Tips for Bargaining Abroad

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My friend & I had some pretty successful negotiations for various Thai souvenirs on our recent trip. And I enjoyed comparing our very different bargaining styles more than I did the actual process.

Bargaining is such a personal thing. Some people are comfortable, some are not. I personally would prefer just to know what the lowest preferred rate I could get is and be done with it, while my friend loves the challenge.

She views it as a game, so her approach is to start almost insultingly low in order to meet in the middle on price

  • She first asks what the price is, then decides what price she’d be thrilled to get it at and offers a little less. Depending on the item, she typically starts at roughly 25% of what they ask. Ex: They say 2000 baht, she offers 500 baht (wanting to get it for 800-900)
  • When they counter offer, she expresses mock astonishment at the price “oh no, 1800 baht is way too high” and usually waits for them to make a second counter offer.
  • She barely increases her second bid (550 baht), setting the stage for an animated banter of numerous counter offers, achieving success about half the time.

My approach is a less playful. I know what I want to pay and I stick to it come hell or high water

  • I’ll look at the item and decide what I value it at before I ask the price.
  • Even though the opening prices is always way out of proportion to what I want to pay, it feels like it would be insulting to offer them something at a fraction of the price (which is I why I dislike bargaining). So I just tell them that I feel bad about saying what my offer is, unconsciously (although I guess now it’s consciously) setting low expectations by telling them “You probably won’t be interested.”
  • They usually come back with “no, no, give me a price” and pretend to be shocked but willing to work with me. My starting price is only a little below what I want to pay, so at this point I pretty much go up to the price I was willing to pay and stay there.
  • They counter. And I just say, “I’m sorry, I don’t like it that much.” They come down a little lower and I just look sad (cause I am) and say “I just can’t do that, thank you though” and start to walk away.
  • At that point they usually call out, “ok, your price (or something within a range) or they go back to what they were doing before I came in.

In the example of the purse, I found one I really liked and was willing to pay 600 baht (~$20), but the shopkeeper’s starting price was 1500 baht. I just told her it was too expensive and she wouldn’t like what I was going to offer. She pressed, and I almost sheepishly said 500 baht.

She exclaimed in mock horror and took it down to 1100 baht. I said I could go as much as 600 baht. She gave me 1000. I told her I really liked it but couldn’t pay that much. “Come on lady, give me something more, how about 850?” I looked longingly at the purse but told her I didn’t value it that much and started to leave.

“Fine, 650. You get it for 650.” Having decided 600 was my limit, I didn’t want to pay even ~$2 more, so I just thanked her and decided to leave. That’s when she hurriedly agreed to 600.

A few rules of thumb both our styles share:

  • Know what you value the item for so you don’t get caught up in the moment and wind up paying more just to “win.”
  • Environment influences your success – how is important is your business to them? Is it a slow day or are there a lot of shoppers. Are they in a main traffic pattern or are they out of the way?
  • Bundle items together when possible to get a better price. You can often get a better deal with quantity. 

When I was negotiating for some hammered stainless steel silverware he asked how many, I replied 6 or 10 depending on the price. I got the price I wanted for 10 🙂

Based on “market research” this past week, it looks like my friend’s approach will usually get a price about 10% cheaper, but mine usually has a higher success rate once negotiations start.

What is your approach or funniest bargaining stories?


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel


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