Have you ever wondered how to haggle in India – especially at Indian markets? You’re not alone! I was always really shy, and found the culture of haggling in Asia really difficult. Sometimes I still do! But over the years, it’s started to feel a little easier to me.
To help, I took to the internet and asked some of my travel friends and followers for their top haggling tips. These are some of the best tricks and tips from real travellers, to help you master the delicate art of haggling!
What is Haggling?
Haggling is simply another word for negotiation. Across many cultures, especially in Asia, it’s common practice to negotiate the price of an item before purchasing it. Particularly at the market. There are usually no fixed rates and the prices won’t be on display. Instead, the shopkeeper will quote an amount which is usually much higher than the item’s true value. You then need to try to negotiate a fair price!
In India, haggling is pretty much expected at markets. Whether you’re shopping for Indian spices, some gold jewellery, or just in need of yet another pair of elephant trousers, you’ll probably need to haggle for it!
It’s not just about getting a fair price, either. Sales involve a great deal of hospitality and the conversation around haggling, before the final purchase, is all part of the process. It turns shopping into a social event, so this is a great way to immerse yourself a little deeper into the local culture. Plus it can be quite fun if you treat it as a bit of a game. My advice is to not take it too seriously or let it stress you out! But keep reading for some expert tips from real travellers, as well as Indians who reached out with their own advice…
How to Haggle in India
Know Where to Start
One of the things I struggled with most when it comes to haggling at Indian markets, was knowing where to start. How much should I offer? What price should I aim for?
As it turns out, the trick is knowing what you want to pay before you start negotiating. Try to figure out roughly what the going rate for what you’re buying is, or what it’s actually worth. That way you know what price to aim for.
“Shop around first to find out a fair price, then get the best deal for the one you really want. Know roughly how much it’s worth or you want to pay before going in and don’t rush!” – Kate, on Facebook
Another top tip – Travel Dave pointed out to me that on a lot of products in India, the price is printed on the packaging. “Maybe under the product, or under the fold… so at least you know what your buying for market price is fair”. Have a sneaky look around the packaging to gain an idea of what the item’s true value is!
Go in Low
So once you know what price you want to pay, you have to make an offer that’s lower than it. That way you have room to negotiate upwards, and meet in the middle. Start low, and try to meet at the price you’re happy with.
How low you should start seemed to vary a bit depending on who I asked. I think it all depends on how high the shopkeeper has started! A few people – such as Pinky, an Indian who replied to my tweet – suggested aiming for half the asking price, but this might be the rule for Indians rather than tourists.
Helen, replying on Twitter, gave this advice: “divide by 5 as your starting point, then agree on a price you’re comfortable with. If you’re a tourist expect to pay more, because you’re likely to be able to pay more.”
I’m familiar with the “divide-by” way of haggling, because in SE Asia a commonly accepted rule is that you should aim to pay a third of the original asking price. But in India the original asking price, for foreign tourists at least, often starts WAY higher than the value of the product. So dividing by five and aiming for that seems like a good rule of thumb.
Try Walking away
State your price and walk away. Slowly, if you really want the item.
— Emma Jordan (@dgtlwriter) April 4, 2019
A lot of people suggested the classic “walk away” manoeuvre as a way to negotiate a lower price…
“Look shocked and borderline offended by their first offer, say thank you and begin to walk away.” Nathan, Foodie Flashpacker.
“If they don’t come down to the price you want, walk away – 9/10 times, they’ll say ok with the thought of losing a sale.” Emily, Em Rose Wanders
“Look and be confident. And then start walking away. Watch them chase after you… keep walking away. Then watch them drop down to your price (as long as you are being reasonable).” Kunal, from New Delhi (now living in Toronto).
Take an Indian with you!
Take an Indian with you! 😆
— 🌻 Rhiannon (@walestowherever) April 4, 2019
When in doubt, get a local to do it! If you’re lucky enough to have a local friend, or even a guide or someone at your hotel, see if they’ll come help you haggle. Prices are often lower for locals than they are for tourists – plus local people are more used to the difficult art of negotiating!
“I’m Indian but terrible at haggling. I take friends or my mom.” – Pinky, on Twitter.
“Definitely take an Indian with you and get them to haggle. I’m Indian and whenever I go I take a relative. They can tell I’m not the same as them straight away without even speaking.” Rita, on Twitter.
Try the One-Sided Haggle
This tip came from Dom on Twitter:
“Never suggesting a price works for me. Show brief interest, but let that go as soon as you’re approached. Just keep saying, ‘I don’t really want/need it.’ The vendor keeps offering lower – it’s a one-sided haggle – then stops when the price gets too low for them. Take it or leave it.”
Know When to Stop!
My final tip for haggling in India is to know when to stop. Firstly, because your time may well be worth a lot more than the 50p you saved yourself after a drawn-out song-and-dance about the prices. But most importantly, because chances are you make a lot more money than the person you’re purchasing something from!
A while back, I posted on my Instagram stories about some earrings I’d bought at a market in Siem Reap for something like £3. A follower replied and told me I’d been ripped off as they were worth less than a quarter of that price. But I didn’t care – because I saw how empty that stall was. That may well have been the only sale the girl made all day. £3 is not a lot of money to me, but in a country like Cambodia, it is a lot – so why not share that wealth a little?! I only haggle to ensure I’m not being unfairly ripped off, but I try never to take it too far. I’d rather a local has a bit more money, than save myself £1 or £2 when I don’t massively need it! And a fair few of my travel buddies agree with me…
“Keep in mind what you’re really haggling for. If it’s down to a $1 difference, and that helps his family to eat, and it’s nothing to you, stop arguing!” Eric, Travel Babbo
“I’m all for haggling but there comes a point when it goes too far. What’s cheap for us is probably going to pay for that person’s evening meal. Have a price you are happy to pay before you begin haggling, but don’t be aggressive or a d*ck about haggling too low! Keep it friendly.” Abbi, Spin the Windrose
Do you have any more fab tips on how to haggle in India – or elsewhere in Asia? Scroll down to share your thoughts in the comments!