Overseas Shopping 101: How to Haggle Like a Pro

When haggling is involved, overseas shopping can be uncomfortable, even intimidating. Check out our 12 tips on how to haggle like an expert. Read More

Shopping overseas often includes haggling. (Source: Shutterstock / Tero Veslainen)

For many of us, part of the fun of exploring a foreign land is taking home that perfect souvenir, gift, or unique item for the home ­– something you just can’t get stateside. If haggling is involved, however, that can make the buying process uncomfortable, even intimidating. Never fear, intrepid traveler, we have what you need right here. Check out our 12 tips on how to haggle like an expert.

1: First, make sure haggling is common practice.

Nothing is more embarrassing than announcing your opening price at a market where haggling is “not done.” Not only will you feel like exiting pronto, but in your haste to leave, you won’t end up with the item you wanted in the first place. You might even insult the merchant, which won’t help the purchase process either. Find out the common buying practices in the area beforehand and haggle only where it is expected.

2: Do your homework on the item you’re interested in before suggesting a price.

A key piece of learning how to haggle is learning about the item in question; in particular, how it’s made and what it’s “worth.” Not only does this help with setting a maximum price (see #4 below), but also demonstrates to the merchant that you know something about what you’re buying. If you know a region’s typical carpet pattern, for example, a merchant may be less likely to exaggerate the item’s value or make false claims about its origin or craftsmanship.

3:  Learn what the merchant’s expected profit is.

This kind of information isn’t always easy to get, but talking to locals may help. If you know approximately what the merchant paid for the item (or how much it cost to make) and what their profit expectation is, this will help guide how to haggle with them. A note: Once you know how much the merchant paid for the item, do not offer a price that would insult them. No one likes to lose money.

4: Understand that you may hear “no.”

You may not come to a deal. (Shutterstock / JeremyRichards)
You may not come to a deal. (Shutterstock / JeremyRichards)

Be disciplined in your approach to haggling, including setting and sticking to a maximum price you are willing to pay. Not all negotiations end in a sale, so be prepared for an occasional “no deal” outcome. If you’ve done your homework and have stuck to a maximum price, you’ve done all you can to make it work. Move on to the next opportunity.

5: Keep it light.

We know that you really want that copper vase, but is it worth getting into a heated argument about? Shopping is supposed to be fun. Don’t ruin your trip or irritate the locals. Always be polite, and if things get personal, thank the vendor and walk away.

6: Don’t let the vendor know that you absolutely have to have an item.

If you absolutely cannot leave the country without that necklace, don’t show it. Any merchant worth their salt will be able to detect that desperation in your voice and they will inflate the price accordingly.

7: Walk away from their “final offer.”

Merchants dislike to lose a sale. If their “final offer” is not quite what you want, thank them and start to walk away. Don’t be surprised if the merchant shouts one more offer your way that’s more in line with what you want.

8: Ask for a multi-item discount.

If you want to buy straw hats for both Aunt Mary and Aunt Kate, negotiate for Mary’s as if you’re only buying one. When you’ve reached an impasse on price, offer to buy a second straw hat if the vendor discounts both items. See how that works?

9: Pay cash.

For more expensive items, merchants often offer the ability to pay with a credit or debit card. This cuts into their profits by at least a percentage point, however (given card transaction fees). If you offer cash for the item, the merchant saves the card fee and may be willing to pass on a bit of that savings to you.

10: Show them the money.

Show them the money. (Source: Shutterstock / Maryna Pleshkun)
Show them the money. (Source: Shutterstock / Maryna Pleshkun)

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? If you actually take out the cash you are offering for an item, your haggling partner may just accept your offer. For them, accepting a cash offer in the moment may be more prudent than spending the time haggling for a minimal price increase.

11: Wait until the end of the day to haggle.

By the end of the day, merchants may be tired of haggling or behind on sales. Prices tend to go down as the shopping day comes to a close, so you are likelier to get your desired tchotchke for cheaper.

12: Don’t feel obligated to buy something.

If you’ve just finished a 30-minute haggling session without a deal, occasionally a merchant may complain that you have wasted their time, and that you “owe” them a sale. Not so. Most are savvy business people; they understand that negotiations can take time and sometimes come up short.

However, if you have agreed on a price, don’t back out. A deal is a deal and if terms were agreed upon, you are expected to complete the purchase.