How NOT to Barter

Bartering is normal in most countries but some traveler’s have a hard time with it. Here are the things you should avoid doing.

Bartering is considered an art by many and a dreaded necessity by others. Regardless, if you’re heading abroad you’ll need to know the common mistakes NOT to make when haggling.

In many countries haggling or bartering is the norm so vendors will often state their prices higher than the actual value.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable negotiating over prices, if you don’t learn some basic bartering lessons, you’ll end up paying much more than you should!

Here are 12 things you should most definitely NOT do when bartering:

1) Pick stores where the price is non-negotiable

Whilst street vendors and smaller stores welcome and expect bartering, department stores often do not. Find out where it is accepted and where the price tag is just a suggestion.

2) Guess at the value of an item

Do your research by finding out from locals how much they pay for an item and how much you can expect to pay. Hostel and hotel desks will often know this information.

3) Bring large bills only

There’s nothing worse than negotiating a great deal only to find out that the vendor conveniently doesn’t have  change for you. Bring small bills!

4) Show interest in the product

If it is a really unique item or the vendor knows you really want it the price automatically goes up. Be aloof and prepared to walk away.

You may encounter a well-rehearsed role-play at Anjuna market, India but stick to your guns and don’t be fooled! Photo by Sara_aaargh.

5) Keep bartering even when the price goes lower than what you were willing to pay

In many cultures once the seller enters the bartering process they will continue until an agreement is made even if it means “losing face.”

If you have reached the price that you thought was fair it’s time to make a purchase.

The goal isn’t for the vendor to make as little money as possible but for you to reach a fair price.

6) Use anger as a scare tactic

Bartering still follows the general rules of etiquette. Be warm and polite. It’s perfectly fine to laugh at the first offer and take pleasure in the encounter.

You’re more likely to get a better price if the vendor has taken a shine to you.

When the transaction is complete thank the person for their time.

7) Let a local help you negotiate

If someone in the market approaches you for help kindly decline.

This person will usually be working on commission and will steer you to the stores where they can make money by encouraging you to pay too much.

8) Only look in one store

If you see an interesting souvenir it’s likely that you’ll find it in many stalls.

You can let the vendor know that you’re aware of the price in a nearby stall and that they’re not your only option.

Cairo can be a treasure-trove for magpie travelers but you’ll need to haggle hard. Photo by Josiehen

9) Barter for everything

Every traveler has a moment where they realize they were arguing over a monetary difference that meant nothing to them but a lot to the seller.

It can be easy to get caught up in the process but is bartering over ten cents for a banana really worth it?

I’m ashamed to admit that I did that in the Philippines. Don’t make that same mistake.

10) Barter alone

If you can, bring a friend along to play good cop/bad cop especially if it’s your first time.

A friend may be more comfortable voicing that they aren’t sure if you should buy it or they think it may be too much.

11) Walk away if the price is ridiculously high

This is not an insult. The rule of thumb is that you counter offer 50% of the initial price and settle around 60%.

Vendors know that guides and hotels give tourists this advice and price accordingly, which is why it’s important to heed the advice of Tip 2 and know the fair price to pay.

12) Don’t barter

In some countries they take joy in bartering and may even be offended if you don’t try.

My friend went shopping on his first night in Bangkok. He felt uncomfortable bartering so accepted the first offer of $7 for a t-shirt.

The woman felt so bad she told him to only give her $4!

What’s been your experience of haggling? Good? Bad? Post up your comments below, I want to hear from you!

If you liked this, you might also like: 6 Money Lessons I Learned Whilst Traveling.

Main image: Knock down the guava price at Bangkok‘s floating market or this lady might get offended. Photo by joeannenah.

21 thoughts on “How NOT to Barter”

  1. Pingback: Twitted by Stang5L
  2. Love the suggestions!
    Akin to the not using anger as a scare tactic, I also hate hearing people say something is poor quality. I sheepishly admit that, early on, I bartered by pointing out flaws, but there’s a way to barter nicely/respectfully. No need to insult. If you like it, don’t show too much interest, and just say, “no thanks, just looking; it’s lovely, but am not interested”. I can almost guarantee you, the merchant will ask you how much you’d be willing to pay, to re-engage you in the bartering game, and hoped for sale.
    I love bartering – love the game and smiling interaction of it!

