How To Haggle Like An Expert (Without Feeling Guilty)

Respectful haggling is an art. Here's how to get it right.

If the idea of haggling for souvenirs at the local market while on holiday feels you with dread, then don’t worry. You’re not alone. The act of haggling is an emotionally charged affair that can make even Sheryl Sandberg feel like curling up a corner. (She spent a sleepless night worrying she’d blown her chances of a job a Facebook after tough job negotiations with Mark Zuckerberg).

The unfortunate truth is that haggling (which is just negotiation by another name) is a crucial life skill. So the sooner you pick up some tips on assertive behaviour, the quicker you’re going to fill your home with stunning travel trophies and create more opportunities to speak to some fantastic local people while on holiday.

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At this point, there’s one thing crucial thing you need to know: the more you fear the experience of haggling, the less good a deal you’re going to get.

That’s right. Research shows that people who dread an upcoming negotiation will walk away with a lower quality deal than those who perceive the negotiation as a ‘challenge’. So in order to haggle like an expert, you need to manage your fear of confrontation and the easiest way to do this is to hone your negotiation techniques.

Rule one: do your homework

Before you take the shopkeeper aside and beg for a whopping discount, it pays to do some research. You need to establish the value of the item before pushing for a great deal. Look around nearby shops, ask for prices and calculate the likely discount that could be available according to the object's availability. If the market is filled with mock gold bracelets, then there's a good chance that a jewellery seller will be open to negotiation. If you can't see the lamp you love in any other shop, you may have to take the hit to your wallet.

Rule two: be bold

When you're asking someone to do you a favour, there's no point in being coy about it. You need to be upfront, clear and decisive. Yes, we know it can feel embarrassing to assert your right to a cheap travel trinket. But ultimately, if you want to own that glass vase for a fraction of the cost, you need lose that wimpy look and bring on the chutzpah.

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Rule three: work as a team

If you're on holiday, there's a good chance you'll be travelling with friends or family. Use these people wisely. A simple "I need to consult my husband" can alleviate a tense moment and give you a little breathing space mid-haggle. Such a tactic can even help you win the day when the seller realises that you're serious enough to be entering into a financial conversation with your partner.

Rule four: keep it light

The rules of haggling are not dissimilar to the rules of dating. Keep the tone light. The more the shopkeeper can sense your desperation, the less you'll be able to achieve. So if you want a half-price silver ring on your finger by the end of the haggle, then make yourself seem a little unobtainable. Let them chase you. Although you might want to draw the line at agreeing to go for dinner.

Rule five: know when to stay silent

All great negotiators know that this rule is key to winning a haggle. Step away from your desire to fill the air with babbling sounds and allow silence to push the vendor into a commitment. If you talk too much, you're letting the shopkeeper off the hook. Add silence into the mix and you'll encourage your opponent to voice their thoughts, which will create more opportunities for negotiation.

Rule five: don’t fall apart

When we really, really want something in life, our emotional temperatures can run a little high. But the moment you start to lose your cool, your haggling days are over. A vendor will be looking for such signs of weakness and instantly start to talk tough. So fake the nonchalance for as long as you're in the shop, even if your insides are churning harder than a washing machine on spin cycle.

Rule six: find the right opening price

If you really want to haggle 'without feeling like a scumbag' then the starting price point is absolutely crucial. If possible, get your bid in first using your research as a guide (see rule one). Once a sensible number is on the table, you'll find it much easier to stand your ground without feeling like a big meanie. If the seller opens the negotiation with a number that's three times what you want to pay, it's time to walk away. Turn the tables and let the shopkeeper decide whether they want to run after you and grab your business.

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Rule seven: allow yourself to walk away

Never become involved with a negotiation to the point of no return. All holiday purchases should be optional. Think about it this way: If you can't live without it, it's possible you shouldn't be haggling for it.

Rule eight: be respectful

It can be tempting to take a scornful or sarcastic tone during a haggle. (Nerves can prompt us to become less diplomatic than usual, particularly if there's a language barrier.) But be warned, if you laugh at a vendor's opening price or openly mock the quality of their products in order to reduce the price, you risk losing everything. Keep your tone respectful and calm.

Rule nine: set a limit

Never enter a haggle without setting a cash limit first. Self-restraint can be difficult when you're in the middle of a negotiation, so set yourself a top limit price that you will not go beyond. Ideally you should only carry as much cash as you're willing to spend. But if you're prone to acting on impulse, then ask a friend to come with you. Tell them to drag you away if you start heading towards the cash machine.

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