A done deal: How to master the art of bargaining in Asia

Bargaining in Asia is a skill you can master. Pic: Garrett Ziegler/flickr

BARGAINING is a norm in Asian countries; you’ll find locals haggling for the best prices, and vendors caving in (sometimes, with little resistance) to your pestering. 

With the exception of retailers in (most) departmental stores and malls, you can always hustle for the best prices at markets and streetside stalls. Here’s how to avoid paying “tourist” prices, and score good deals in these major shopping cities.


A local market in Beijing. Pic: Mitch Altman/flickr

To get the best deals in Beijing, you’d need to bring your A-game when you bargain with local sellers. For starters, get some bargaining leverage.

To do this, you can point out as many flaws as possible about the item you want to buy. Also pay with small change every time – don’t flash your large notes as this signals to the seller that you can well afford the item.

There’s also a quirky trick used by those who travel with their spouses. Called the “nasty husband” method, you basically play good cop/bad cop with the seller.

Here’s how it goes: after the wife has selected something she likes, the “nasty husband” would loudly express his annoyance about his wife spending his hard-earned money. The missus will then need to “try hard” to convince her husband to part with his cash.

If the seller buys into the act, he or she may just lower the prices to quickly seal the deal. We can’t guarantee that this would work for you, but we wish you luck.

SEE ALSO: A beginner’s guide to buying souvenirs in China


Don't be fooled by tagged prices in Bangkok. Pic: drburtoni/flickr

Along Bangkok’s markets and shopping streets, don’t be fooled by marked prices; they can often go much lower. On untagged items, most shop owners hike up their prices if they sense you’re tourists.

One way to suss out a deal is to check out the prices at several different stores selling the same item. In fact, you can also try to find out how much other customers (preferably locals) are paying for the same item. Keep your eyes and ears open – eavesdrop on bargaining conversations or ask people directly if possible.

If you’re shopping at Bangkok’s Platinum Fashion Mall, know that there’s usually a dual pricing system  – one for wholesale or bulk purchases, and another for retail prices on single items. So bear in mind that it’s best to shop in bulk here. Pick out a few pieces and negotiate a wholesale price with the seller.

Kuala Lumpur

The shopping arcade in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur. Pic: Khalzuri Yazid/flickr

One of the most popular places in Kuala Lumpur to get local goods, souvenirs and snacks is Chinatown or Petaling Street. To get the best deals here, start with half of the asking price and barter from there to obtain the lowest price from the stall owners.

Remember to always let the seller quote the price first, even if you already know the price range. From here, the seller will usually keep asking you “how much do you want to pay?”

Hereon, don’t reply. Wait for him or her to give you the first asking price. Most of the time, you can expect a way higher price than intended, ranging from 100 percent to 500 percent above original prices.

Don’t forget to look really shocked and disappointed when the seller names the price – a little emotion goes a long way to make the bargaining session easier.

It’s somewhat of a friendly sport to bargain in Kuala Lumpur – most sellers expect some bargaining and are happy to engage with you in a (sometimes exciting) negotiation or the best price. So it’s best form a rapport with the seller and bargain with a smile.

New Delhi

A shop selling spices in Delhi. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

No matter where you shop in New Delhi – whether it’s the local market or street peddlers, everything is negotiable (even the fruits and water). This said, you’ll need to be prepared for different tactics used by different sellers.

Some will take advantage of your excitement about a certain item and hike up prices on the spot while others may try to buy your sympathy by telling you a sob story. It’s easy to get swayed, but bring on your poker face and stay firm.

A good tactic is to have the sellers present you with their different types of items before you start bargaining – this way they won’t know how much you want something.

In the event that the seller does not budge from his asking price, trying slipping in “theek hai” (pronounced teek-aye) into your negotiations. The phrase loosely translates to “pretty please” and many travelers claim that if you pair the phrase with longing eyes, it works like magic.

SEE ALSO: A primer on how to shop in India