Shopping Tips: How & When to Haggle

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I am a shy person but, like most people, I love a good deal. Over the years, Craigslist transactions, thrift store hunts, and overseas trips have turned me into a confident haggler. 

This topic came to mind this week when I was considering buying a rug from an Etsy seller in Turkey. Having bargained with sellers abroad, I realized I'd feel silly if I didn't take a minute to see if he'd lower his price. (He did! I'll tell you my tactic and magic line below.)

Consider the cultural context. In many countries, haggling is a deeply ingrained practice: unless a sign indicates fixed prices, you're expected to offer a lower one. (Although mental math definitely is not my forté, in these situations it's also important to have the exchange rate in mind, or on a cheat sheet.) If you don't, you can overpay. Sellers might feign indignation at a lower offer, but that's just part of the game.

Don't fear negotiation. Here in the States, attitudes are different, but you can still bargain. Store prices typically are set, unless you're buying a big-ticket item, find a flaw, or can stir vendor competition. On the other hand, U.S. flea markets, antique malls, and Craigslist shopping are fair territory for haggling. For the latter, either settle on a new price over email or do it in person. But don't try to get a lower price if you've already agreed to a price before heading to the pick-up.

Use a variant of "Is that your best price?" In a flea market in Florida recently, I suggested this line to a hesitant aunt who was admiring a necklace. When asked, the seller gave her fifteen percent off. 

Buying multiples or more than one thing can give you additional leverage to ask for a deal. The aforementioned Etsy rug seller took $50 off when I expressed interest in both the rug and a pillow (essentially giving me the pillow for free). (Of course, this is only a deal if you really want that other thing.) 

As you discuss prices, be confident but polite. When I was in Marakkesh last spring, I felt proud when a shoe seller told me he hadn't expected me to drive such a hard bargain. (Determined to shop on my last day in town, I was wandering the souk alone while overcoming a bout of food poisoning, oof.) My tactic in Marrakesh, and on a previous trip to India, was to ask the price, frown, and counteroffer. (Melodrama is often part of the game!) Your initial counteroffer should be below what you'd actually be comfortable paying, because the seller will counter you back.

Know when to walk away. Unless you would seriously regret knowing that someone else got that vintage set of bookends you were eyeing, set a price limit in your head and stick to it. 

Last but not least, start to have fun with it. The more you try it, the more comfortable you'll get. Make your own sale by asking for it (nicely).

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