In the mid-Noughties, I was looking over a kitchen table and six matching chairs in an upmarket department store.
Noticing a slight scratch on the table, I called the manager over and explained that I was very keen to buy this set of furniture. However, given the scratched surface, I’d insist on a hefty discount. In his most pompous manner, the supervisor replied, “We don’t haggle in this store, sir.”
I promptly replied, “You may not, but I do!” and later emerged the winner with £100 off the table and a £25 saving per chair -- a total discount of £250.
One thing that seems odd to me is that we Brits are famed for our unwillingness to haggle while here at home. Indeed, one survey by AA Insurance found that four in nine adults (44%) never haggle over the price of anything.
However, when we go abroad, it’s a different matter, as more than four in five holidaymakers (82%) will give haggling a go overseas. So, when we’re off on holiday, we’re much more likely to drop the British reserve in order to bag a bargain.
Ten top tips for happy haggling
Before you head off for your summer break, learn these ten tricks on bagging bargains abroad:
1. Never be afraid to ask
It doesn’t matter where you are, you can always give haggling a go. Indeed, in some regions such as Asia and North Africa, you are supposed to barter -- witness Eric Idle’s hilarious haggling routine with Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian!
The golden rule of haggling is: start low and don’t be tempted to pay more than your target price. If the game ends well, then the price will climb steadily, but end below your target price.
2. Shop around for souvenirs
Of all the goods on offer, souvenirs from market stalls and flea markets attract the highest mark-ups. So, when browsing in the bazaar or shopping in the souk, bear in mind that the price you see is a multiple of the price you should pay. Therefore, in market environments, you can demand the deepest discounts and yet still get the goods.
3. Learn the language of trading
If a seller doesn’t speak English, then you’ll need to fall back on the local lingo. Thus, learn a few phrases designed to show that you mean business. For example, you could memorise the following comebacks:
- “How much for cash/in US dollars?” (as the ‘greenback’ is still highly prized in many developing countries.)
- “I can find it much cheaper elsewhere.”
- “I’ll come back later/tomorrow.”
- “My best offer is [below your target price].”
- “No, thank you. I can’t afford that much.”
- “That’s far too expensive.”
- “What’s the real price, not the tourist price?”
- “What’s your lowest price?”
4. Be polite and friendly
At its best, haggling is a ritual which leaves both parties feeling like winners. So, always be friendly and well-mannered, as this will help to win over your opponent. Equally, haggling in person almost always works better than over the phone or by email.
Also, always remember that you must leave the seller with some profit, so be reasonable and know when to quit. Don’t turn a haggle into an argument.
Personally, I’m willing to haggle over the price of any goods and services. However, I know from experience that bartering works better in some locations than others. For example, markets and small shops are haggling heaven, and it’s usually easy to negotiate for taxi rides and excursions. Likewise, getting upgraded hotel rooms and transportation can be an easy game.
Then again, bargaining can be harder in bars and restaurants, and especially in upmarket shops and hotels. Nevertheless, I try to ‘do a deal on the doorstep’ before taking my family into eateries. If your group makes to walk away, it’s amazing how quickly prices come down.
6. Some countries are easier than others
In similar fashion, bargaining is easier to do in some countries than others. Quite simply, in some parts of the world, haggling is not part of the culture and can be frowned upon. For instance, haggling can be hard going in Germany and other Western European countries, but fun in the US, North Africa and the Far East.
7. Look for existing discounts
If items have already been marked down in price, then this is a clear sign that they must be sold. So, look for things that are ‘price to clear’ or ‘reduced for quick sale’ and then demand even bigger discounts than those already shown on the price tag.
8. Ask for extras
If a seller isn’t willing to budge below a certain price, then switch tactics by aiming to get more bang for your buck. Ask for extras to be thrown in for free -- such as a room with a balcony or sea-view, a car-hire upgrade, free desserts or coffee, and so on. By doing so, you keep the seller happy while getting a bit more for your money.
9. Know your market
Before you jet off, make sure that you learn about the trading habits and customs of the places you’re visiting. You can do this by using guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet series, or via the Internet.
For example, consumer electronics are incredibly cheap in the Far East, but you can still drive down the price by threatening to move on to a rival store. Indeed, it’s quite remarkable how saying “I’ll check the price next door” can bring out salespeople’s competitive instincts.
In addition, it usually pays to know how much mark-up is built into the price of certain goods. In particular, the margins on jewellery are enormous and can account for seven-tenths (70%) of the ticket price. Therefore, a jeweller can still make a profit selling goods at half the ticket price.
John Fitzsimons reviews how to get the maximum bang for your buck when changing up your sterling for foreign currency
10. Know your currency
I find it very handy to have a mental ‘ready reckoner’ to convert foreign currency into pounds sterling. For example, with the US dollar at roughly $1.50 to the pound, each dollar is worth about 67p. So, ten dollars is £6.70, fifty dollars is £33.50, $100 is £67, and so on.
Bonus tip: Keep your valuables safe and secure
Here’s an extra tip: where there is bartering and trading, there are sure to be pickpockets and thieves. So, don’t dress flashily when out bargain-hunting, and leave your valuables in a secure location, such as the hotel safe. Also, keep your money safely tucked away and don’t bring it all out at once.
Just do it!
In summary, haggling is fun -- a game or a dance in which both performers play their part. What’s more, the credit crunch and global recession has hit tourism hard, making sellers in tourist areas much more willing to bargain. So, here’s wishing you hours of happy haggling!
What are your tips for successful holiday haggling? Please leave your comments in the box below...