Many Westerners have no idea of how to negotiate prices in Asia, however, you'll be expected to do so on a daily basis. Locals not only expect some good-natured haggling, it is an enjoyable part of the local culture!
Failing to negotiate prices not only robs you of a fun interaction, it contributes to cultural mutation, increasing prices for all travelers -- and maybe even locals -- who follow behind you. From tuk-tuk rides to souvenirs and extended stays in guesthouses, nearly everything in Asia can be negotiated.
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Shop in the Right Places
You'll be at an advantage before you even start to negotiate prices if you shop away from tourist markets and places where prices have been inflated.
Travelers who fail to negotiate often drive prices up on an item, and vendors are less willing to negotiate later because they know that within minutes another sucker will come along to pay the asking price.
- Read more about what to expect when shopping in Asia.
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Do Your Research
Knowing an item's approximate value will give you a huge advantage when negotiating prices. Shop around before you make a purchase: neighboring shops in Asia often carry the exact same item.
As a general rule of thumb, try never to buy from the first place you find something.
- See some very useful pro tips for money and shopping in Asia.
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Particularly in Asia, be aware of where that souvenir came from before you begin to negotiate prices. Those extremely cheap souvenirs may have come from forced child labor. Without knowing, you may also be inadvertently supporting harmful environmental practices just by making a purchase.
Avoid items and souvenirs made from animals, sea life, shells, turtles, ivory, and preserved insects. Whenever possibly, make your purchases from fair-trade shops or even directly from the craftsmen who make the items.
- Read more about responsible travel.
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Don't Fall for an Old Trick
Just because an artisan has a pile of wood chips on the ground does not mean that he made the item he is holding. Some simple shopping around will often reveal that many booths in the market carry the exact same item that an artist claims to have made himself.
Many “local” souvenirs found in Southeast Asia are actually mass produced in China!
Continue to 5 of 15 below.
- Learn about other common scams in Asia.
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Play the Game
Negotiating prices in Asia can actually be fun, and it should be approached that way.
Local vendors love the thrill of haggling and fighting for a deal; approach the entire process as a game rather than a competition. Smile a lot, appear absolutely shocked when they give you the first price, exaggerate, and never, ever lose your cool! Pointing out small flaws in whatever you are buying is all part of the game.
Even playful teasing can help to break the ice -- and lower prices -- on an item.
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Be Ready to Walk Away
Appearing too eager or happy about an item is a sure way to pay more. Instead, appear uninterested and make sure that the vendor knows you can certainly live without the item. Shopping around first will give you the confidence that you may find a better price in a neighboring stall. Don't be afraid to cite lower prices you saw elsewhere.
If you absolutely cannot get a vendor to budge on a price, simply say “thank you” and walk away. If the shopkeeper chases you with a better offer, you can continue haggling. Be aware that in very touristy places vendors may not chase you at all because they know someone else will come along and pay the asking price.
If you have to return to a shop with your tail between your legs, you most certainly will lose all bargaining power.
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Start Insanely Low
Shopkeepers know the old trick of tourists offering half the initial price, so prices have already been set to compensate. Instead, start with an insanely low price so that you have more bargaining room. Allow some room in your offer to give a little on the final price so that the vendor doesn't lose face.
If a vendor asks the old trick question “how much do you want to pay?” simply respond with “as little as possible!”
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Use the Local Language
At least know how to say hello in Asia to immediately set yourself apart from the other tourists who don't care about local culture.
Travelers who know how to negotiate prices in the local language and at least know the words for “discount” and “expensive” have a greater advantage. Attempting the local language shows respect, interest, and will almost always land you a better price. Use a small calculator (or your hands, in China) to help avoid any miscommunication about the final price.
Continue to 9 of 15 below.
- See some ways to communicate better in China.
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If you spotted an interesting item in a night market, try arriving early the next evening as the vendor is setting up their booth.
Many times an early sale is considered the “lucky sale” and promises a fortuitous night for the seller -- they are more willing to bend on prices. This tactic works particularly well in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
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Allow Sellers to Save Face
The laws of saving and losing face in Asia come into play during every interaction, including negotiating.
Even if a seller wants to make a sale, they may not do so when there is a risk of losing face. Avoid being rock solid about the final price and using expressions such as “I won't pay a penny more.” Never make a seller feel cheated or small; give just a little on the final price to allow the vendor to save face.
After the sale -- assuming you received an excellent price -- appear extremely happy with the item purchased, thank the seller, and even mention that you will tell your friends about their shop or may return later for more business.
- Learn more about the concept of saving face.
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Work as a Team
Strength in numbers makes negotiating prices that much easier. One person can point out flaws or state how expensive something is, as if they are trying to talk their partner out of buying an item. The one holding the item can visually begin to cave in to make the seller feel the pressure of losing a sale.
The same works in reverse; you can play one vendor against another in neighboring market stalls. This may build some tension, but sellers will often compete with each other for your business.
These tactics sound "mean" but locals utilize them frequently.
- See some tips for traveling couples.
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Be Fair and Responsible
Don't waste your time or the sellers by making an offer that you aren't willing to keep.
Just as in auctions, if you begin negotiating and a seller accepts your offer, you are expected to purchase the item for the price you offered. Walking away after a successful negotiation is very bad form.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Purchase in Bulk
Buying more than one item from the same seller greatly increases your bargaining power. When souvenir shopping, try to make all your purchases in the same place at the same time.
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Negotiating with Desperate Tactics
If you absolutely cannot live without making a particular purchase, the last tool in your kit for negotiating prices is to simply be open and honest with the seller.
Tell them that you understand they are only trying to make a living or support a family -- which is probably true. Try using expressions such as “please help me give you this business” or “I really want this item, but I need to feel that I'm getting a fair price first.”
Breaking out of the usual game will sometimes yield a little respect and ultimately a slight discount on the final purchase.
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Return to the Same Shop
Assuming that your first interaction went well, returning to the same shop later will sometimes help you get a fairer price when the vendor recognizes you as a return customer.
Bringing a friend or another traveler to the shop adds additional points!