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Monday, July 2, 2012

Bargaining 101

By: Meisha

In many non-Western cultures, bargaining is a necessity to do everything from getting taxis to purchasing souvenirs.  Unfortunately, many Westerners find this custom cumbersome and tedious.  Here are a couple of tips to ease your bargaining woes.  Put them into practice and I am sure you will find bargaining as enjoyable as I do!
Dantokpa, Benin, Largest Market in West Africa

Be patient.  Bargaining doesn’t happen quickly.  It takes time to get the price you want.  If you are in a bad mood or rushing, it probably isn’t the right time to bargain.  Your lack of patience, will probably lead you to be overcharged for everything!

Start bargaining minimally at half of the stated price.  Recognize that the locals are accustomed to foreigners paying more.  Even if you speak the local language or are dressed similarly to the locals, the merchant knows you are a foreigner and will double or even triple the real starting price.

Establish local benchmarks.  Forget how much you would pay for the item in your country of residence.  Instead ask a local, like the people working in your hotel, how much they pay for certain items.  Then use this as a benchmark to establish a fare price on items you want to purchase.  After one of your earlier purchases, feel free to also ask a hotel worker how much they would have paid. This will let you know if your bargaining is on target or if you should lower your base and final asking price.

Don’t start bargaining unless you really want to purchase the item.  In most places this is considered rude.  However, it is usually acceptable to look without purchasing.  In countries, where merchants are aggressive, you may even want to tell them you are just looking.

Leverage the first or last customer advantage.  In some cultures, selling to your first visitor is a sign of good luck for the rest of the day.  Likewise, if it is almost closing time, you are the merchant’s last chance to make money that day.  Use these facts as leverage points in your negotiations.

Be polite.  Please and thank you are welcomed in every country.  Also, learn local courtesies.  If it is respectable to refer to older people as Auntie or Uncle or greet before engaging in business, like it is in West African culture, incorporate these practices into your bargaining.  It will get you cool points with the merchant!

What’s your final price?  Before you start bargaining know how much you are willing to pay. Know what is your final or bottom price and stick to this price!

Be ok with walking away.  If the merchant isn’t willing to go down to your final price then walk away.  Nine times out of ten the person will follow after you because they really want the sell or you will find someone else with a similar item that will give you the price you want.  Living in Benin, I frequently went through at least 4 taxis before I would get in one because they knew I was a foreigner and wouldn’t transport me for the going rate.  It took some time and patience, but I always got the price I wanted.

Feel good about what you paid. You are certain to meet another tourist that purchased the same item for you at a lower price.  Just remember, if you feel you are being cheated or paying too much for an item don’t purchase it.  Also, at the end up the day no matter what anyone else pays, it is only important that you feel good about what you paid!

Just because there is a sticker price doesn’t mean you still can’t bargain.  If you are purchasing multiple items feel free to ask for a discount or better price.

Have fun with it.  I treat bargaining like a game.  I joke around with people.  I befriend merchants.  I spend more time, particularly at art markets, bargaining but I end up getting a deeper cultural experience out of it as well.  I have had so much fun bargaining, that I have enjoyed everything from a cup of mint tea to impromptu drumming lessons to being dressed up (make up and all) in the local fashions—all by merchants I just met. 

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