Friday, August 19, 2011

Bargaining - How to get ripped off and learn from it!

While travelling, you will likely come across some items that catch your eye. Once a vendor sees you have some money in your wallet or a credit card, you are in their playing field. Now, before making any purchases, there are a couple rules you should follow:

Question yourself
What would a similar item cost back home if you bought it at a normal store?  If you don't know, then don't buy it.  You are likely going to get caught in a rationalization that "well I would never be able to get it back home." Fact: we live in a globalized world, you can get anything anywhere.  If you can't, then it probably isn't legal.

Is this the only place in town that sells these sorts of things? It almost 100% isn't.  If you act disinterested and start walking out to look elsewhere, you now have the power.  I have seen merchants, who with complete conviction of their selling price 5 minutes prior, cut their price three quarters as you walk out the door.  As said earlier, this is their wonderland, you are no different than every other silly tourist that walks through their shop.

Did I plan on buying this when I set out today? If not, then you will most likely get caught walking away with something you don't need.  Gifts are always nice, and when a good one comes along it that seems perfect, walk away.  The vendors can smell 'the giving spirit' and will butter you up like a grilled cheese sandwich.  If it was a perfect gift, then it will be the first thing you go looking for at the beginning of your next day.  Sleep on it.

Bring a Local
“Don’t shop anything inside or outside the Taj, they might be very expensive, in the evening I will personally go with you so they can keep the price low”.  This is what a friend of mine warned before venturing out into the tourist world.  What did I do? Well I rationalized buying a marble picture frame because I had a perfect picture to put in it.  What was I told when I returned, that it was worth 1/10 the price I paid for it.  Locals know the reality best, and if they don't, well then they are at least good at bargaining in the local language.

Everybody is Getting Paid

Classic trap: When you hire a guide to show you the Amber Fort, the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple or any other point of interest, you will wonder an hour later why you are standing in a Textile store, a spice shop, a marble shop, a Restaurant or Hotel even though you didn't ask to be.  This is because the guides get a small percentage of whatever your gross purchase is.  What does this also mean, well it means that they have no interest in you getting a "great deal".  On the way to the store, they will tell you about the high quality and that the place is fixed price.  When you arrive, you will likely get a sit down chat about the creation process and given some tea or juice to get comfortable.  This is the best trap because they have you convinced that their is nothing else like the store, and that now is the only time to get such quality goods.  Ever wonder how many stores exist in a country with over a billion people? Tons!  

So, when you walk out and are reassured by your driver and guide that you made an awesome purchase with complete sincerity, you probably got ripped off.  The conflict of interest is designed into the system.  


I will never know for sure how much of a 'tourist premium' I paid for various trinkets, gifts and personal items, but I can assure you that every time I went shopping, the same pattern existed.  As a Canadian, I haven't been trained to low ball prices and threaten to walk out of stores or leave something I wanted to buy behind.  I now know, through experience (and a couple hundred dollars of being over-charged at least), that when I shop in a bargaining country, I will:

1. Question my Purchases before even thinking about getting out the wallet or credit card (maybe even leave the cash/credit at the hotel)
2. Bring a Local, or at the very least a Ukrainian (they are insane bargainers from what I witnessed)
3. Know that the same convincing routine is rinsed and repeated over and over, and that there is a conflict of interest between you and your guide/driver.

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