So you’ve found something you like at a market! Just flip it over and find the price tag and pay, easy right? No, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Welcome to the house of fun

Ah bartering… Something you will most probably learn to hate. Bartering is an essential skill to have whilst travelling in Asia as nearly every person you buy anything off will be willing to make some sort of deal to ensure a purchase. I have to be honest, I hate bartering. The routine is always the same and you can’t help but feel that you are always being ripped off!

I can see clearly now

What is important to realise is that these people are masters. They have probably been hustling tourists like you since they were a child and they have an incredible knack for making you feel like you have gotten away with a great deal whilst you really paid double what it is worth. Having travelled around Asia for some time now I have become, as you will too, completely jaded. I can see through most of their games and tricks and I will do my best to impart this knowledge upon you so that you do not have to learn the hard way like the rest of us have.

Hold your head up

Don’t get taken advantage of! Undoubtedly, the stellar person that you are, you do not deserve such treatment! So how does one get the best out of the bartering system? Let’s take a look at all the things that I have learned since I got here so that you don’t have to learn it the hard way like me and my wallet did!

How interesting….

No it isn’t you’ve seen a hundred things just like it today alone haven’t you? Don’t shake your head at me, yes you have. So don’t look allured by their wares!

If you appear overly interested in an item they will be far less likely to budge with their price, show them that you could just as happily go home with or without it. Which leads me to my second, if not the most important lesson of bartering…

Anchor Point

As our little Blue Sparrow has informed me (at great length I might add) about her fondness for psychology, she has been able to impart some of her coursework onto me and now onto you guys!

An exceptionally important element of a barter is what is called the anchor point. Remember this, it will be in the exam! The way that you will be bartered with is as such:

  • One party will make a starting price (this is the anchor point!)
  • The other party will make a counter offer.
  • The final price will boil down to somewhere in the middle though more likely, closer to the anchor point.

Sounds simple, but the problem is that if they get to choose the starting price, they have already predetermined what price range the barter will revolve around and will do their best to not differ far from it.

So what is the solution? Well you choose the anchor point of course! Use all the skills you have picked up with our little guide so far and give a price! Start low, insultingly low if you have to, you know full well that the first price you offer will be bartered up so, choose what price you want to pay and offer around half of that, a third even if you are feeling particularly ruthless today. If you time everything right you will arrive at your original price, making two happy parties!

Cold as ice

As a foreigner, walking up to a stall to purchase something, you will no doubt be greeted by a heavily smiling shopkeeper who will hover around your shoulder trying to figure out what interests you before they begin to pester you with the for how much you want?’s and the I give you good a deal’s.

What you need to remember is that they do not want to be your friend. Any friendliness is a rouse to appeal to your kind heart. It’s a hard reality to accept and it feels fundamentally wrong to disregard somebodies friendly advances but you will not get far in Asia with a bleeding heart.

These people are business people, act too kind to them and they will use that to manipulate you, you have to remain stoic and treat the exchange as a business transaction. Look unimpressed, act bored, if you are with a partner give them a sly we could get it at a better price from that other place. They do not care if you are happy at the end of the deal and neither should you.

With all this being said, it is important to weed out the real ones from the fakes and I would never in any way insinuate that every single person who will sell you something in Vietnam is trying to scam you… Just most of them. There are many very very genuine people in Vietnam. I would recommend being a bit nicer to people who sell handmade or not mass produced ‘tourist items’, these people are most probably not interested in scamming tourists and is a hallmark of a more legitimate business. Stay weary though.

Walk away

The best way to show that you are willing to walk away from the deal at any time is to, well, walk away. It is a delicate balance between showing enough interest in the item that they know you want it but not so much that they feel they can manipulate you. Balance it right and when you walk off they will call out “ok ok! I give you for *a nice cheap price*”.

That is the plan anyway, sometimes they will not call out and now you can either keep walking off empty handed or sheepishly return, giving them the knowledge that you are actually desperate, destroying your chances of getting a good price. This is a card to be played very carefully!

While actually walking away is an effective way of securing a fast and good deal but it is much more important that they simply get the impression that you could if you wanted to and the only thing that is keeping you at the table is a potential good price.