There's really only one thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to haggling: you're not very good at haggling.
This isn't a personal slight. It's not even a bold assumption. It's the cold, hard reality that if you're not from a country where haggling is the norm, if you weren't born into this and therefore possess an innate understanding of the push and pull of economics at its most basic and combative, then you're not going to be very good at it.
Remember, you're putting yourself up against the pros here. Travellers visiting markets and shops in countries such as Turkey, China, India and Morocco are pitting their negotiating skills against people who've been haggling their entire lives, who do this stuff for a living.
So banish, straight away, the notion of "winning". You're not going to win. You're at a distinct disadvantage from the start. Still, that doesn't mean you have to get ripped off. There are certain rules to follow to ensure you always get the best possible price.
Know your product
This is especially true if you're buying something big and expensive, the likes of a Persian carpet or a Turkish antique. You need to know your product. You need to know the questions to ask and the answers to look out for. You need to know the signs that what you're about to buy is legit. You need to be able to spot how old it is, how well made it is, where it was made, and whether its value is likely to appreciate.
Know your price
Part of knowing your product is also knowing your price - knowing not only how much, in ballpark terms, an item is worth, but also having an idea in your mind of what you're prepared to pay. So many travellers enter into the haggling fray without a clue of the end figure they're hoping to bargain their way down to. That's putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Choose the shop yourself
Be aware that if you get talked into visiting a store by, say, a rickshaw driver, or you get dragged into a place by a tour guide, there's a very high chance that they'll be earning a commission from any purchase you make. That doesn't mean you're getting ripped off, necessarily, but bear in mind that if you don't pick the store yourself, you're likely to be paying more.
Play it cool
So you've walked into the store, and you've spied the item you really want to buy. Stop! Don't zero in on it. Don't walk straight over and pick it up and show it to your partner and tell them how much you love it. Play it cool. Look at a few other items. Get chatting to the store owner. Pretend to consider a few other things and reject them, before you eventually, casually, ask how much that other item is just over there, the one you secretly really want. Game on.
Take your time - drink the tea
It's tempting to just get the haggling experience over and done with. You're not enjoying it, so you might as well just get it done. But successful haggling, especially over a large item, usually takes time. Locals enjoy this stuff, they savour it, they play the game. So give yourself time. Sit down, drink the free tea. Chat to people. Draw out the negotiation. You're in a much stronger position if you aren't obviously in a hurry.
Haggling is a sport. It's not an argument. It's not a battle. No one is trying to offend you. Most of the time they're not even trying to rip you off - not in the way we picture it, anyway. They're just trying to get the best price. Haggling is a challenge, and it's one that can be enjoyed if you go in with the right mindset. The key is to smile, relax and treat it as a game.
Your first counter-offer will be met with mock horror. "What?! No!" It will make you doubt yourself. You'll think, wait, I've gone far too low. The seller will then ask you to make a more reasonable bid, to be serious, to start the negotiation with something fairer. Don't be fooled - this is all part of the game. Start low and let the seller make the next bid.
Be prepared to walk away
To get the best price, you have to be honestly dedicated to the prospect of just walking away. You won't be able to fake your way through this - it has to be real. If you're really attached to an item, that's fine. Just know that you won't be getting the best price possible.
Don't go too hard
While haggling can be fun, and you'll find yourself enjoying the push-and-pull style if you're doing it right, it's worth remembering occasionally that you really don't have to go too hard. You might find yourself arguing with someone over what turns out to be about 20 cents. You might decide to walk away over a few dollars. We as travellers are incredibly privileged to be able to visit these countries and stroll around the markets and shop for fun. Don't get hung up on battling people for every last cent.
Remember: if you're happy, you've won
This is perhaps the most important rule of them all. There is no "price", not in the way we think of it. Nothing is standard. Price is completely fluid. Just because you paid more than someone else for something, doesn't mean you got ripped off. You just paid more for it. And as long as you're happy with what you paid, then game over: you've won.
What are your secrets to successful haggling? Have you had any particularly good or bad haggling experiences? Which nationalities are the hardest hagglers?
???More on haggling - Listen to this week's Flight of Fancy podcast
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