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Jama el Fna market in Marrakech city, Morocco

The Art of Haggling

By Jane McLellan

Last updated: 6th October 2011

A scary wooden mask, an aboriginal painting, salad servers made of coconuts and a wooden frog that croaks when you run a stick along its back… these are just some of the weird and wonderful things I that I’ve brought back with me from my travels! Shopping around the world is fun and friendly and in some areas you will find that haggling and bargaining for a price is part of the local culture and therefore the norm. In fact, in many areas the prices are set artificially high for tourists so you have to haggle, and will be expected to do so, or you’ll find yourself unnecessarily ripped off. Having a good haggling technique is an advantage. It’s a skill that will improve with practice and is fun to try out.

Before you set off on a shopping trip, think about what items you would like to buy. Consider the size of the item, as you will have to carry it around with you for the remainder of your trip. If the item is big you could consider shipping it home, but remember to investigate the costs associated with this, as it can be very expensive.

Haggling is a game and if you are going to be good at it, you need to learn the basic rules.  Here are my top tips to bag a bargain…

  1. Before you start bargaining, make sure haggling is a local custom in the country you are visiting.
  2. Recognise that haggling is not appropriate all the time, especially where prices are fixed such as in places like supermarkets, restaurants and public transport.
  3. Don’t try to negotiate the price of an item you have no intention of buying; it’s not fair on the seller.
  4. If a street trader tries to get you to look at a stall in which you have no interest, politely say no thank you and walk on. Don’t feel bad or guilty. If you pretend you are interested, you could easily end up getting hassled into buying something you don’t want.
  5. Have a rough idea about how much you are prepared to pay for the item and don’t let the bargaining end up much above this figure.
  6. Be realistic, reasonable and fair. Don’t be greedy and don’t take advantage. Try to be an ethical shopper!
  7. Let the seller make the first offer. The original offer will normally be an optimistically inflated one, so don’t accept this. Offer around half of their first offer. This offer-counter offer conversation will go back and forth until you both eventually agree on a figure. Before you make each counter offer, take your time, look like you are really considering whether it’s worth it or not. Look less enthusiastic each time a higher price is offered to you.
  8. Remember, not all attempts at bargaining will be successful. Be prepared to lose sometimes.
  9. Always look disinterested when browsing. The seller will be watching your every move and will judge your interest before offering you a price. Any show of interest will usually raise the price.
  10. Avoid picking up items for a long period of time. Ask the price of two or three items so that it’s not apparent which one you are really keen on.
  11. Shop owners usually enjoy haggling with tourists. Don’t get angry or aggressive; if you are friendly and relaxed then you are more likely to get a good deal.
  12. The stall owner may look offended with your counter offer but don’t worry, it’s all just part of the game. Don’t feel guilty if they start telling you a heart-rending story about how they have ten starving kids at home. This is all part of the act of haggling. Listen politely and counter offer with a slightly higher price than your original offer.
  13. You should get a better price if you buy multiple items. For example, if you are looking to get a t-shirt, you can usually get a better unit price if you buy a few.
  14. It’s a good idea to take a friend with you. Not only can they keep an eye on you in case you get carried away but they can help play the good cop/bad cop act. You can look interested whilst your friend looks totally bored and tries to drag you away. The stall owner usually reacts by quickly offering a lower price so they clinch the deal.
  15. If the seller doesn’t offer a price you are satisfied with, then move on and shop around. Sometimes just walking away is enough for them to call you back and offer you a better price.
  16. Do not flash your cash before paying for an item. If the stall owner sees that you have lots of cash, they may assume you are a rich tourist and mark the price up. Only show your cash when you pay the agreed amount.
  17. Have fun! Bargaining in markets is a part of everyday travel life in many places around the world.

Have fun mastering the age-old art of haggling and you could come home with some truly tasty bargains – happy shopping everyone! 

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