Haggle like a pro with these 8 simple rules

Making friends in Hoi An market

In many countries, bargaining and negotiating is part and parcel of life. It goes on all around you – it is culture in action – and it is in no way limited to the tourist industry.

In foreign marketplaces, foreigners often tend to feel a little aggrieved that they are being “ripped off” by being charged a higher price than locals, and this sense can colour the tone of negotiation. Better perhaps to accept that most of the people you are dealing with are smart business people with limited resources, seeking to make a decent living, and that in a culture where negotiating is commonplace the first price is expected to be rejected.

This post represents a list of tips and tricks that have been tried and tested by the InsideVietnam team during our adventures in Southeast Asia and beyond. Follow these simple rules and haggling becomes a fun and friendly way to interact with the locals, not to mention a great way to pick up some bargains.

1. Smile

The first rule, and also the most important. In most Asian countries, maintaining “face” is extremely important, so avoiding insult to either party’s pride or dignity is paramount. Not only this, but good humour is more likely to get you a better deal – and will most definitely make for a more enjoyable experience.

Making friends in Hoi An market

Alastair making friends at the market in Hoi An

2. Know the going rate

If you want to bargain successfully, you need to have a rough idea of the going rate for what you’re aiming to buy. Otherwise you are liable to aim for a price that’s unachievably low, or one that’s extortionately high. Either way you’re cheating yourself out of a good deal.

If you’re travelling with a guide, ask them for a ballpark figure for your item – or, if not, asking around a few different vendors in the area will give you a vague idea of the starting price. Your hotel might also be able to tell you more, or, if you’re looking to buy a more expensive item, you might want to do some online research beforehand.

It may be a little tricky to find out exactly what the local value of an item is, but it will give you an invaluable advantage over the vendor. No doubt, you will suffer early haggling defeats early on in the trip, but you will soon learn!

3. Decide what you’re willing to pay before you start

Once you’ve accomplished point two, use this to decide on a price that you’re willing to pay for the item and stick to it. Translate the figure into your home currency in your head to make sure that you’re comfortable (and able) to pay it. This will (hopefully) stop you getting too carried away!

4. Counter a high opening gambit with a low counter-offer

Depending on the item and the context, 50% of the initial offer or thereabouts is reasonable. These two opening offers set the boundaries for your negotiation, and you can be sure the vendor will be aiming high!

Rie at the market

Rie at the market in Vietnam

5. Negotiate in local currency

In many countries, including Vietnam, you can often opt to pay in US dollars rather than local currency. This will inevitably result in a worse deal for you. Always choose to haggle in the local currency where possible to avoid losing out....and learn a few basic words in the local language.

6. Walk away

The best haggling deals of my life were struck using this tactic – you’ll be surprised at how effective it can be. If you’ve haggled your heart out and the price still hasn’t reached a level you’re happy with, break out the tactical walk-away and you’ll immediately be called back if the vendor still has room to manoeuvre. If they let you walk, you’ve probably pushed them as far as they can go. At this point, don’t be embarrassed to come back and accept their last offer!

7. Go for a multi-item deal

This is another one of my faves. “If you won’t sell me this for X amount, will you give me this and this for X amount?” is a great way to get a better price – and the vendor gets another sale out of you too. Win-win.

8. Don’t get carried away

Once you’ve flexed your haggling muscles and driven a few hard bargains, it’s easy to get a little carried away with your success. Don’t push too hard – remember, those final few pennies you’re attempting to wring from the little old lady at the marketplace are worth more to her than they are to you.

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