Bartering Etiquette: Making the Most of Your Marketplace Experience

The marketplace can be one of the most nerveracking, stress-inducing experiences for a traveler; but also one of the most rewarding. While in Western culture we’re used to things having a set price, this isn’t the case in other parts of the world. Enter bartering: the use of tactical persuasion to get a seller to agree on a suggested price. Bartering can be amusing, engaging and utterly effective when done correctly. That said, here are Nubian Drifter’s 6 Tricks of the Trade, rules to remember if you want to haggle with the best of them.   

Set a limit and know what you’re willing to pay. Don’t go to the marketplace with a pocket full of cash and no budget in mind, or you’ll go crazy and spend an obscene amount of money. Instead, put a cap on what you’re willing to dish out. Also, have an idea of what you’re willing to pay for certain items, and stick to your guns (unless the deal is too sweet to pass up). It’s pointless, and a waste of time, to barter without aim. 

Do your research.  Don’t buy the first thing you see. Walk around the market and ask prices. Figure out the going rates. Be nonchalant; don’t  just ask about the one item you want, but inquire about an array of things. You don’t want to appear too eager. Don’t be afraid to walk away— the merchandise will be there. What you want to do is build a rapport with the merchants so they’ll remember you whenever you do come back, and they’ll give you a nice deal.

 Be friendly. Bartering should be a fun experience, not a nerveracking or miserable one. A smile goes a long way, especially when you’re trying to negotiate a price! The more you interact and have fun with the seller, the better chance you have of getting that vase for a price you’re comfortable with. 

Don’t devalue the product. Know the rules. When bartering, some say it is okay to start with half, gage the seller’s reaction, and go from there. However, I think offering half can be a bit disrespectful (unless you’ve seen the same item for much less elsewhere). So my rule is to go in at around 20 to 30% below the asking price, and negotiate from there. Remember, these merchants are trying to provide for their families. It would be rather unethical to try and rob them of their goods, especially when (with currency rates) we’re paying so little. In Peru, for example, if something costs 5 Soles, that’s $1.81. Do you really need to try and get it for cheaper? 

Use smaller notes. Try not to go into the marketplaces with large bills. Not only are they difficult for vendors to change, but now they know you’ve got money to spend, and they’re more unflinching with prices. So keep your money separated. Larger bills in one pocket, smaller notes and coins in the other.   

Buy more than one thing to get a discount. A lot of times, when you buy multiple items with one seller, they’ll give you a really good price for having purchased so much. So when you find that one particular merchant with loads of stuff you want, go for it. When I was in a marketplace in Cusco, Peru, for example, I found one lady who had a lot of stuff that fit with my aesthetic. I inquired about different items on different occasions, and on my last day there, I went back and bought everything I’d looked at. She gave me an amazing price. I paid about $29 (80 Soles) for two duffle bags, three large tapestries, a bracelet and a piece of pottery. Outstanding! 

Each marketplace is unique, but if you follow these guidelines, you’re sure to come out a bartering champion, your trophy being that you’ve managed to walk away with all the items you coveted in your possession. Just be sure to have luggage space for all those treasures! Happy Travels! —VJ