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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bargaining Power

Face it. Most women like to shop.

But shopping at handicraft markets around the world is akin to shopping for a used car. There's a lot of haggling back and forth over the price, which has a tendency to put off some people that are accustomed to paying the advertised price. But if you don't play the game, you'll not only walk away with a bigger hole your pocket, but you'll also contribute to further price inflation for future tourists.

But, there are strategies you can use to help come to a mutually agreeable price and not endure snickers from vendors behind your back.

Do reconnaissance. Check out what products the airport gift shops carry when you first arrive in the country. Note the prices on items you like, and never pay those amounts in the market. Goods at airport gift shops, even here at home, are way overpriced--the markup can be as great as 300 percent.

Shop Around. Most vendors at a handicrafts market carry the same stuff. As you wander past the stalls, casually ask the price of the things you're interested in, but don't linger. Prices at the perimeter of the market tend to be higher, so keep going further. The price invariably goes down.

Never accept the first price. If you are ready to try your hand at bargaining, the first price is ridiculous, and the vendor knows it. Just smile, and say, "no thanks."

Ask for a discount. After the first price is given, ask for a discount. You might have a vendor say, "How much will you pay?" I usually ignore this question, and ask, "How much is the discounted price." The figure they tell you is the real starting price to start the haggling process.

Offer one-third to half of the asking price. Start with a low figure. The vendor might laugh or try to convince that you've offended him/her, but don't let this ruffle your feathers.

Walk Away. I can't tell you how many times I've walked away from a price that I felt was too high, and suddenly it dropped significantly. At one stall in Ecuador, the starting price on a blanket was $40, but suddenly dropped to $10 when I walked away.

Buy from a man. I can't put my finger on it, but it seems like a get a better deal when I buy from a male vendor. It's not that he succumbs to my feminine wiles, I just think that female vendors drive a harder bargain.

Buy in Bulk.
Often times, you can get a deeper discount if you want to buy several items once you've settled on a price for one object. If one object costs $2, ask for three for $5.

Have fun. Never yell at a vendor, or get angry. That never gets you anywhere.

These are just a few suggestions for jump starting your confidence when shopping abroad, although there are more ways that may be just as or more effective.

My friends, Jennifer and Adrianne, developed a team bargaining method in Ecuador. If either one of them were interested in something, she would ask, "Do you think it's my style?" The operative word--style--would indicate that bargaining was about to commence. The friend would step up and say that it wasn't her style, examine it closer for flaws, and they'd try the walk-away method.

That worked well until the last day of our trip. Jennifer was enamored with some black and white chulucana pottery. She was determined to buy it, and she wore her eagerness openly. I asked her if it was her style. She said "Oh, yes!"

Adrianne and I just looked at each other, and knew she was in trouble. Sure enough, the total came to $33 for several pieces, and she couldn't even get $3 off the price to make it an even $30.

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