How to Haggle Like a Black Belt

Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Pharaonick on September 16, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Haggling is common in Egypt, as in much of the rest of the world, and it’s a given that shoppers will haggle over prices, especially – though not exclusively – in the bazaars.

Some people love it and some people loathe it, but as a visitor to Cairo, you are gonna have to do it! The things tourists are most likely to need to haggle over are:

Egyptians are black belts at haggling, with a whole bunch of techniques and lines to help you part with your money. But follow these tips for happy haggling, and with a bit of practice you’ll be able to give (almost) as good as you get. Ready, Grasshopper?

Note: The tips below are presented as if you are haggling for souvenirs in a bazaar such as Khan al-Khalili, but for the most part are just as applicable in other situations.

Alabaster Sphinx

Alabaster Sphinx (not one you can buy!) by Ed Yourdon

1. First up, prowl around a little.
No point buying an alabaster sphinx from the first person who offers it you, because you know what? That guy’s got one too. And that one! And that one….

Watch other buyers, and see how much they pay. Notice how the cost varies based on factors like nationality, age, and apparent wealth. Work out what a fair price seems to be.

Remember, the only advantage you have over the seller is that you will decide whether to buy or not.

2. Once you’ve decided what you want, work out how much you are willing to pay for it.
Of course you don’t really know what it’s worth, but that’s irrelevant. The only real question is, What is it worth to you? This is where you are aiming.

3. So you’ve decided what you want and how much it’s worth to you, now it’s time for THE HAGGLE.
There’s a lot of crap spouted on how to haggle, such as “Take the opening price and divide by ten, then move up in increments of blah blah blah.” Nope, not so simple as that. Some vendors start with a ludicrously high opening price, some with a more reasonable one. You have to use your judgement (see tips 1 and 2). And then yep, it really is like in the movies: offer and counter-offer until, hopefully, you reach a price you are happy with.

No hassle pic

No Hassle pic by TheTruthAbout...

4. Super-important: haggling is not war!
It’s not even really a competition. It’s a way for both buyer and seller to agree on a price that is mutually acceptable.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t drive a hard bargain, you should. But it should be polite, friendly and respectful, as well as persistent. Done right, it can be a lot fun.

Oh, and who cares if your mate bought the exact same item as you but for half the price elsewhere? Remember tip number 2… you did buy it for near the price you’d decided on, right?

5. It is perfectly acceptable, if you don’t get the price you want, to walk away.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent an hour in the shop, unfolded and inspected every scarf, had a cup of tea, and learned all about the vendor’s family. (By the way, ever wondered why that tea is so hot? Yup, keeps you in there!) You’re under no obligation to buy. That said, if you do name a price, it is expected you will pay it – not to do so is bad etiquette.

And if you do find yourself quibbling for ages over 5 LE on an 80 LE scarf, take a step back. That money is worth far more to the seller than to you.

6. The fixed price tactic.
It’s somewhat crude, but one way to haggle is, well, not to haggle. Decide what you are willing to pay, erring on the side of generosity, and tell the shop-keeper up front you will not budge from this. Can be effective, especially if you don’t like haggling.

Khan al-Khalili bazaar, Cairo

Khan al-Khalili pic by hamilton.lima

7. The walk away tactic.
Easy: if you don’t get the price you want, just walk out. Sometimes the stall-holder will come after you with a substantially lower price. But be careful your bluff isn’t called, especially if the item you’re after isn’t sold everywhere. If you go back later, tail between your legs, the price might be even higher!

8. The three strikes and you’re out tactic.
Sometimes sellers take the piss, and start off with such an inflated price that it’s absurd. I used to tell them, “That’s your first crazy price; after three crazy prices, I will leave. Now give me a sensible price.” Cue second crazy price! But sometimes the third would be sensible, or as I walked away after the third dumb one, a sensible price would materialise. This works best if you have a good idea what stuff is worth, and it helps to speak some Arabic.

9. The “Look at me I’m a foreigner speaking Arabic” tactic.
Much as I hate to say it, this works best if you are a pretty young woman (or exceedingly charming). If you are stuck in a deadlock where the vendor wants 40 LE and you want to pay 35 LE, try to convince him to sell for 35 LE if you can say 35 in Arabic. And then get it right! And of course if you do speak Arabic, all starting prices are likely to be lower anyway.

10. Finally, and most importantly, relax and try to enjoy.
Haggling is part of the game here. You didn’t come to Cairo to shop at Walmart, did you?

Have fun! And if you have any other haggling tips, leave them in the comments below.

Note: Black belt (well, ninja) feature photo by striatic.

Tags: advice, bargain, bazaar, haggle, how to haggle, market, souk