few hundred US dollars per month, the shoe price will be much less in comparison to the cost you would pay at home as it needs to be somewhat affordable for locals.
7 – Combine items
If you can’t get the price you want and you’re interested in a second product or service, offer an amount for both or all of them. Often you can get a better deal if you buy more than one.
8 – Get help from a local
If you’re on a tour – great! Ask your tour guide to give you an idea of the price of the item you’re interested in. Even better if they’re willing and available – ask them to come along with you to the shop to assist with the bartering process (particularly if it’s a product or service of significant value). Sometimes seeing how the bartering process works once is enough for you to take off your training wheels.
Not on a tour and therefore no tour guide? Then ask another local for an idea of the price. Try reception at your accommodation. They’re more likely to speak English and usually more than happy to help!
9 – Talk to your fellow travellers
Have you been to Turkey? Did you come back with a Turkish lamp? What about a nesting doll from Russia? Chances are your fellow travellers have already bought what you’re looking for. Ask them how much they paid for it and if they found the price to be reasonable based on prices they’ve seen for the same product or service elsewhere.
10 – Pick your timing
You’re likely to be more successful with getting the best price during off-peak season or certain times of the day. This can depend on the vendor though from experience it seems they are willing to drop prices in the morning, particularly if you’re their first customer for the day.
So there we have it! Ten tips for better bartering. That being said, don’t get too caught up in bartering over a few dollars or sometimes even cents. It may not be much money for you but it could be a lot of money for them! Good luck!