“We are here to help you spend your money. Let it go. God will provide you with more.” -Turkish salesman
It was our first day in Turkey, and we had decided to visit a smaller shopping area as a warm-up before hitting the big time at the Grand Bazaar the next day. Strolling down the shop-lined street, we were offered, cajoled and heckled by merchants selling silk scarfs, spices, nuts, candy, ceramics, rugs, paintings and more. Monica’s eye was caught at a particular stand by a painting she liked. As she stopped to admire the work, we were swarmed by three young Turkish men urging us into their shops to browse their selections of goods. We went along with one of the merchants to look at some beautiful ceramics in a blue glaze. Once we made our purchases at a bargained cost, the young salesman insisted we must visit his uncle’s fine rug shop. We followed him down the street where we watched a woman sitting at a loom handcraft the beginnings of a new rug. We were taken to a show room where we were showered with black tea, Turkish beer and candies. The uncle had two other nephews, as retail is a family affair in Turkey (and they want to make it seem even more so, often adding supposed “brothers” to the mix), roll out rug after rug, ensuring they flipped the handcrafted piece of art this way and that to show us the high quality of the material. We were left alone at least three times to discuss our buying decision. Each time the uncle returned, the deal got better or more was added to the deal, and we were consistently reminded how this may be the only time we would ever be to Istanbul. As I had experienced these aggressive sells techniques before in India, I wanted Monica to experience this tradition. By the time we left, without a rug, Monica was all too ready to turn over all negotiations to me as she found the entire process uncomfortable. This usually places us in the sometimes effective roles of “good cop / bad cop” in the merchants’ eyes.
How do you haggle?
Participating in haggling is as much a part of the culture in many countries as anything else, and it can be deemed rude if you refuse. Learning this, sometimes uncomfortable, skill can be a valuable addition to your traveler’s tool box. Here are my top tips to becoming an expert bargainer.
1. Set a budget and do not go over
When bargaining, some people tend to continue to escalate as many do with Ebay auctions. Set a shopping budget that you do not surpass. Do not reveal this limit when the salesman asks. He will set this as the floor, not the ceiling.
2. Split money into different pockets
I sometimes wear cargo khakis with several pockets to accomplish this. Put different amounts of money in different pockets and then remember what you put where. You can then tell the seller that all you have is $10 and reach into the pocket that holds only this $10 bill. If you pull from the wrong pocket, however, your bargaining efforts are wasted.
3. Watch a local
If someone else is bargaining for a similar item, hang around and watch the other person negotiate. If the price they settle upon is acceptable to you, move in and say “I’ll take one for that price, too.” Most vendors will give it to you for the same price with no effort at all.
4. Blend in
If you are identified as a tourist, the opening price can easily immediately increase by 10 times. Try to blend as much as possible, but this can definitely be difficult if you do not know the local language. Again, pay attention to the locals and ensure your prices are reasonable.
5. Watch your cash
Deal in small bills when possible and be careful with your change. Especially if they know you are out of place, vendors in many places will attempt to cheat you. Whenever possible, give the exact amount you negotiated on. When this is not possible, ensure that you repeat the price of the item and the amount that you are giving loudly before money exchanges hands. We have seen many tourists cheated through a variety of schemes.
6. Be willing to walk away
Once you reach the price you are willing to pay, walk away. Many sellers will chase after you and quickly reduce the price. At worst, if you decide that you’re willing to pay the price that the seller offered, you can always return later with a bit less pride.
7. Ask for help
If you are wanting to make a large purchase, continue waiting a couple of days until you have met a local who may offer help. If you cannot take a local, ask one or more that you encounter how much they would pay for the item. Realize that the taxi driver is not helping; he is only taking you to his friend’s store where he can receive a percentage of your purchase price. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be spending so much time during his day to escort you around town.
8. Reverse roles with the sellers
If multiple sellers are competing to sell you the same item, use this to your advantage and bring them to you. I have used this tactic several times to purchase baseball tickets from scalpers behind home plate for a fourth of the marked price. Just don’t act too quickly as they surround you with their offerings. First, identify the scammers and send them away. For example, at MLB games, it is common for a scalper to try to sell you a ticket to yesterday’s game. Calling one out loudly will usually disperse them all. Next, name your price. Those who are not willing to negotiate to this price will see that you have several choices and will also disperse. Then, choose the best remaining seat. This tactic also works with cheap trinkets and other mass produced items.
9. Learn your numbers
When looking at a foreign language, learn the numbers first. They are just as important as “Thank you” and “I am sorry.”
10. Embrace the experience
Though the negotiations can be uncomfortable for some, just remember this is part of the culture. When traveling, you’ll find there a many aspects of a culture you don’t enjoy as much as others, but embrace the experience for its overall part of the culture. Smile, participate, and know you’re learning a valuable skill.
“Everyone says I will be back tomorrow but no one ever returns. If you see a piece of art, you either buy it or you don’t. Do not walk away, sir. Look at her eyes. She wants this piece. Is there really any price too high to make her happy?” -Turkish salesman