The art of bargaining

What is bargaining?

According to, bargaining is “an agreement between parties settling what each shall give and take or perform and receive in a transaction” or according to Wikipedia: ” bargaining or haggling is a type of negotiation in which the buyer and seller of a good or service debate the price and exact nature of a transaction”.

Bargaining normally happens at the street markets or in local shops where the owners are usually present, and usually when there is no display of prices on the goods.

However, sometimes when knowledgeable consumers bargain, it means that the consumers feel that the particular products are over charged or do not reflect the value.

There are many reasons why people bargain, is it because they can? It could be out of habit. It could be for their satisfaction of getting a good deal. It could be he is a knowledgeable buyer and knows the value of goods. Sometimes people just bargain for the sake of bargaining or want to save some money.

At the same time, produce such as seafood varies from day to day, due to availability of the daily catch by the fishermen. If the stock is low, the prices will be high on that day and vice versa. Thus consumers will be negotiating based on supply and demand to arrive at a fair market value.

As Asians, bargaining seems to be part of our DNA. I can still remember following my grandmother to the ‘wet’ market and listened to her bargaining with the store owners about the prices., “Wah, so expensive? How come today the price has gone up by $0.50 per kati (our old system) compared to last week?”

“Aiyoh Ah Ee, it is cheap already … the petrol price has gone up this week, so we have to increase the price of our products as well…”. The bargaining went on at several stores and it was so common that it would be “unusual” that you did not bargain.

In contrast, in some cultures bargaining is deemed “uncultured”, “rude” or even “cheap”.  As with in most developed countries, such as Australia, we do not bargain 90% of the time, especially when you are in purchasing your products  in the supermarkets or department store.

However, if you visit an independent store where the owner is present,  you can always ask politely and respectfully whether the vendor would consider reducing the price if you were to pay in cash instead of credit card. Usually they will reduce the equivalent value of the merchant fee if you were to pay in cash, so it is a win-win transaction for both the vendor and customer.

So when is a good time to bargain?

  • Understand the country’s culture – do the locals bargain? If they do, then join in the fun of bargaining. Sometimes you can go as high as taking 50% -70% off the quoted prices.
  • If you are on tour, ask your tour guide for advice. Normally, they will advise you roughly how much margin you can haggle for.

Personally, I am not a big fan of bargaining when it comes to shopping, but it is a fact of life. However, I learned from a few experiences while travelling: you need to know what you are bargaining for. Otherwise you may well be disappointed with the goods that you thought you had got at a bargain price.

Happy bargaining!