Many times in the United States, if you don’t want to pay the price of something you A) don’t get it, B) May be considered “cheap”, or C) All of the above. But in so many other parts of the world, bartering, haggling down for prices, and striking deals is not only how they do business, it’s customary, and if you have no practice in it, it can feel a bit overwhelming, even a little scary. So, here are some things to know before you put your bidding-hat on.
- The vendor rarely ever expects to sell the item to you for what they originally ask for. In fact, in most cases when a vendor gives you a starting price, it’s usually double what they’d like to sell it for because they expect you to haggle the prices down with them. This is especially true in places with large markets such as Marrakech, Chichicastenango or Cuzco.
- The “walk away” is a great beginners move. If you’ve never haggled before and you’re nervous to get into an auction-like bidding match with a local, walking away is a great place to start. Most vendors will name a prince, then when they see someone lose interest in the purchase (not wanting to spend the requested amount of money) will start to offer lower prices to get you to turn around. This can help give you a little leverage by not looking desperate for the item.
- “Someone else is selling it for cheaper.” This is the cold hard truth in market places. Everyone is selling the same, or a slightly different variation of product, and you can probably find the item you like for the price you like. If someone is stern and doesn’t want to haggle to your price level, you can tell them that you “saw it cheaper elsewhere” or that “you’ll just get it somewhere else”. This is another easy way to call a vendor’s bluff while still being polite and not engaging a bunch if you happen to still be nervous or unsure.
- Talk to locals. I don’t mean ask the locals that are running the market, but locals that have bought at these markets before. We’ll usually ask whoever runs our hostel, or any tour guides or restauranteurs that seem friendly how much they’d pay for specific things when they’re in a market to get a sense of how low we can go without actually ripping the vendor off. We still want to support the local economy, we just don’t want to pay obscene tourist prices. Neither person should feel ripped off if everything goes right. In most cases you can’t expect to pay exactly what a local would, but it gives you a sense of how low you can barter and what’s a “fair price” (usually local price + 20%).
- If you’re going in for the haggle, start low. For our experienced hagglers, you know this is your golden rule, but in case you haven’t haggled before, or feel particularly bad at this, this is the rule to stick by. When a vendor asks you what price you want to pay, or you decide to jump in and make an offer, don’t start by actually telling them what you want to pay, because they’re going to continue working the price up from there, and you’ll probably end up paying the difference between what you suggested, and what they had suggested originally. Since that’s usually the case, start much, much lower than you’d like to pay so you can work your way back to your goal price eventually!
- Be confident. In cities where they’re extremely accustomed to haggling (like Marrakech) vendors are especially in tune with whether you’ve done this before or not, and if they think they can get what they want out of you. So even if you’re pretending, act confident and like you know what you’re doing. This is a great time to work on that poker face of yours.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. I know it’s sad when you’re bartering for a pair of sandals that’re better than any of the other vendors have (cause they have three pom pom’s instead of two), but if he wants you to pay $90 for them and won’t budge, just say no. There are plenty of other things you can spend that money on that will make you happy. We’re taught from childhood to be as accommodating as we can, so many of us don’t have great practice in saying no – especially us women, but there’s never a better time to practice strengthening your “no” skills then when you’re not making headway in a barter.
Whenever I travel in groups, I’m usually the person everyone asks to do the bartering for them, but it’s really not magic, I just stick to these simple rules, love to say no, and have way too much fun with my poker face! Remember, if all else fails, stuff is just stuff, but memories last forever!
And one last note… locals only pay 10 Dirham for a taxi around Marrakech!