Street Market Bargaining Tips

So you’ve browsed the markets in India and wandered through the markets in Africa. You know that the first price isn’t always the best price but sometimes it can be difficult or feel down right strange to haggle someone into giving you something for a fraction of their original price. Most people dread this part and for a great deal of my travels, I did too. my conscience was too big and my heart to wide. Until one day, when I found myself at the pearl market in Beijing. I saw a gorgeous little clutch that I really wanted and after asking the price, I choked. 2000 RMB? That’s around 4000 ZAR or about 300 USD. There’s no way that bag was worth even a quarter of the price and I knew if I wanted to buy that, or anything here, I would have to muster up some form of haggling skills. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking away with not one but two clutches. It’s a common fact that bargaining is a well-played game at many street markets that requires the buyer and seller to find some kind of compromise. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it quite a fun activity! Here are some simple rules to help you score some serious bargains the next time you find yourself at a street market.


Get a feel of the standard prices of items in local stores as well as what you’d normally pay for the same items back home. Read up a little on the quality of regular goods, (for example, how to tell if something is leather) so you know what you should be looking for when you’re at the markets.


You’ll be surprised to know that there’s always a local price and a foreigner price at many street markets and while it’s a common misconception among street vendors, they do almost always think tourists have dollars on them. For this reason alone, they almost always, double, triple and even quadruple the price. Don’t show up to these markets with name branded clothes, designer handbags and lots of expensive jewellery. Apart from a safety concern, it will be almost impossible for the vendors to believe you when you claim to only have a certain amount of cash on you.



Being happy and polite is an essential starter before you begin haggling about the price. Always smile and greet the vendor, compliment the goods you’re interested in buying and look interested if they start telling you about the item, even if it doesn’t always sound like the truth.


When you first enter the, market, you may be tempted to bargain and buy things from the first few stalls but don’t. There are usually many vendors selling similar if not identical items further in and at a much cheaper price too. Walk around and make a mental note of what’s on offer. You can always say you’re going to come back later.


Start off by making a mental note of the written down price and do a quick conversion in your head or on the calculator of your phone to figure out the original price in your home currency. Ask the vendor for a discount. At this point they may bring out their own calculator and start punching in some numbers and explaining to you about how much they are willing to discount the item by.


This is where the haggling begins! The vendor usually will give you a small discount but the item will usually still be drastically overpriced so gently shake your head and disagree. The vendor may then lower the price a little more or hand over the calculator to you, asking how much you want to pay. At this point you’ve got to give a price. As a general rule of thumb, I always ask for half the asking price.



You never know how the vendor is going to react and of course it’s a risk you take. Some many gently disagree, some may furiously say no and tell you to move on and some may easily agree. It ends up being a back and forth game between you, the vendor and the calculator with numbers. The vendor will ask for a little more than what you asked for, you ask for a little less and so until a compromise is made.



Having a friend with you helps a lot when haggling. I usually blame my friend as the reason for my haggling, saying that she thinks it’s too expensive or that she is tired and wants to leave. It usually helps to lower the price faster.



If you’re happy with the final price then go ahead and make your purchase but if the vendor is refusing to budge smile and thank them and move on. Walking away is a trick that works often because it usually results in the vendor running after you and agreeing to your asking price. If they don’t, perhaps you asked for too low of a price or perhaps they weren’t willing to negotiate. Walk on and you’ll probably find the same item at another stall nearby. This time raise your asking price a little.


If you’ve lowered the price and haggled you way such that the seller has finally agreed, then stick to the deal. Don’t continue asking for a lower price or change your mind at the last minute because not only is it insulting and impolite to the seller but it also makes you look bad to surrounding sellers who may want to sell you something.


While haggling is a sport and you can walk away with some great bargains, it’s a good idea to remember that the vendors are also trying to make a living, so don’t ask for too low of a price.



Know something about the items you’re buying and don’t be afraid to gently and politely point out any floors you may find with the item. This will help when negotiating a lower price.


It’s always at the back of my mind, that while I am looking for a bargain, I am taking away some of the much needed profit from the seller. So I usually buy in bulk. If the vendor was kind enough to finally meet my asking price, then I’ll buy three or four of the same items but in different colours or styles which I either keep for myself or give away as gifts when I return home.


After haggling for an item, pulling out a big pile of cash can seem somewhat insulting to the seller. If any other sellers nearby see that, they will know that you can in fact afford a highly priced item and be less willing to lower the price. Having small denominations will make paying easier and also reduce the possibility for a vendor having to give you large amounts of change, which in some countries, can contain fake notes.


Knowing the right time to shop is very important since many sellers consider the first sale of the day to be lucky and are more willing to compromise with you. Shopping closer to closing time is also a good idea since many sellers are tired which makes them more agreeable and willing to sell items at a lower price instead of packing it away.



Using a word or two of the local language can help you build some form of credibility with the seller and help to lighten the mood when haggling. Don’t be afraid to greet the sellers in their local dialect. Learn the phrases for ‘too expensive’ and ‘small discount’

Posted by

I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

2 thoughts on “Street Market Bargaining Tips

  1. Great tips! I always feel so intimidated when haggling. Bringing a local along, at least the first time or two, can prove to be so helpful in building confidence and knowing how much things are really worth.

What are your thoughts?