Haggling, or bartering if you’re attempting to swap seashells for seafood on the seafront, or something of the like, is a worldwide method of exchange that perhaps occurs more prominently in Asia. Whilst these tips were compiled after a visit to this colourful continent, they could be put into practice around the globe.
When you’re new to a city or country and first pass by a little stall with cool little Buddha models or some delicately designed animals on it, it is very easy to think to yourself “Oh my God, mum would LOVE that, it’s so unique and beautiful!”. Now, your mum may very well like it, and it may well be beautiful, but items which tick these two boxes do not always check the ‘unique’ one. Have a look around before spending your daily Baht allowance on something that is half the price and twice as common as first thought.
Most items don’t have a price attached to them, which of course is all part of the game. Sometimes, rather than the shopkeeper or salesperson telling you how much they want for something, they’ll ask you how much you’d pay. Sounds obvious but start low, even stupidly low, you never know how much the other person is expecting. The worst you’ll get is a wry smile and a fairer price.
As an aside, when it comes to travel in terms of Tuk Tuks, bikes or taxis, there is no harm in just offering a low price straight up, I was surprised how many times in Bangkok the driver would just shrug his shoulders and nod for us to get in to go across the city at a price you couldn’t travel four miles for back home.
An important thing to consider is that sellers thrive on interest, just like anywhere in the world. As soon as they know you want something, they know they can sell you it. Act indifferent and show as little interest in the item as possible. I got my best prices simply by walking away from the shop and the guy just kept calling after me lowering his price. (To a much more realistic one I might add – I wasn’t just being awkward.) I believe it’s a buyer’s market – so long as you know how to play it.
By this I don’t mean be greedy or ridiculous in your demands, but most shops are more than happy to do three for two deals or buy one get one half price. Like the prices, these are not advertised, but they mean the shops are getting rid of stock and receiving money – this goes back to my point about items not being unique, most are mass-produced – and you’re getting a souvenir of your time there or a gift for somebody back home. It’s win – win.
From what I can gather, and I may be wrong here, China has the most aggressive sellers. Laos and Cambodia will play on your emotions more with but in terms of getting embroiled in a situation where a sale is being forced on you, don’t panic and buy something just to end the scenario or escape. They’re (hopefully) not going to rob you, and you’ll feel much better for walking away and parting with your Yuan at a more pleasant stall. You may get dirty looks or shouted at once you turn your back, but you’ll never see these people again and if you do you can bypass them at the first hurdle rather than falling at the last.
Having written out these points I feel it’s important to end add one last thing. This isn’t a guide on how to pick up gifts for all your family and friends for less than £1, or feed yourself on the change from your beers the night before. It’s about paying what something is worth, not ten times as much.
Remember they’re providing goods or services though, and without them you’d be going hungry or left stranded in the middle of nowhere. It’s a mutual relationship that benefits both parties – at the right price. If someone is nice enough to take you to a lovely skyscraper miles away on your last night in Mumbai for the price of a Happy Meal, the least you can do is give them a tip.
Especially in the land of Karma.