When I lived in Kenya, I found grocery shopping at the outdoor market to be difficult and draining. I was accustomed to the quiet shopping at the supermarket in Canada, with their bright lights, shiny floors, and shopping carts.
The outdoor market in Kenya was another story. There were shouting grocers, bumpy dirt paths, tarp-and-tin roofs, and the occasional live chicken.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I found my first experiences to be so stressful that I took a “market break” and retreated to the big supermarkets to avoid the chaos up until my third month in Kenya. And, to prepare for my next market trip, I asked all my veteran Kenyan friends for tips.
Through frustration, practice, and determination I learned these 7 way to master the local market and haggle with the best of them.
1. Don’t Leave Your Shopping to the Last Minute
Vendors want to chat and have fun while they barter with you. I learned to give myself a lot of time and to be very flexible with my grocery shopping schedule because there is a huge amount of interaction with vendors and a lot of walking.
2. Wear Sunglasses
A great strategy is to become the cool and disinterested shopper. Previously, if I showed any interest in a product, vendors would surround me and advertise their goods.
I would feel completely stressed and overwhelmed because of my inability to just say “No, thanks”. A friend suggested I wear sunglasses so vendors couldn’t see what I was looking at.
I tried it and it worked like a charm! Suddenly, I had a bit more privacy and personal space while shopping.
3. Do a little recon mission
I like to take a quick walk-through to scan the vendor’s tables and see where I want to buy my items. I suggest acting aloof and not looking too intently at any table. That way, you won’t get caught up talking to one vendor.
Also, try not to touch anything. That signals to vendors you are going to buy and then the marketing pitches begin.
4. Learn the Prices of Goods Before Bartering
Bartering became a lot easier once I knew the prices of goods and made reasonable offers right from the start. I will say, that the only way to learn this quickly is through experience and asking friends. So you might need some help with this one to start.
5. Be Tough
Make your decision and stick to it! As soon as I flip-flopped on any decision, I found myself in an uncomfortable bartering situation. And, if you can’t agree on a reasonable price, be prepared to walk away.
6. Have a sense of Humour
Vendors like to establish a pleasant working relationship with their customers. While bartering, many like to stop, make jokes, and then start bartering after they find out if they like you or not.
I found that there could be big price drop depending on my relationship with the vendor or how much I was willing to engage with them before making a purchase.
7. Make Friends and be a Repeat Customer
My boss had a regular vendor with whom she could text her shopping list to and place an order. At the end of the day, she would quickly pick up her grocery package and pay her vendor.
Of course, because of this relationship she also got some of the best produce and was able to quickly get her shopping done.
Markets can be intimidating but, with a bit of practice, they can become way more fun and exciting that your traditional supermarkets.