One thing I love about Asia is the markets, from Weekend markets in Thailand to the Night markets of Taiwan. The closest thing in America would be a flea market, but the markets I’m talking about aren’t flea markets. They sell “brand name” products, toys, bags, clothes, wallets – basically, any souvenir you’d like, you can probably find at these markets.
Western tourists are the best types of shoppers for these vendors, mostly because many Westerners aren’t as aggressive at haggling. Since many Asian countries have these types of markets, most will know the drill to bargaining. Haggling, though, is certainly an art form! I’m certainly not always great at it; there are times when I’ve paid too much, and other times when I got a really great deal.
Actually, the times I pay too much are enough to empower me for my next shopping trip. A few days ago, I paid a little too much for a few items, because I was feeling too stressed out and shy to haggle. I know it sounds insane, but it was really agonizing for me to think about, and I was filled with buyer’s remorse. So when Will and I went to shop tonight, I was ready to learn from my mistakes, and it was great. Today, I will also share with you the tips that I use when I’m at my highest level of haggling, with examples of how I used them to negotiate 😀
1. Mentally prepare yourself
Mentally preparing yourself is the key to having the upper hand in haggling. My “strongest” shops are the ones when I’m the most mentally prepared. My mantra? “Buy the things you really want, but realize you just want them. You don’t need anything!” Whenever I don’t prepare myself, I get too shy to ask for even a small discount. Shop owners can pick up on your vibe – if you’re too timid. they will be more confident in trying to get you to pay the price they want.
If you do feel like you need something, make a mental note of the things you are keeping an eye out. I do this with regular shopping at the mall, so I don’t get distracted at other stores and buy things I don’t need. But at the mall, you’re only dealing with your own self-control. At the markets, you’ll have shop keepers and vendors pulling you in, trying to entice you or distract you! Many vendors will make you feel like you’ve been looking for items that were never in your radar, so having that mental note will keep you from handing over all your money.
*Victory example: I saw a booth that was selling packing cubes, which was something I had wanted to purchase, but the shop keeper was on her phone, so I wasn’t able to ask the price of the bags. While I waited for her to get off the phone, I looked at some jewelry next door, and the other vendor started giving my prices for the jewelry and asking me which colors I wanted to buy.
This is a technique shop keepers use: they ask you how much you want to buy, or which colors, instead of asking you if you want to buy. This is how they fool some people into buying their goods! Once the other shop keeper was off her phone, she tried to help her friend and asked me if I wanted to buy the jewelry. I told her I wanted to buy the laundry bags; throughout the entire time, they kept trying to sell me the jewelry I was looking at, but because this wasn’t on my mental list of things to buy, I was able to walk out with just the laundry bags, and nothing extraneous.
2. Know the conversation rate
Always know the conversion rate well before you haggle, so you can be prepared to value items properly. You can learn the conversation rate per dollar as a starting point, but I prefer to count by 10’s. I will prepare myself by knowing how much $10 USD is in the currency I am dealing with, and it makes it easier for me to do the mental math a little bit faster.
I’ve seen some tourists use their phones to calculate the conversion rate, but that takes too long and also shows weakness to the shop keepers. They will keep talking to you and try to distract you. I think their technique is to try and make you so annoyed that you just pay them what they want so they shut up. But don’t do that, because you’re trying to SAVE money so you can buy more stuff!
*Victory example: I had bought a tripod in Taiwan for $100 NT, which is about $3 USD. I saw another one in the Ladies Market in Hong Kong, but it had longer legs and was a little sturdier. I decided to try and buy it for $50 HKD, which is about $5 USD. This way, I had a number in mind and was ready to go.
The surprise twist? His asking price was $50 HKD, which is what I was ready to pay! Just to try my luck, I asked for $30. He accepted, which means I was able to buy a better quality tripod for the same price as my other one!
3. Set your own mental asking price before haggling
Once you know the conversion rate, you’ll be able to do quicker math. When you haggle, it’s not good enough to just try and ask for a smaller number. When you’re dealing with different currencies, numbers that seem smaller may not actually be less expensive.
For example: in the USA, if something is $140 USD and someone sells it to you for $130 USD, that’ $10 discount is pretty nice! But if you’re in Hong Kong, a $10 HKD discount is only $1.30 USD! That’s not really worth it.
If you search online, you might be able to find some tips of where to start haggling in specific countries, like should you start at 30% of the asking price, or 40%? But I like to mentally decide on my own asking price before I even speak with the shop owner. This means to place your own value on the item. How much is this item worth to you? Haggling is not always so much about getting the cheapest price, but paying the price you think an item is worth. Does that make sense? So, before you start haggling, as yourself, what would you pay for this item? Then use that to haggle.
