People often tell me that they hate to bargain – and I understand. I used to feel the same way, but after many years living in countries that require it to survive, I have changed my opinion. I now enjoy a good bargaining session and look forward to opportunities to hone my negotiating skills. How did this happen?
In Asia, people are expected to bargain. As a Chinese friend once explained, “The seller tells you his price with full expectation that you will come back with yours. If you pay what he asks, sure, he’ll be happy, but he’ll also think you a fool. You will have “lost face.” “Face” is a concept in Asia that encompasses dignity, reputation and honor. Once I understood this perspective, it made it easier to negotiate.
That said, you should always smile and remain calm while bargaining. Never lose your temper (another way to lose face). Remember that the merchandise in a seller’s shop is his livelihood, and if you don’t like his price, you may go somewhere else. Likewise, if he doesn’t like yours, he doesn’t have to sell it to you.
When you are getting close to your desired price – perhaps down to a few dollars difference – you might want to stop and think about what that last bit of money means to you versus the seller. If you are looking for ways to give back in countries where you travel, stopping the negotiation before you’ve squeezed out a last dollar/penny or two from the seller still gives you a good price, but it also puts a little extra money into the pocket of someone who probably needs it more than you.
With this in mind, here are my tips for how to bargain in Asia:
- Shop around and get a sense of what the item should cost. Ask prices and listen to other tourists bargaining for similar items. I once hung out around a flower shop until a local bought the item I wanted (pussy willows). As the buyer was walking away, I asked him what he paid. The price went from $25 (the original quote from the seller) to $2.50 when I returned with this new knowledge.
- Once you are ready to purchase, check the item in question and make sure the quality is acceptable. Then, ask the seller for his best price.
- Once you receive his price, counter with your own. I always come back with something a bit lower than I actually want to pay.
- The seller will probably come back with a compromise price. If this is acceptable, you have a deal. If not, you can state the highest price you are willing to pay. The seller must absolutely believe you will not pay another penny.
- If the seller declines, walk away and don’t look back. Go to another shop and pretend you don’t really want the item.
- If you are in the ballpark, the seller will run after you and you can usually make a deal at your last stated price.
- If he doesn’t run after you, your price is too high. At this point, you can go back to the shop and pay his price or you can go to another shop and begin the negotiation again, that much the smarter.
It’s considered bad form to make an offer, have it accepted and then decline to buy it. You may or may not not get yelled at, but either way, it’s not the accepted custom so try to be genuine in your offers.
How do you know you have paid the right price? Well, I try to tell myself that if I am happy with what I paid for the item in question, it is the right price. In reality, I always know I’ve overpaid if the seller offers me a small gift or free trinket. Likewise, I know I’m paying the right price if the seller congratulates me for being a good bargainer and asks if I live in that particular town. I’ve experienced both scenarios many times – and so will you, if you give it a try.