A rookie’s guide to haggling
Haggling, bartering, striking a bargain – you can’t call yourself a serious shopper until you have learnt the art of price negotiation. Most Australians aren’t familiar with whittling away a price using naught but their charm and strength of speech, unless it’s for something that washes our clothes or keeps our beer cold. When the situation arises, it’s not uncommon for folk to choke and end up paying the same ridiculous marked-up price as bottled water. When the time comes to enter a bustling bazaar or frenzied flea market, don’t shy away. Chin up and chest out – it’s time to take off your lazy pants and put your haggle hat on.
Before we collectively became accustomed to paying the RRP without a second thought, haggling was (and still is) a way of life for many cultures around the world – especially in the exotic East. Then, in the flash of an Amex, everything changed. If something is slumped over a coat hanger or pinned to a price tag most shoppers won’t bat an eyelid. If you’re a savvy spender however, you will think twice. Bartering is more of a market than mall exercise, but it can end up saving you serious moolah that can go towards accommodation, tours, food, more shopping and, yeah, partying too.
What to haggle for
Every destination has its own speciality goods: colourful textiles in Mexico, pottery in Oman, glittering gold in Dubai, the list goes on. What you decide to spend your hard-earned cash on is up to you but non-tacky cultural mementos are usually the way to go. Put the counterfeit Gucci down and walk away – save yourself a world of pain when it disintegrates after a week of wear. Knowing the value of what you’re buying is important in terms of both how much you want it and the amount of work that has gone into producing it. Take note from Phoebe's lack of haggling skills.
It’s all about the attitude
Feign disinterest, baulk at the cost and basically poker-face your way to bargain city. If you’re openly weeping and throwing cash at the guy selling ponchos, the stallholders are probably going to take you for all you’re worth – travellers cheques and your firstborn included. Lesson 1: don’t be a chump. Once you’ve manhandled and measured up your prospective purchase, the general rule is to let the seller give you a quote and then make a counter-bid of half the asking price.
It’s best to leave the Omega watch and LV handbag at home for your souk stroll. If you prance around reeking of legal tender, you might attract a pack of starved salespeople on your tail. That said, make sure you take enough cash on the day. What are you even doing at a flea market with a triple-platinum gold-leaf credit card?
Know when to walk away
Bartering is a game of psychology. Short of the actual ability to read the seller’s mind, you might have a tough time seeing through their well-rehearsed routine. Be mindful that when they say “okay, just because I like you” or offer you the “nice-face discount” they might not actually like you, nor think your face is particularly nice. I’m sorry to be the one to have to say it, but they’re just not that into you. If you’re getting nowhere with the stone-faced shopkeep, walking away nonchalantly usually works a treat. The salesperson didn’t dramatically lunge after you as you slowly made your getaway, you say? There’s no shame in returning and buying the item you were contending for. They have their tactics, you have yours. And now you have a pair of tiny wooden clogs too! Hooray!
Try not to be too selfish with your negotiations, easy as it is to get carried away when you’ve got a few wins under your belt. This is still someone’s livelihood we’re talking about. Haggling isn’t about being a tough nut either. You never know, a charming smile or some harmless flirtation might even knock a few dollars off that ceramic cat you’ve been ogling.
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