Shopping in the Markets of India
Effective Bargaining Tips for Shopping in the Markets of India
To say that bargaining is the normal way of conducting business in India would be a gross understatement. The concept of bargaining is instilled at a young age, so much so, it’s not uncommon to see Indians haggling over listed menu prices at a restaurant. Nowhere is this back-and-forth activity seen more than in the markets of India. Forget that the stalls are ripe with tempting selections begging to be purchased. Real value while shopping in India is found in watching and learning how to bargain. Bargaining is an Expected Way of Doing Business
Savvy shopkeepers keep a steady eye and firm grasp on the bottom line. They know how to read their customer’s faces, whether it’s a foreign tourist looking to bring home souvenirs or the local housewife shopping for tonight’s food items, and tailor their pricing accordingly. Crafting respectable bargaining skills is a challenge involving time and practice. Shopping takes twice as long as it should when both seller and buyer are trying desperately to meet somewhere in the figurative middle ground.
Not All Goods Can Be Bargained For
Fixed-price shops with clearly marked signage and price tags are generally off-limits. That isn’t to say I haven’t tried before, the worst you will hear is no. Also, Government emporiums are notoriously fixed-priced attracting a large number of tourists uninterested in bargaining. Another version of these is called “cottage shops”. And finally, prepackaged goods sold in India are all fixed prices. This includes bottled beverages, mobile phones, music, cosmetics, and boxed foods to name a few items. A preset price (inclusive of taxes) is stamped somewhere on the package. It’s rare that a merchant will sell under the M.R.P. or Maximum Retail Price, but it does happen occasionally.
What Works, What Doesn’t, What Irritates
- Avoid taking a taxi, tuk-tuk, or rickshaw to the market or a specific shop if possible. Drivers earn a commission just for dropping you, regardless of which shop you buy from. You’ll be paying extra right from the start because of this arrangement. Begin a negotiation by telling the shopkeeper no one brought you to the shop or you did not come with a driver.
- Buying the first item at the first shop is a sure-fire way to overpay. Get an idea of how much an item(s) generally costs by browsing several shops either fixed-price or pay-as-you-wish before settling on one merchant.
- Shop Early! Shop Late! Store owners consider the first sale of the day to be lucky. Arriving shortly after opening might yield a better price. Vegetable cart vendors start their days early, preferring to sell out before noon before restarting in the early afternoon with a fresh batch of goods. Buy early or toward noontime for better pricing from motivated sellers. Cart vendors still out toward early evening are eager to end their days with a last-minute bargain sale.
- Buy in bulk. When shopping for fresh produce, you can always bargain for a better price per kilogram when purchasing a large amount.
- Whether you show too much interest or try to play it cool, the store owner knows which item you will like before you do. Avoid time-wasting techniques by asking to see other items when you could get right into bargaining for the item you truly want.
- Politely turn down offers for chai or soda. This is meant to make you feel committed to an owner’s shop as well as to buy him more time to tempt you with more goods. If he still brings a refreshment continue to politely refuse at least two more times.
- Begin the bartering process by asking, “How much is this?”, or motioning to a particular item (if there are many) and asking in specifics, “How much is the blue sheet?”. This opening dialogue works even if the item has a price tag on it. The shop keeper now knows you are looking to bargain. If he asks, “How much are you willing to pay?”, begin with an opening offer anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 the price marked.
- Offering too little can be humiliating to the store owner, aggravating them enough to end all discussion. Be sure that the item you are looking at isn’t a one-of-a-kind purchase that should command a higher sale price.
- Have a maximum price in mind before negotiating. Conversations can be quick, and before you realize what you have agreed upon, the price is higher than you were able to pay.
- Shopkeepers are more willing to settle on a price quickly when shoppers plead with them; “Please, please, please”, said in a non-threatening manner works with sellers you think maybe soft at heart.
- Ignore the stories of how many children the seller has to feed, or what medical problems he may be facing at home. You are supporting him by shopping in his store. Overpaying only instills a mindset that tourists will pay more than they should.
- Resist any temptation to argue, or raise your voice, or use excessive body language. Unless the seller changes a price or tries to pull a bait and switch arguing will only get you booted out of a store.
- If the shopkeeper doesn’t drop the price enough, thank him for his time and walk out. This works well for items you know you can find elsewhere or in an empty showroom. Nine times out of 10 he will call you back to negotiate. The owner knows you are serious and will now be willing to meet your terms.
- Be upfront with the owner if you plan to use a credit card for payment. He is willing to bargain in the mindset you will pay in cash. Credit card companies charge merchants fees for each sale. Bad feelings come from unexpected plastic payments.
- Only spend what you have, and never go to the ATM. The seller will be far less likely to bargain if he knows you have the ability to get more cash. Also, you become a target with others around by mentioning the need to stop at the ATM. At the same time, don’t show that you are carrying excess cash.
- Lay down the exact amount you are willing to spend in cash upfront. Store owners are always willing to bargain when they see your interest and ability to pay are serious.
- It’s not uncommon for a competing seller nearby to hear an offer and agree to it without direct communication from you. Continue working with the seller in front of you unless he is unwilling to match or beat that offer.