India presents a unique opportunity for shopping. From flea markets of Anjuna beach in Goa, to the fish market of Port Blair in the Andamans. From Janpath in New Delhi, to New Market in Kolkata. Every town you visit, you’ll find yourself bargaining somewhere or the other. It may be clothes, antiques, handicrafts, souvenirs, or even with touts and taxis drivers. The following points may help you sharpen your skills.
Look who’s talking. This may seem basic, but always look around first. Visit as many shops as you have time for and ask for the price liberally. You’ll immediately come to know the ball park figure for your items. This will help you find the right shop from which to buy. Obviously, this requires time, so only works if you have plenty of it.
Remember your geography. More often than not, shops located at the start of a street or at corners, will have higher mark-ups. This is because they realize that not everyone has the energy to visit tens of shops. Some people just want the closest one and are done with it. The further in you go the better chance for a bargain.
Always smile. A smile lightens the moment and disarms the other person. It’s difficult to turn down a person who asks politely and is smiling. Even if you don’t buy, it shows that you have no hard feelings.
Look up. In a lot of markets, there are shops on the first floor too. Try taking a look. They will always have less footfalls than those on the street-level, and subsequently are more averse to losing customers.
How low can you go. Don’t be afraid to go really low, even half or more. Then watch the expression of the owner. More often than not, it’ll give an accurate picture of where to start again. If he dismisses you, you’ve gone too low. If he just shrugs, he’s open to a new offer.
Observe. If someone is already haggling, watch and see the outcome. You’ll get to know the typical mark-up that can be reduced. Try to look disinterested. Shopkeepers don’t want everyone to know how much they can cave.
Follow through. There is no point in arguing for 20 minutes if you are not set on buying it. It may be fun for you, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Also don’t fret the little amounts. Again, there’s no point in long arguments just to reduce a few rupees.
Ask. Besides looking only at shops, watch other travelers and ask them what they have paid. Instead of doing all the running around yourself, learn from the experience of others. You’ll get to know better deals, and places which you’ve not visited.
Don’t mix and match. It makes no sense in buying clothes at a street lined with food stalls, or antiques at a clothes market. Stand alone shops usually aren’t good for bargaining. Markets lined up with the same type of wares have already reduced their rates due to competition.
Apples to oranges. Different products have different price structures. So reducing half off clothing items is good, but don’t expect more than 5-10% in electronic. Antiques and handicrafts also have high mark-ups. You should have a basic idea of the price beforehand, if possible.
Ask the locals. Get an idea from your local friends, maybe even a hotel manager or guest house owner. They’ll also be able to tell you the right places to go. I normally don’t ask taxi drivers, they mostly have their own commission-friendly shops and might resist in taking you anywhere else.
Lastly, and with a very heavy heart I say this –
If you are a male, take a female with you. Sexism aside, they are better at verbal skills, more apt at reading subtle facial hints and body language, which gives them an edge. And can easily find small imperfections with everything, further strengthening their argument. If you’re married you’ll understand this.
I’ll also play devil’s advocate and say this – if you are a female, take a male along. Shopkeepers are very wary of the males; they have less patience and don’t mind leaving abruptly. So if you are stuck, you can always fall back on your companion as a buffer. His gruff manner may actually clinch the deal.
Happy figh……I mean, shopping!