I am horrible in bargaining! It’s usually making me uncomfortable and I often pay more than people who are better in bargaining. That’s why I do the little shopping that includes bargaining with Antony, who is great in it and often gets good deals.
But bargaining is an art, and it needs to be approached carefully.
Here are some hints how to do it respectfully. All our bargaining experience stems from Kenya but we imagine that the basics apply to more countries.
What to bargain about
- Clothes and shoes in markets or stalls
- Souvenirs and gifts
- Furniture or anything handmade on the street or in a shop
- Services like tailoring, repairs, fixing of shoes, although some of them have commonly known fixed prices
- Household items being sold by street vendors
Asking for a discount
If you buy a big amount of things from one person, you can ask for a discount, that will “make you come back again”. We often get one extra tomato or an extra sweet potato from the vegetable sellers who know us. One chili pepper, for instance, costs one shilling, and if I buy bananas and Sukuma for fourty, Mama Mboga (our vegetable lady) gives me the chili for free. Even our chemist sometimes rounds down the price for tests and medication, if we ask kindly.
What not to bargain about
- anything with indicated price tags
- when vendors shout the price
- food and water
- public transport (Ask a local friend for the price or other passengers, and before bordering ask the conductor and insist on the amount you know.)
- goods in the supermarket
How to bargain
- Be kind and friendly.
- Make jokes.
- Bargaining is about finding a price that suits both the vendor and you and not about ripping anybody off.
- Try it in the local language. You will leave a better impression.
- Say clearly if you are just looking, and don’t hold or take something you are not absolutely interested in buying.
- Walk away if you are uncomfortable. Sometimes walking away can also trigger a cheaper offer.
- Say thank you.
There are some strange insider measures that people use especially for souvenir shopping. You could, for example, get a greater discount by offering a simple pen. A friend told me how she danced and sang a French song with her travel mate somewhere in South East Asia for a better bargain.
Guides sometimes have deals with the vendors. If you are brought to a certain market or stall by your guide, he or she may earn a little commission from the vendors for bringing them customers. This commission is included in the price you pay.
Being “ripped off” or a victim of situational discrimination
There is a difference between structural and situational discrimination. Due to structural discrimination, and the fact that the global North still exploits the global South, people from Europe have enough money to fly to Africa and spend some vacation there, whereby many Africans don’t have equal chances.
That is why vendors situationally discriminate possible customers, especially if they are white. For them, white means rich and they can hike the prices for sometimes 1000%. Situational discrimination is not to be confused with racism, because the power structures are very clear:
While you may feel angry or sad about “being ripped off”, in a global perspective you are still privileged.
Alternatives for bad bargainers
If you are as uncomfortable as me when it comes to bargaining, there are several alternatives:
- Buy things in supermarkets or shops.
- Ask for help in bargaining from a local friend.
- Before you go, try to find out the approximate prices for the goods you want to buy and take those as points of orientation.
- If you stay somewhere for longer, frequent the same vendors and build relationships. You will get to know each other and be able to estimate each other’s expectations.
- Ask for discount (see above) in a friendly way. And if you promise to come back and buy again – do it!
What are your best tips about getting good deals on the markets in a responsible way? Let us know in the comments below!
There are some more hints, specifically for Thailand, here.
Print this worksheet in order to better understand the concept of structural and situational power and discrimination.
It is part of our free online course to help you travel to Africa in a responsible and conscious way.