  3. Um, I think you mean bargaining, not bartering. Bartering means exchanging one item for another item. The two words are very different.

  4. Thanks for the feedback Gene and Michael.

    Geraud: You are right that bartering means swapping or trading but it can also mean to bargain for something. Another synonym often used is haggling.

  5. My wife and I always haggle in Mexico. We love it and she’s a master at it. I always take the stance of ‘geez… do you think we really need that?’
    Sometimes we’ll switch places so I can practice. We always wear a smile and try to gauge the emotions of the seller so we don’t hurt their feelings. After all, they have to make a living this way. It’s fun and we get some great deals.

  6. I think the best strategy for negotiating a price is to use patience. Sit down, have a chat and see what happens. Of course, for the sake of a $1 motorbike ride, it’s hardly worth it. In those cases, I just blurt out the price I know to be reasonable and say that I know it’s the correct price. That usually works, but sometimes I have to walk. :)

    My 2c on barter vs bargain – barter doesn’t involve money. I barter a camel for 30 sacks of rice. I had to barter hard to get 30 sacks of rice… That works too.

  7. Thanks Adam!

    I had no idea one word would cause such controversy, well certainly not the word barter :)

    It really depends on what part of the world you are in on what is the correct word. From a technical dictionary perspective barter can also mean a monetary exchange.

    Interestingly in my end of Canada we say neither barter nor bargain, but haggle. In the end it’s all about getting a fair price.

  8. 1. can i haggle for that dog in the main pic? its so cute just sleeping.

    2. I am a haggle virgin. I walk away after they telll me the price.

    3. My haggles are on accident “I only have 20 dollars” for a 30 dollar ring.

    Hogwash number: Once i asked for 3 belts and a bracelet for 5 instead of about 7. the woman said she didnt want to go home with any of this stuff but wouldntt change her price….rawr. It was only a couple of extra dollars but. I dunno, she was inturupting my attemp to haggle.

    Im 18, dont bother listening to me.

  9. Act “faux offended” at their first offer, as if you’ve “never heard of something so ludicrous in your life!” This, I find, gets the ball rolling and lets the merchant know you mean business.

    Also, for Westerners like myself, don’t grind them for every penny, etc…. realize that a difference of 50 Rupiah (or whatever) is more than you’d probably suck up in your vacuum cleaner back home.

  10. Great tips. I’m known in the MidEast, and Dubai in particular, as the Queen of Haggling ;) All spot-on except for 11) – yes, I always offer 50% of the suggested price first off, but there’s no guarantee you’ll end up paying 60%. It may be 70% or 80% or even 90% – it depends on a whole lot of things: what the thing is actually worth, what the vendor is prepared to accept, how many sales the vendor has made that day, what kind of mood they’re in, what you’re like as a person, what your chances are of returning or sending other customers his way, and, of course, how good you are at bargaining! :) I’d also add to 7) never let a guide or taxi driver help you – for the same reasons.

  11. Agreed with Ned – bartering is trading, not using money. Bargaining is negotiating a price. I’m not sure when this confusion started among English speakers, but there is a vast difference between the two words.

  12. Did no one read the comment where she clarified or are people really going to keep harping on the fact that some people use ‘barter’ a different way. Reading some of the other comments would save some repetition I think. =)

    Thanks for the informative post! We’re heading to Turkey for the first time, so I’m excited to try out some of these.

  13. Barter does not mean negotiate, haggle or bargain. (Look it up: It’s an insult, I think, to equate arguing over a price with an exchange of goods for goods, because it gives the impression that you think of bargaining as less civilised – as a less developed economic act. People seem to use barter because they’ve lived their whole lives without bargaining and can’t find the word in their vocabulary when they travel. Then they hear somebody at a hostel use it and so it spreads.

  14. if it’s an outdoor market, go on a rainy day. i did this in Shanghai’s old Shangyang market about 7 years ago. They were asking 20 RMB foreign starting price, for a tie, (10 RMB was the local starting price).

    All said and done, because I was probably going to be the only sale of the day, I ended up paying a whole 20 RMB for 6 ties…

    As stated above, be aware that there are often two starting prices, one for locals, one for foreigners.

    When I bargain here, I act “Faux Offended” at the original price, and tell the seller I’m now considered local, and that s/he coudl at least begin with the local starting price.

    That usually gets the ball rolling in a good way.

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