So you’re travelling overseas and want to bring home some souvenirs to remember your trip and give to friends and family. Perhaps a colourful scarf catches your eye and you ask the shopkeeper the price.
In many parts of the world if you happily pay the price asked for you’re being overcharged. Living in New Zealand may mean you haven’t had much practice in negotiating a good price. Follow these tips and soon you’ll be haggling like a pro. For ideas about negotiating the price down in New Zealand, read our article Having a Good Haggle.
Know when to haggle
Even if you’re in a country where haggling is the norm there will be some situations where it’s inappropriate. Higher-end shops, supermarkets and malls are likely to have fixed prices, and if you see a price tag on an individual item the price is most likely set. However, in shops based in marketplaces (indoors and outdoors) or in shops with no marked prices, you are likely expected to haggle.
Find out what’s available
Before you start to negotiate the price, it can be worthwhile to get an idea about what’s available – and at what price. You can always ask trusted locals for advice – but remember that your friendly taxi driver or helpful hotel manager may receive commission for recommending shops to you.
At markets, there are often a few stalls that have signs advertising fixed prices. Although the marked price may be inflated it can give you an idea of the upper limit of what’s reasonable to pay. It can be worthwhile browsing different shops before deciding to buy – who knows? Perhaps there’s an even nicer item available at the shop next door.
Just remember, marketplaces can be sprawling and chaotic. It’s often difficult to retrace your steps and find the exact stall you’re looking for, so if you find something you absolutely adore, it may be worth going for it.
Making an offer
Once you’re ready to start negotiating, you can start by asking the price or making an offer. Make sure you know the highest price that you’re willing to pay, then make an offer substantially lower than what you have in mind. Be confident and don’t get so caught up in getting the best price that you forget to smile and enjoy the experience. Remember, you are on holiday so there’s no need to take things too seriously.
Overcome language barriers
If you don’t speak the language it can be difficult to muster up the confidence to ask the price – let alone haggle over it. But there are some ways to overcome the language barrier. If you use your time on buses, planes and trains wisely, you’ll be able to learn basic greetings and numbers in the local language quicker than you think.
Or haggle non-verbally: carry a simple calculator (don’t whip out your expensive phone in public places!) and enter the amount you’d like to pay on the calculator. With smiling and patience, you and the seller can easily negotiate a price. Another option is to use your hands – but be aware not everyone counts on their hands the same way we do. Once I was shopping at a night market in southern China and held up four fingers to represent the number 4. A local friend told me that nobody understood me as there was a different local system of finger counting in place.
Although haggling can make some kiwis nervous, there’s no reason to be. Just follow these tips, and you’ll be haggling like a local.