Living overseas you have to learn how to do certain things. One of them is how to barter. Did you know that even in a “fixed price” shop you can usually talk the shop keeper down a little bit? I’ve had a lot of fun learning how to barter since I moved to !nd!a. At first I was a bit shy in this area, and when I would try it, I didn’t start very low so I’d end up only getting 20 rupees off whatever it was I was buying. (That’s when you start hearing things like, “For you, special price, 10 rupees [20 cents] less.”) But I’ve gotten much better. The best buy I have gotten yet was when Suzy and I went to D3lhi the second time for my passport. We were walking down the street not really even intending to buy anything when these little elephant key chains caught my eye. My sister’s birthday was coming up, so knowing she likes elephants, I asked the guy how much they were. He said they were 250 rupees (about $5). I was utterly shocked! I said “250 rupees for ONE?!?!” He then informed me that it was for the whole package of five. Well, I only wanted one, so I asked how much for just one. “Oh, we cannot sell just one. They come in a package.” I said no thanks and began walking away, fully intending not to buy them. But as I was walking away he said, “Ok, Ok madam. How much?” I looked directly at him and said “30 rupees.” He then said he’d give them to me for 225. “No, 30 rupees is all I will pay.” And I walked away. “Ok, ok madam. How much?” “30 rupees is all I will pay.” “Ok, for you, 200 rupees.” “No sir. I don’t think you understand. I will not pay any more than 30 rupees because I only want one. I don’t want the whole package.” And I walked away again. This happened several times. He’d call me back, ask how much, I’d say 30 rupees, he’d go down with his price a little bit, and I’d walk away only to be called back again. Finally he was down to about 100 rupees when I looked him in the eye and said, “Sir. I only want ONE of these elephants. I don’t want the whole package. And because I only want ONE, I will only pay 30 rupees. I will NOT pay any more than that. If you don’t want to sell them for that price, that’s fine. Your choice, but I will not pay more than 30 rupees.” And I walked away. “Ok, Ok madam. For you, 30 rupees.” I was completely shocked and utterly amazed that I actually got five elephant key chains for only 30 rupees!! HA!!
So, what have I learned from all the bartering that I’ve done? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1.) Do not look overly interested. If you show your excitement for a certain item the price has already doubled what they normally charge a foreigner.
2.) Befriend the shopkeeper. Comment on how lovely his store is, or about how he has such a great location, or something. Getting on his good side should help you out. Also, if you’ve bought things from him before, be sure to mention it and how satisfied you were with the item you purchased. Also ask him how business has been that day. If he hasn’t had very many customers he will be more likely to agree to a lower price.
3.) Ask for a discount. Before you even offer a counter price, ask them what kind of discount they will give you. Again, this is especially true if you’ve bought from him before. But even if you haven’t, don’t be afraid to ask what discount he will give you. And if you are planning on buying a couple of things from the same shop, ALWAYS mention that you are buying SO MUCH, even if it’s really only two or three things.
4.) Start VERY low. Once he gives you his discounted price keep in mind that this is still probably at LEAST double what it should really cost, if not three or four times that price. A good rule of thumb is to try for a third of the price. He might laugh at you or look completely shocked, but this is his job. He’s been doing this for MANY years. He wants you to think the price you’ve offered is absurd and may indeed be shocked because most foreigners are usually too naive (they haven’t read my bartering tips) to know better and just pay what he quotes, or if they do barter don’t start low enough. So, they end up only getting about a 2% discount and are very happy with the fact that they bartered all on their own and got “such a good price!” He’s trying to get as much money out of you as he can. Don’t be misled.
5.) Don’t be afraid to walk away. When you show that you are willing to walk away with nothing when you don’t get the price you want, he will know that you mean business. `Most likely he will call you back saying, “Ok, ok. How much?” This is when it can become a bit tricky. You don’t want to raise your price too much too fast. It is usually a good idea to try and stick with or at the very least close to your original price. Have in mind the maximum you are willing to pay for the item noting that the price should be less than half of what he first quoted. If he doesn’t go down with his price much or at all, say no thanks (it is important to remain polite, but firm) and walk away. And he’ll probably call you back again. This processes could repeat itself many times.
6.) Do not convert the price to dollars. Try and think in the local currency. When you convert the price he is quoting to dollars you only end up thinking, “Wow! That’s not such a bad price. It’s a few dollars cheaper than something like this would be at home.” EEERNK [nasally] BAD idea!! This WILL NOT get you a good price and will only prove that foreigners will pay any price, and the next time you come there the price will have doubled again. THINK IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY!!! I cannot emphasize this point enough. THINK IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY!!!
7.) DO NOT CAVE!! This is very important! You will hear things like, “How will I feed my family?” and “If it was up to me, but my boss...” or “My cost is this much, (BALONEY!!) how can I give it to you for less than what I paid?” He will pull every trick out that he can to keep the price as high as he can. Your goal is to get a good price. If you listen to any of these tricks, even for a split second, you have a very high chance of caving. REMAIN STRONG. I know you can do it! Show me what you’re made of.
8.) Have fun. If you don’t have fun with this, it will not be a good experience, and even if you get a really good price, it won’t be a good memory for you. Every time you look at what you bought, you will remember the stress of buying it. Plus depending on where you are, many shop keepers enjoy bartering, even if they don’t show it.
9.) Remain upbeat and polite. This can be a delicate balance, but once you find it, it’s pretty easy to maintain and begin perfecting. The reason it can be difficult is because you have to be firm with the price you want, but in a friendly, carefree way. You’ve already befriended the shopkeeper at this point, now you want to remain friends.
10.) Speak in the local language if possible. Even if it is just a couple of words or you don’t know if you can say them correctly, use them anyway. If you say the words right, you will not only impress the shopkeeper, but you may make him wonder how much more you know. It kind of puts him on his toes in a way. If your pronunciation is bad or even horrible, you can have a good laugh about it together. He’ll also be happy that you care enough about his country to learn some of his language. This will help you become friends with him, too.
This is what I’ve come up with so far. It is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started. If you’ve done some good bartering already let me know what it was like. If there is a trick you used, or a tip you think others should know, email me and I’ll add it to the list. I hope you have a great shopping experience next time you travel!