In Southeast Asia, bargaining (or asking for a discount) is part of everyday life. It’s commonplace to bargain at markets, souvenir shops and for transportation. The advent of modern shopping malls in Southeast Asian cities has dampened the practice of bargaining somewhat (though you can always ask for a discount or freebies if you’ve made a significant purchase, even if you’re in a Louis Vuitton store…at the risk of looking cheap!) but in the countryside, it still is very widespread and most of the time, you’re expected to bargain.
How to bargain
I’ve listed below five tips to help visitors to Southeast Asian countries bargain effectively. The most important point to keep in mind is to treat bargaining as a friendly game. If you have the time, observe how the locals do it before you start bargaining.
- Keep smiling – bargaining can turn into a heated discussion so keep it friendly by smiling. A friendly pat on the shoulder also helps. Keep your cool and be patient!
- The starting price – the general rule is to slice the initial asking price by about 40-50% and start from there. The seller will laugh, wave their hands and say “no, no, no” and state a new price (“ok, I give you special price!”). Work your way from there.
- Walk away – Don’t be afraid to employ the ‘turn around and walk away’ technique. Chances are, the seller will run after you and make a final offer. If the seller doesn’t, you can always decide to pass by later. The seller might recognise you, call you over and re-start the bargaining game!
- Local currency – Always carry small denominations of the local currency and bargain in the local currency.
- Take the time to bargain. If you’re in a hurry, don’t let it show. If you really want a specific item, look around at other items to give the impression that you’re not that interested.
I hope this helps. Do you have more bargaining tips? Please feel free to share them in the comments section.