Thursday, February 19, 2009

To buy, or not to buy?

Invariably a traveler will wish to purchase something besides sunscreen, mosquito repellent, toothpaste or another bar of soap – a local trinket, a bit of hand-woven cloth, or perhaps a pair of baggy fisherman's pants one would never wear on the streets back home. Invariably this will involve haggling, which can be an entertaining activity in itself. My tactic has been to counter an original price with a ridiculously low price, which usually gets a laugh, at which point the soon-to-be-agreed-upon price rises incrementally to a number both parties are happy with. And remember: in Asia, one can haggle for just about anything.

But invariably a traveler will also simply wish to admire, to entertain the notion of buying something: a scarf, a wooden box, a strand of handcrafted silver. This is where trouble can brew, feelings can be hurt and consumer guilt can set in.

Below is a breakdown of how much one is committing to a purchase based on one's actions in a market stall or an established shop. These numbers are not set in stone, but if followed roughly may make for a more pleasant purchasing – or non-purchasing – experience.

Note: These rules do not apply to department stores in big cities or the ubiquitous 7-11s.

1. If one does not wish to enter into any sort of capitalist intercourse while walking through town, one would do best to simple keep one's eyes on the road – even looking at an object from the sidewalk can pre-commit one at least 5 percent to a purchase, depending on the type of look given to said object.

2. Pointing to an object immediately brings one at least 15 percent into a potential purchase; actually picking it up can add 20 to 30 percent more.

3. Asking the price of an item takes one well into the 50 percent committal range, particularly if one asks if there is a similar item but in a different style – "Same same, but different?"

4. Trying the item on, discussing its merits with a companion or in any way showing sustained interest in the item continues to raise your percentage of commitment. If one finds oneself at this stage in the exchange, one is probably at least 75 percent of the way to paying for the item.

5. Once one has begun to haggle it becomes nearly impossible to extricate oneself from the purchase. By this point the store owner or stall vendor has no doubt already offered at least two prices that are lower than the original price and is just as committed to getting you to purchase then item as you are to not buying it.

6. Only through tactful and appeasing excuses can one actually hope to now walk away from the exchange without buying the item. However, this is also the point at which the seller is most willing to strike a deal and often by beginning to walk away the price will come down even more and the item may very well be had for less than half of its asking price. Commitment: 90 percent.

7. If one manages to get a good price, well done. Be happy with your well-haggled purchase and feel more confident in approaching your next shop. But if one was never intent on buying anything in the first place, and has left a frustrated vendor calling after with a lower price still, then don't feel guilty. But understand what one has just gone through, know that your kip or baht is aggressively sought after, and be a little wiser with the local wares.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, I forgot both how much fun and how frustrating haggling in Asia could be.

    A friend of mine, Erik, was cornered into looking at this really intricate and fancy dress from a street vendor in Phuket. Erik was definitely never going to wear the dress, but once the vendor thought he might buy it, he didn't stop. I talked Erik out of buying it, and the vendor gave me a hard push to the chest to let me know he didn't appreciate me butting in. We hit the bricks.