One of the many skills crucial to traveling on a budget and immersing yourself into a culture is bargaining. Bargaining is a big part of a lot of cultures, but in India, it’s not only necessary, it’s fun. For Indian people, it is like a game that must be won.
Whether or not you are on a budget while traveling through India, it’s important to participate in bargaining, otherwise, why would a shopkeeper bother with bargaining with locals when a foreigner such as you or me can come around and pay triple the amount?
Here are my tips on bargaining in India! Read them below if you are ready to dive into a very important part of Indian culture and an important skill to have when traveling through the country.
(If you are more of a visual person, scroll down for a video on shopping in Jaipur!)
Do your homework
Browse around a bit to see what the general price of an item is. When you know that most shops sell pants for 300 rupees then you will know it’s a scam if a shop has them for 1000 rupees. Search for fixed rate shops, which usually are a little pricier, to get an idea.
If you are browsing and you see an item you like, but you want to check other shops first, do not show that you like that item. The mere fact that you are returning specifically for that item may increase the price. (See next point)
When you see an item that you really, really like, do not show that you really, really like it. The sparkle in your eye will cause dollar signs in the shopkeepers’ eyes and the price will increase just as he watches you. I once saw a bracelet that I was in love with, but I put it down like it wasn’t that great and continued browsing the store. Unfortunately, I really did like the bracelet and the shopkeeper might have seen that because he wasn’t budging from his price. So practice this!
Honestly, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t like something out loud either. Don’t be a bitch, but any kind of excitement toward an item will make a shopkeeper stick to your side and start showing other similar pieces to the one item that you were excited about. Saying “No, I don’t like that” or “That’s not my style” will make it easier for you to leave without buying anything because the shopkeeper will feel they really have nothing to offer you.
When to ask how much
Asking how much shows that you are interested in an item and generally opens up the invitation for bartering. Some shopkeepers won’t tell you unless they are really certain that you will buy: “Try it on, if you like the item, then we will talk price.” Knowing how much an item is ahead of time really helps in this aspect.
If the shopkeeper gives you a price that you know is too high, you have a couple of options:
- Ask “Is that the best price you can offer?” The shopkeeper will then give you another lower price, but it won’t be much lower than the original offer.
- Tell him that it is too much, and start to walk away (See Walk Away advice below)
- If it’s too outrageous, say “Thank you” and leave and find another store at a better price.
Whether you choose a or b, the shopkeeper will then ask you something like “What are you willing to pay?” or may even lower it further. From there you can give the price you’re willing to pay.
Start at below half the price
At first, it might make you feel uncomfortable starting at below half the price. The goal is to end up at half the price, though. For example, if the shopkeeper tells you 500 rupees, then you want to start somewhere around 150. Seems rough, right? The goal is to get to 250. He will lower the price for you to maybe 400 and then you will raise the price to 200 and eventually you’ll get to 250. Try not to budge from there by saying “250 is as much as I will pay” or “250 is as high as I will go”.
Understand the shopkeeper techniques
These guys have been bartering for a long time and do it much better than you. They’ve had years of practice with locals and foreigners alike and you are just beginning.
What will happen is the shopkeeper will make you feel guilty, and play with your emotions. He or she will say something about the quality of the product and that the price being offered is a real “Indian price”. I never really knew when an item truly was of good quality or not, but don’t let these comments fool you. Apparently, everything is of good quality, handmade, and “the best possible price”. I’ve examined some of the material before deciding whether I wanted to bargain or not. I don’t know jack about materials, but by pretending like I knew what I was looking at and judging the quality made it harder for the shopkeeper to tell me how great the quality was.
If you and the shopkeeper can’t seem to come to an agreement, walk away. Walking away will either result in an immediate reduction of the price, or the shopkeeper will let you walk away, which means your asking price was too low. This is the final technique to use in order to get what you want.
Answers to their questions
If the vendor asks you “Where are you from?” they are gauging how much money you have. I’ve met travelers who said Puerto Rico or some other small country that no one really knows much about so as to divert the questioning. If you say the USA, you’re viewed as having riches. If you say Colombia, the vendor might speak to you in Spanish. If you say France, they’ll speak to you in French. These guys are good, man.
If the vendor asks you “How long in India?” they are really asking how experienced you are in Indian culture. If you’ve only been there one week, then you don’t know how to bargain, or what the price of anything is. If you have been in India for three months, you are much more experienced and will know when the vendor is trying to rip you off. Saying that you live in India helps as well. Goa, or Delhi are some good places to state.
Other questions really are just out of curiosity, so don’t be afraid to answer them.
Buy in bulk
Buying more than one item can help you find great deals and can usually result in a reduction of the price. A shopkeeper is much more willing to give you 2 pairs of earrings for 350 than only one pair of earrings for 200. Math is really handy in this part.
Do not bargain unless you are sure you are willing to buy
Say you’ve been bargaining with the shopkeeper and then he finally lowers to the price you are asking. If you say, “Nah, nevermind” or completely disregard his offer, you are insulting the shopkeeper and it is considered rude. If you start to bargain, the game is on and when you come to an agreement, it’s time to pay, not walk away like an asshole wasting everyone’s time.
If the Price is Posted
Generally, if there is a sign stating the price of an item, it means it is not up for negotiation, however, if you ask the vendor what their best price for the item is, and they respond, you might be able to bargain with them. If they state exactly what is posted, then it’s not up for negotiation at all.
Take your time
Bargaining takes up a lot of time. It takes consideration, math, weighing of options, questions, persuasion, your energy. It’s no easy walk in the park, especially if it’s something you’re going to do it all day. It’s not something that needs to be rushed.
I tried using the “I don’t have any cash, I need to get to an ATM first” excuse, but I was immediately thwarted because most shops in India these days have a credit/debit machine. I prefer to pay with cash though because it’s much easier to keep track of.
Don’t convert to your home currency
When you convert to your home currency you still are saying “Oh, it’s only $3” and you’ll spend whatever the immediate asking price is. If you constantly think in your home currency not only will you screw yourself over because you’re not bartering for a lower price, but you’ll also screw over the locals who may not be able to afford the prices that foreigners are willing to pay.
So don’t be a dick and barter.
Also, don’t be a dick.
Remember that 50 rupees is less than 1 USD. So don’t get upset or throw a fit when the vendor can not lower his price by 50 rupees.
Bargaining is a game in India. Have fun with it. Bargaining can be a lot of fun and it can be like arguing with your friends. Never take it too seriously and don’t get down on yourself or mad at a shopkeeper if you realize you paid too much. It’s all part of the game!