So, another example: I see a bag I really like that may normally be $50 for the designer version in the USA, but for the lookalike, I think it’s worth $15. Once I decide on this value, I will go ahead and ask the shop owner how much the price is, and start haggling.
*Victory example: I had previously bought some bracelets for $30 HKD, without haggling. I was filled with regret. At a different market later on, I saw the same bracelets, and decided I to pay no more than $15 HKD for them. After asking the vendor how much the price was, she told me the bracelets were $69 HDK – I know, ridiculous right?
Will started to walk away, and I told him I wanted the bracelets for $15 HKD. He said, “There is no way she’s going to agree to that…but go ahead.” So I went ahead and told the vendor I wanted them for $15 HKD. She said no. Her price kept getting lower and lower, but I already knew how much it was worth at a different store, and I also decided what I wanted to pay. In my head, if I couldn’t have them for $15 HKD, then I didn’t need them. After standing my ground and repeating $15 HDK over and over, I eventually left the shop with bracelets in a little baggy…for $15 HKD. Will was very impressed.
4. Start lower than your mental asking price
Whenever you start haggling, the shop keepers will haggle back. A good method to try and get the shop keeper to meet you where you want is to start with a lower number than you’re willing to pay. It can make you feel self-conscious because sometimes it seems ridiculous. Sometimes I’ll even start haggling at half the asking price! The shop keepers will act shocked and I just laugh it off like I was joking (but sometimes I’m not joking…)
I don’t always use this method, but there are times when it’s very effective, and it’s easy to do! What’s the worst thing that can happen? The shop keeper says no…and then you just keep haggling! It also helps sometimes to stay silent when you’re negotiating instead of responding right away. Sometimes the shop keeper will just automatically lower the price!
*Victory example: There was a popular style of backpack that I saw in the night market and never really thought about buying, but thought, hey, maybe if it’s a good deal, I will get it. I set a budget limit of $15 USD for the bag, and asked the shop keeper how much she wanted. “$150 HKD!” she said, which is almost $20 USD. I stood there for a moment, not really saying anything.
“How much do you want to pay?” she asked. “$70!” I exclaimed, and laughed like I was joking as her eyes widened and she shook her head. “How about $120?” she said. I didn’t say anything, and just thought about it for a moment. I was still going back and forth wondering if I really needed the bag when she said, “Ok I’ll do $90!” Sold.
5. Learn to walk away
This last tip is very important, and sort of related to my first tip, because sometimes people get blinded by their materialism! Always know that you have the power to walk away and not spend your money, especially if you think the price for the item you want is unfair. Of course, you shouldn’t be too unreasonable; don’t expect to pay $2 for something that should be $15!
However, many times, shop keepers will start with a very high asking price, especially if they know you’re a foreigner. If you are unsatisfied with the price they want you to pay, just walk away. Sometimes, this can be very difficult. Vendors might grab your arm, or keep talking to you or selling to you. They might give you a lower price, but still not the right one. Or they might say things to pull at your emotions.
Learning to walk away also means learning to stand your ground. After all, you don’t NEED anything they’re selling, right? Vendors will try to push you to your limit and do anything to make you pay more, and sometimes, the only effective way to make them agree to the price you want to pay is to walk away. I once walked away from a vendor five times before she gave me my asking price. If the price was really too low, then she wouldn’t call me back.
*Victory example: Will called out to me and pointed up into one of the shops: it was a simple brown Jansport-style backpack. I have been looking for this specific backpack for a while, but couldn’t ever find the brown backpack for a reasonable price. This was an item on my mental list of things to buy, so I was very excited.
“How much for the bag?” I asked. “$150 HKD! How many bags do you want?” asked the shop keeper.
Will also started looking at a bag that was priced at $250 HDK. The shop keeper did the math for us. “These bags together should be $400, but I’ll give them to you for $390!” That’s only a dollar’s difference (converted to usd)…I thought to myself. I told her I wanted them for $200 HKD, and she laughed and said there was no way. In my head, I kind of knew that was lowballing it, so I asked for $250. She still said no.
I already had too many bags. In fact, I had bought another backpack from a different store the same night, so what difference did it make if I didn’t have this one, even if it was one I was looking for? Eventually, I just told her it was ok, and that we were going to leave. She said, “It’s just too little, can’t you do $320? How about $300? Ok what about $280, you can’t beat that!” Just one number after another as we walked away. I told her in Chinese, “It’s not that we need these backpacks, we just want them. But we don’t need them. No thank you, bye!”
We ended up leaving the shop…with the two bags for $250.