In certain countries, shopping (or haggling) is a way of life and learning how to haggle is a must.
Though it may seem like a foreign concept to some foreigners, in many parts of the world, if you aren’t haggling, you are overspending. Period.
While everyone has a different style of haggling, what you always need to remember is that you are a guest in this country and so things might always be a little more expensive for you — and that’s ok.
If you want to try to haggle at your next trip to the markets of Marrakesh, you first need to consider a few rules of the game. Here are 9 things you need to know before you haggle.
1. You Can Haggle Almost Anything
Well, almost everything. In general, unless a price is listed somewhere (like on a menu) everything is negotiable — you can even haggle some accommodations. For that to work, you’ll need to walk in, get lucky and be paying cash.
Taxi rates should be negotiated before you ever get in the car. (Also, check Rease’s post on Taxi Smarts to learn how not to get scammed.)
Airline and train tickets can also be negotiated if booked through a travel agent.
Resist booking day trips online. Instead, book in person and negotiate down as much as 20 or 30 percent.
2. Know Your Final Price
Ask the seller what she wants for the item. Ask for her best price and then begin negotiating down from there.
There are various schools of thought on what to make for the first counter offer, but a good starting point is a little more than half of the asking price.
It should go something like this:
Seller: Impossible, no, 70
Keep in mind that your status as a first world traveler may keep the price higher than normal, and that’s ok. You can probably afford that $5 necklace and how much do you really want to argue over 50 cents?
Traveling is a privilege and sometimes that means that things cost you more than they cost a local and they should.
3. Work on your poker face
When haggling, put your game face on. Stay casually detached and disinterested with no enthusiasm.
Keep your voice low and stand apart from others when negotiating the sale. The merchant doesn’t want someone nearby to overhear and request the same price.
Point out imperfections in the item (but tactfully – don’t insult the merchant!) to show that you aren’t entirely interested.
During the negotiations, the seller will likely give you a sob story, but (for the most part) don’t buy into it. That is part of the game. Say your price with an air of confidence and a smile but keep emotion out of the transaction.
4. Bring a friend
Take along a friend who can work the bad cop angle to your good cop, and also help advise you on when it’s time to walk away.
If the vendor thinks they are losing the sale, the price may plummet.
You should always bring a friend with you to markets, because they’ll help you with shopping advice and also because they could help keep you safe.
5. Don’t take it personal
Sometimes sellers will react to your offer like you physically hurt them. They’ll moan, clutch their heart and say no, and tell you how much your lower offer hurts them.
They’ll tell you how they have kids, how the family needs a new car. They’ll make you feel terrible for your offer.
This is not personal! This is a show, rehearsed and played out many, many times over. It’s all part of the act. Sellers are never going to let anything go without a profit, so rest assured they have a number they won’t go under.
Be respectful, and play the game.
6. Never make the first offer
If an item isn’t priced, never make the first offer.
Have cash on hand and be willing to show the cash you are willing to pay and then walk away. DON’T expect the seller to have change.
The seller may be tempted enough to close the deal – but don’t flash any more cash around than that amount. The more cash the seller thinks you have, the less she will be willing to come down in price.
It’s possible that having small bills in U.S. dollars will be desirable to the seller.
If the seller refuses to accept your price but you still want the item, ask him to throw in something else for free.
7. Learn some local phrases
Learn some key haggling phrases in the local language – “How much does this cost?” “It’s too expensive” and “Can you give me a discount?”
If nothing else, you should learn some key phrases to better be able to communicate with locals and to show respect. Always know how to say thank you after you’ve secured the deal!
8. Visit at the end of the day
Shop at the end of the day. Prices can drop when the temperature drops and street vendors are packing up.
If you’ve done a lap around the market and you know you can’t leave without something you saw, loop back around. Sometimes just seeing you again can make the seller more agreeable.
9. Know when to fold
If the merchant isn’t budging on the price, politely walk away.
Tell him the price is more than you want to pay and that you are going to look elsewhere. If the seller thinks you are walking away, he may bid against himself and lower the price.
Only haggle for items you genuinely want to buy. If you walk away once a price has been agreed upon, this is considered highly disrespectful.