The stages of bargaining at an Asian market

The stages of bargaining at an Asian market

Stages of buying an item in a western store:

See an object you like  

Look at the price


Easy. In cultures where haggling, negotiating and bartering are the norm, this same process can take a few more steps. Below are some of the stages of bargaining at a market that you may find yourself in whilst travelling through Asia. 

Market - corals

Spotting an item that you like (but pretending you’re not that fussed)

A bit like those crucial first dates with someone you really like– it’s all about not being too keen. If you let on to the market seller that you’re already imagining the new centre piece of your living room consider yourself done for – expect to pay an arm and a leg. Skim your eyes over to the next object along and have a good look at that one as a ploy.

Market - fabric

How much?

With a friendly hello and a smile, casually ask how much your desired object is worth.


Hand gestures or facial expressions showing shock/horror/confusion/disdain can all apply here. Be friendly but pretend that whatever initial price you have been given is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard. Knowing numbers in the local language can be abig help here, otherwise get a pen and paper or calculator to show prices on.

Market - felt


The next step is to smile, and then suggest something ridiculously low. Be prepared for stories about feeding children, paying electricity, cost of living etc as you slowly inch your way towards reasonable middle ground. Stay positive and go along with the flow, and remember to be friendly. You may even want to try the classic ‘fake walk away’ as part of your ‘I’m not that interested’ farce (Note: this can be unsuccessful). All of this is part of everyday life in many countries and not worth getting worked up over. Think of a number that works for you and try not to go above it, but don’t get disheartened if you’re not able to get the exact price you want.

Market - trinkets

Agreeing and handing over the money

Well done – you’ve arrived at a price you are both satisfied with! Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. Once you’ve agreed on a price don’t try and renegotiate or go back on your word. You may need to wait for change, but this this is all just part of the process.


If you really cannot get the seller to meet you in the middle then don’t be afraid to go for a walk and see what else is on offer. Although many items are unique, it isn’t uncommon to see the same souvenirs time and time again as you travel throughout a country. Keep an idea of the exchange rate in your head, as many times you might get stuck on bargaining over the equivalent of $0.50 – is it really worth the hassle? Those 50c might make much more of a difference to your salesperson than to you, so don’t get too hung up on the minor details.

You’re done! Hopefully you are happy with your final purchase and you’re leaving a contented salesperson behind. Have fun with it and enjoy the experience. Don’t forget to buy presents for everyone back home.

Date posted: 3rd March, 2015

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