Many Westerners have no idea of how to negotiate prices in Asia, however, doing so is expected almost on a daily basis. Locals not only expect some good-natured haggling, it is enjoyed!
Failing to negotiate prices not only robs you of money and a fun interaction, it increases prices for all travelers who come behind you. From tuk-tuk rides to souvenirs and extended stays in guesthouses -- nearly everything can be negotiated.
No need to feel uncomfortable; use these tips for negotiating prices to get better deals on nearly everything!
1. Shop in the Right Places
You'll be at an advantage before you even start to negotiate prices if you buy away from tourist markets and places where prices have been inflated. Travelers who fail to negotiate often drive prices up on an item, and vendors are less willing to negotiate because they know that within minutes another sucker will come along and pay the asking price.
- Read more about what to expect when shopping in Asia.
2. Do Your Research
Roughly knowing an item's worth will give you a huge advantage when negotiating prices. Shop around -- neighboring shops in Asia often carry the same item -- before you make a purchase.
As a general rule of thumb, try never to buy from the first place you find something.
- Read about shopping in Bangkok.
3. Shop Responsibly
Particularly in Asia, be aware of where that souvenir came from before you begin to negotiate prices. Those extremely cheap souvenirs may have come from forced child labor. Without knowing, you may also be inadvertently supporting environmentally harmful practices just by making a purchase.
Avoid items and souvenirs made from animals, sea life, shells, turtles, ivory, and preserved insects. Whenever possibly, make your purchases from fair trade shops or even directly from the craftsmen who make the items.
- Read more about responsible travel.
4. Local Items Aren't Always Local
Just because an artisan has a pile of wood chips on the ground does not mean that he handmade the item he is holding. Some simple shopping around will often reveal that many booths in the market carry the exact same item that an artist claims to have made himself. Many “local” souvenirs found in Southeast Asia are actually mass produced in China.
- Learn about other common scams in Asia.
5. Play the Game
Negotiating prices can actually be fun, and it should be approached that way. Local vendors love the thrill of haggling; approach the entire process as a game rather than a competition. Smile a lot, appear absolutely shocked when they give you the first price, exaggerate, and never, ever lose your cool! Pointing out small flaws in whatever you are buying is all part of the game.
Even playful teasing can help to break the ice -- and lower prices -- on an item.
6. Be Ready to Walk Away
Appearing too eager or happy about an something is a sure way to pay more. Instead, appear uninterested and make sure that the vendor knows you can certainly live without making a purchase. Shopping around first will give you the confidence that you may find a better price in a neighboring stall.
If you absolutely cannot get a vendor to budge on a price, simply say “thank you” and walk away. If the shopkeeper chases you with a better offer you can continue negotiations. Be aware that in very touristy places vendors may not chase you at all because they know someone else will come along and pay the asking price.
If you have to return to a shop with your tail between your legs you most certainly will lose all bargaining power.
7. Start Insanely Low
Shopkeepers know the old trick of tourists halving the initial price, so prices have already been set to compensate. Instead, start with an insanely low price so that you have more bargaining power later. Allow some room in your offer to give a little on the final price so that the vendor doesn't lose face.
If a vendor asks the old trick question “how much do you want to pay?” simply respond with “the lowest price possible”!
8. Use the Local Language
Knowing at least how to say hello in Asia will immediately set you apart from the other tourists who are simply out to get good deals and care little about the local culture.
Travelers who know how to negotiate prices in the local language or at least know the words for “discount” and “expensive” are at a greater advantage. Attempting the local language shows respect, interest, and will almost always land you a better price. Use a small calculator to help avoid any miscommunication about the final price.
9. Arrive Early
If you spotted an interesting item in a night market, try arriving early the next evening as the vendor is setting up their booth. Many times this is considered the “lucky sale” and promises a fortuitous night for the seller, so they are more willing to bend on prices. This tactic works particularly well in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
10. Work as a Team
Strength in numbers makes negotiating prices that much easier. One person can point out flaws or state how expensive something is as if they are trying to talk their partner out of buying an item. The one holding the item can visually begin to cave in to make the seller feel the pressure of losing a sale.
The same works in reverse; you can play one vendor against another in neighboring market stalls. This may build some tension, but often they will compete with each other for your business.