The art of haggling in Asian culture (1200 words)

There are plenty of good products to be had in the markets of Asia, but the most crucial thing you do before purchasing those products is to haggle. Haggling has become an unspoken rule in Asian countries, and it has been a way of life for so long that no one can remember where, when and how it started. If you have spent a holiday in Asia, bought souvenirs and not once negotiated for a bargain, you have failed to see one of the most significant cultural symbols in Asia!

My Mother, born and bred in Hanoi, has been a pro bargain hunter since she was in primary school. My Grandmother taught and gave her haggle tips every time they went to buy groceries together. Years and years have passed. My Mum is still an expert when it comes to negotiation. She will start haggling for a pair of shoes at only $15 instead of $50, she will buy three bunch of flowers for the price of two bunches. I am not surprised by her style of haggling, but I am surprised how words can have incredible power to change certain things. From time to time, I have learned from my Mum that all you need to keep in mind when psyching yourself up for haggling is to have a good command of language, a cool-headed state of mind, and a decent knowledge about market.

Learning from the actual experience by my Mother, there are 5 tips to remember before entering the little battle of haggle in Asia.

1. Do your research

Yes, the first and the most important thing to learn if you want to haggle like a pro is to research your market. You can’t just accept the price given in the first store you walk into, because there are plenty of other stores offering you different price points or value added deals that you haven’t checked yet. Haggling in Asia is all about how well you know the price baseline in the market. Spend more time checking out different prices that will give you an idea of the price range available and then you can eliminate some vendors whose prices are way too expensive right from the start.

2. Know when to walk away

It is a fact that not all buyers can get a bargain they want, and the strongest sign to show disapproval is to walk away. This is what my Mum usually does: She will say “Sorry, this is too expensive. Who would buy it with this price?” and walk away fast without looking back. The sellers usually chase my Mum out the door and quote a much lower price. An inexperienced bargain hunter like me would most likely just agree to the price, as if I have just won a lottery! However, my Mum will take it to a new level by quoting an even lower price than what the seller just offered! It is usually a win for my Mum, who thoroughly knows when it is the best time to walk away and when it is suitable to bargain just that little bit more.

3. Start from the bottom

Before you have a first try on haggling, make sure you know where to start. Bargain hunters often start with a much lower price than what they are ultimately willing to pay. From there they can negotiate and compromise with the seller and relax the price. For example, after you’ve done your research and know a cardigan is worth around $30, start to haggle for $10 – $15. Do not go lower than that, otherwise the sellers will be offended and think you give no respect to the shop and/or culture. You don’t want to get involved into a complicated misunderstanding in another culture, but likewise, you don’t want to pay too much either! Researching your prices and haggling with respect is the key.

4. It’s about the art of persistent communication and persuasion

Persuasion skill is the key to haggling for a better price or sweeter deal. You can’t sell your idea to your boss unless you persuade him or her the right way. You can’t pitch your presentation unless you show your employers enough research materials. Same with haggling in Asia – you won’t succeed at haggling until the seller starts to believe that lowering the price is a win/win for both of you. You need to be aggressive but honest at the same time, you need to twist words of sellers when you feel like there is an opportunity, and sometimes throwing a few white lies in won’t hurt! Street markets in Asia get used to overcharging foreign tourists, hence you can pretend to have lived there long enough and see how different the price will be.

5. Keep your head cool

Last but not least, always smile and keep yourself out of trouble. Don’t get intimidated if the seller gives you a sign to walk away. Be patient and try to negotiate again with a more reasonable price, plus put a smile on your face. You may be frustrated at times when haggling, but remember that getting angry and shouting are disrespect behaviours in most Asian countries. Keep yourself out of trouble by maintaining a cool head and saying “Thank you” to sellers even when you lose the negotiation game. As long as you keep your head cool and express your gratitude appropriately, I guarantee that you will get better deals in Asia, one way or another.

Not everything can be haggled, but knowing how to haggle is definitely a must in Asian culture. It takes time to be comfortable with haggling because it is a “life skills” experience you won’t learn in school. Yet, don’t feel discouraged if you fail to haggle yourself more attractive deals the first few times, as practice makes perfect and soon you will realise how much money you can save or how much more you can buy by haggling the right way.

There is a new interactive online Haggling Marketplace that is going to change your method of shopping for pretty much anything you want. The Haggle ‘n’ Handshake Website and Apps are changing the way goods and services are bought and sold in a new and rapidly growing online Marketplace. You can buy and sell live in the now by utilizing Haggle’n’Handshake’s unique “Live Haggle” and “Auto Haggle” features. Whether you are buying or selling, join, find bargains and haggle even better deals for yourself, or hook up with buyers, sell live and pay zero commissions today!

My time to share has come to an end. Now it’s your turn. Have you ever haggled? Do you have any memorable experiences about haggling in Asia or anywhere else? Tell me and together we can have a laugh, learn and prosper…

Linnie Le is a PR/Marketing student at Griffith University who has grown up with the art of haggling in Hanoi, Vietnam.