The haggle, the barter and the bargain

Bargaining, haggling or bartering. What ever you call it, it is most definitely a fine art. The subtleties of behaviour, the momentary expressions and the lop sided stares. They all make up part of an intricate social display of whit, in order for personal gain, in the form of a discount, resulting in a desired deal.

It is, in my view, an essential skill to master when travelling. Never mind the language barrier, don’t be flustered by your surroundings, follow these simple steps to bargaining success.

1. The approach.

Slow and easy approach with casual swagger. Perusal of the wanted item is key, but before you go for gold, ensure you are viewing other wares, showing interest. This is the beginning of the relationship.

2. First contact.

As you brush your fingers over the wanted item in a thoughtful manner, glance up at the owner. This is where the retailer would normally greet you, nod their head and motion you to indulge further. This is where you bring out key technique numero uno. The smile. A strong confident smile crosses any linguistic border with ease. It sets off your relationship with the retailer on the right foot. They feel happy because you are seemingly happy, creating an attachment. However little. It is something to grow upon.

3. Further inspection.

The wanted item should be firmly in your grasp by now. Look it over, pass it between your hands. Stare intently at a side of the wanted item until you are approached by the retailer. The smile has ensured that however inexperienced or shy the retailer is, they will find it easy to approach you and ask you a question.

4. Compliments all round.

The retailer has asked you a question, answer it in whatever manner you desire. If language is a definite barrier then use a thumbs up to breeze pass the question, allowing you to take charge of the conversation and begin the courtship like approach to the bargaining window. Point to the shop or stall and give it the thumbs up. Point at the wanted item and give a second thumbs up. Increase intensity of the smile and retain eye contact with the retailer. This should incite them to display an even deeper smile. If banter is possible, then engage the retailer in a brief exchange of whit and compliments. This can sometimes include bad mouthing of other stalls in the vicinity, culminating in your favouritism of this retailer’s store.

5. The switcharoo.

The niceties are over. The bargain window approaches. Ask the price. Keep the smile. Ask for a calculator. Especially if you are abroad. A calculator is key. Enter the retailers asking price into calculator, press the divide symbol, enter the number 2 and press enter. All the while allow them to see your button presses and the process as to which you have reached your half-of-the-asking-price reply. As you look up at the retailer and flip the calculator to display your rebuttal, ensure the smile is now gone. This is the switcharoo and ensures the retailer knows that the bargain window is now open and that you are a serious contender.

6. The battle.

The key is to remain courteous yet strong. A lot can happen during the bargain window but your well under way and it’s too late to back down now. You’re committed.

You need to obviously have an understanding of the worth of this item. You also need to keep a figure in mind that you are willing to pay. This is your anchor. The halved figure you start off with should be just below what you expect to pay.

The retailer response to your halved total will be either disgust or surprise. Sometime a little of both. Combat this with a raucous laugh. As if your exchanging old stories with a good friend. This brings the retailer back from the brink of thinking your offer is absurd and back into the bargaining window.

The game is afoot. He will counter offer. You will counter offer. Ensure you counter offer is only a small step up from half. This should begin to entice the retailer to make bigger jumps down, closer to where you are offering.

A typical tactic is for the bargaining to come to a head. This is where either you or the retailer decides to walk away. If the retailer walks away, do not fear. It is part of their game plan. A theatrical exit is the normal but you can expect to see them again in a minute or so to make their final offer. Which will be more than reasonable.

Alternatively you need to walk away. You can make a joke about how the other retailers have bad looking shops but they offer better prices and begin to walk away. The joke endears the retailer to your cause and makes them want to finish dealing with you. You will get the final offer. Keep walking. You will get the final, final offer. Now don’t push it. Gauge how much the retailer likes you. If you have built up a level of robust rapport, then   keep walking and push for a third final offer. But I would always recommend staying at the second final offer. Have no fear. It isn’t over yet.

7. Agreeing terms.

The retailer has given you a reasonable price. You return to agree terms. It’s not over. There are a number of tricks to pull before you both shake on the deal. Offer a final price, lower than the final offer and bring out the cash. The sight of the money often makes retailers malleable on price. If this doesn’t work and your working with a hardball retailer then pick up an item of small value and ask for it to be thrown in. Even if you don’t really want the small item, it is a principled matter. Casualties of war.

But now you should be happy with the result. They might not look so happy, but they will admire your tenacity and bargaining prowess. Agree the terms with a brisk and firm handshake. Maintain eye contact. This where you exchange money for item and say your goodbyes.

8. The final glance.

As you walk away, wanted item in hand, pocket still heavy with local shrapnel, glance over your shoulder and smile. You’ve done well.


But always be wary. A brazen approach can end in failure. Too harsh or too forward and you push the retailer into a shell. Impenetrable and steadfast, bargaining is over. Alternatively things can go sour. Language barriers can sometime crumble, misunderstandings take hold and the next thing you know it you have a machete brandishing man in your face, angered over a failed monkey sale. Keep your cool, gesture slow calming motions and walk away slowly.

Bargaining is an age old tool. It’s core principles are written innately within our DNA. You will find it hard to stray from the right bartering course. Use your intuition. Use your senses. Get a feeling for the character in front of you and mimic his responses to create a link. Find a level of humour they appreciate and use it when necessary to bring levity to a boiling haggle. Make your smile vibrant and your meeting memorable. And do not forget, you can use these skills at home. In Comet or Superdrug, Carpet Right or Starbucks, bargaining works.

It’s all in the process and it all rests on humour. Build the relationship, exploit the link. Reap the rewards.

Go forth and bargain.