Guide to Bargaining and Shopping Overseas

BY Beth Williams

Shopping Overseas
“Caveat Emptor” Let the Buyer Beware!

The Art of Bargaining

One of the oldest and most basic shopping skills is bargaining, but many westerners have completely lost the art.  This is especially true when visiting open-air markets and bazaars, where bargaining is the accepted and an expected method of setting a price.  Many of Europe’s top outdoor markets are a great place to practice the art of bargaining, especially at Madrid’s El Rastro, Paris’ Puces de St-Ouen, London’s Portobello Market, or  Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein. In Africa, the Souks of Tangier in Morocco, Latin America, and Asia, the open air markets set up near tourist attractions. Good news is they can be a savvy shopper’s playground, especially when looking for souvenirs.

Bargaining applies not only to goods but to services too. Therefore, you must look convincing when replying to the off-meter taxi driver who is asking $10 for a 3-mile ride “No, that’s too much, I’ll walk, or pay $5.00.”

Most open-air markets are crowded and provide an ideal environment for pickpockets and scam artists to work. To really enjoy the experience of the bazaar without the stress of watching over your money, use an anti-theft under clothing wallet or a wallet you can tether to your belt to foil common pickpockets and distraction thieves.

Bargaining Tips

  • Before making an offer, determine whether bargaining is part of the culture in the country you are visiting.
  • Take your time. You don’t have to rush into anything, including getting into the back of a truck somewhere rural, or a taxi in the city. Make inquiries to find the average price. If you can’t spare the time to discover the true value and quality of something, do you really want it?
  • You are bargaining from a position of strength if, and only if: 
    You are willing to walk away, or 
    You look like you’re willing to walk away.
  • Offering a price half what the seller originally offers and working up from there is not always a good strategy. Some sellers quote at ten times true value. If you bargain to half or three-fourths of that-which many foreign shoppers assume must be a reasonable price-you are still paying an outrageous markup. Such prices are often asked by hawkers who approach tourists on the street with beads or jewelry. Aggressive sellers are usually looking for a sucker.  Be wary of sellers that approach you on the street.
  • To learn whether a price is fixed, show some interest in the item, but say, “It’s too much.” You’ve put the merchant in a position to make the first offer. If he even comes down just 5%, haggle away.
  • Merchants are usually motivated to sell at the beginning and the end of the day.
  • If prices aren’t posted, assume there’s a double standard: one price for locals and one for you. So it’s to your benefit to find out what the locals pay if it is something like food.
  • Never fall for the age-old bargaining mistake from the merchant who says “offer a fair price” for the item. Once you have spoken, you have lost your advantage because you are now trying to buy from the vendor rather than him or her sell to you.
  • Avoid making purchases at congested tourist sites.  Vendors at these type of locations are less inclined to give you a good deal. Look for the same item away from the crowds.
  • If you are interested in buying several of the same items, buy the first one at the best price you can get.  Find another shop with the same item, inspect the quality carefully and let it be known that you purchased the same item from another vendor.  The second vendor will ask you how much you paid and may quote a lower price because he does not expect you to buy.  The other way to bargain with the second shopkeeper is to offer a price 20% to 30% below the price you paid and see what happens.
  • Involve a supposedly antagonistic partner that tells you in front of the shopkeeper that he or she does not want to you buy the item, or that you don’t have enough money for it.  At that point, you offer less than what is asked, but within reason.  You might win.
  • Presenting the correct amount you are offering in cash at the end of the bargaining deal might be your last ditch effort before you walk away from the purchase.  The vendor might take the cash if they see it. It’s a good idea to have small bills available if you use this strategy.
  • Know that the prices of items you may want may drop at the end of the day, especially when merchants are starting to pack up. Consider coming back at closing time to snap up the item at the price you want.

Beware of Purchasing Counterfeit Products

In recent years, commercial counterfeiting throughout the world has reached epidemic proportions, expanding beyond phony Rolex watches and knock-off French purses. Today’s commercial counterfeiting operations are organized, international crime rings, replicating everything from cameras, computers, clothes, medical devices, drugs, aeronautical goods, to compact discs and agricultural equipment.

Be very wary of purchasing electronic goods from small stores overseas, it’s a good bet that the product could be fake.  Other scams tourists can be victims of are bait and switch scams.  Typically you are shown an item such as a real Nikon camera at a good price.  You decide to purchase it and you are provided one in an unopened box.  When you return home, a closer inspection of the lens of the Nikon camera reads “Nixon.” Other reported scams have included purchasing electronic equipment with name brand shells (or body’s) and inferior interior mechanisms.

Remember when you purchase valuable goods overseas always purchase from legitimate chain stores or brand store or else you might get to understand really the meaning of “Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware.”

Watch out for Pickpockets in Bazaars and Where Tourists Shop!

Underclothing Security Neck Pouch

Security Neck Pouch

Pickpockets love to work at outdoor markets; they know that most people who go to these markets have cash and are therefore good targets – especially tourists.  Keep your money safe by using any of these various styles of secure money pouches or opt for a money wallet and money belt   If you are just carrying the basics like a few bills and a credit card and want to be hands-free without the use of a hidden body pouch consider this clever travel bra.  It’s the ideal bra for traveling, backpacking, and keeping small valuables safe.