"My friend, my friend. You want?" The man who stood to my side was wearing a dirty djellaba and smiled as he spoke.
"mmm, maybe." For the right price I could be convinced to buy, but I didn't want to show too much enthusiasm. I knew what game he was playing.
"How much you want it for?"
"I'm not sure I'm that interested."
"Okay, okay, I'll give you a good price."
The back and forth continued for several more minutes, but we didn't strike a deal and I moved on, continuing to walk through the crowded Moroccan medina.
Bargaining at a market, with a friend, or anywhere else is an art form and a long-lost skill. We've become conditioned to accept what the price tag tells us. But, in many parts of the world bargaining is as common as breathing.
Before there was such a thing as money people bartered for goods. The skills and techniques of bargaining are thousands of years old.
These skills are useful even if you aren't going to be traveling anywhere. Looking to buy a car? How about something from Craigslist or your local newspaper's classifieds? Even in the U.S. the art of the haggle is alive and well.
Learn to Bargain
When I first visited the markets in Italy I couldn't bargain to save my life. Here's how the conversation usually went.
"How much is this?"
"Okay." I hand over money.
No haggling, no challenging. I was spineless. But, I've learned a lot since then, and to help you grow a spine as fast as possible I'm sharing my bargaining lessons.
When trying to strike a bargain you want to do everything possible to keep things civil. The easiest way to do this is by smiling from start to end. This helps send the message that you're just playing a game, a fun back and forth, that doesn't end with one person standing over the mutilated body of the other person.
Try to Agree, not Win
This leads us to the most important point. You are trying to agree on terms of sale, not beat the other person. The goal is reaching a mutual agreement, not strong arming one person in to a poor deal. If you don't like the price, then don't accept. The same goes for the other person.
The last thing you want is one party to leave the bargaining table thinking he got a raw deal. When this comes to friends and those you are going to see regularly you don't want resentment festering between the two of you.
If you think the price isn't fair, or if it is more than you are willing to pay, then say no. The great thing about freedom of choice is that no one can make you accept a deal if you don't want to.
We are a yes people, so saying no can feel awkward. But, get in the habit of doing so, or someone will take advantage of you.
Know Your Cash
You want to make the haggling process as smooth as possible. Carry a variety of denominations so that you don't get yourself in an awkward situation where you agree on $4 for something and then need to get change for a $100.
Sometimes seeing the cash is enough to get someone to close the deal. If you know the maximum you are willing to pay don't be afraid to dangle the goods in front of the other person. (as long as you don't make the first offer. See below)Traveler Pro TipNot having exact change can also put you in a position of weakness, as many will claim they don't have change to break your big bills. And once you agree on a price and pull out cash it's much tougher to just walk away versus giving up an extra couple bucks because the person can't make change.
Also know what the value of different currencies are in a specific place. Forget the exchange rate for a minute here. When bargaining, the value of a currency is really dependent on what the other person is willing to accept. For example, in Colombia the U.S. dollar has so flooded the market that you can't get a very good person to person exchange rate.
Set the Stage
How do you even know if a price is negotiable, or if a salesman is willing to negotiate? If unsure you can feel out the situation by saying things like, "I really like this, but it's too expensive," or "This is nice, but I'm not sure I can pay that much." (Throwing in a bit of humor helps keep the situation light. For example: "I'm not sure I can pay that much, I have to save a few bucks at least for dinner tonight or I'll starve.")
Comments like these let you feel out the salesman. If he fires back with "well what is a reasonable price" or something similar you know the price isn't set in stone.
Finally, if a salesman asks you to give him a price, try to avoid doing so as much as possible. He may be thinking $10 and you say $20. To get the best deal you need to let the other person show his cards first. After all, the seller wants to sell. Eventually you can get him to set a starting price.
Have a Price in Mind
Try to always enter a bargain with a price in mind. What is this sort of item worth? What are you willing to pay for it? If you have an upper limit on price, and you can't seem to get there then you know when to walk away and say no.
Buying several items together can often drive down the price. If a vendor is going to sell three pieces instead of one he'll be more willing to strike a better deal. If you are going to buy several items it never hurts to ask the vendor if he can give you a better price because you're spending more.
Don't be Over Eager
Control your emotions. Nothing kills your bargaining power faster than letting the other guy see your enthusiasm for a product. He'll be able to drive the price up on you because he sees how much you want it. Control your emotions. Control the price.
Food for Thought: What are some bargaining tips you use?