Saturday, November 22, 2008

Will you sell me one of those if I shave my head?

you wouldn’t go to Target and argue over the price of a feather duster with the cashier would you?

But, this is how a whole lot of commerce takes place across the globe. There are no set prices and bargaining is a way of life. I have overheard many tourists complaining in the far flung places I have visited, “Why can’t they just list the price, I hate all this haggling.” These people don’t know what they are missing.

I love it. I enjoy the whole process the first extremely insane low ball offer countering the merchant’s opening extortionary price. The back and forth – examining the item for a smudge or loose thread and showing the flaws to the seller who dismissively waves his hand saying that it, “is nothing” or better yet, the imperfections show that the piece was truly hand made by his own convalescing wife and thus, elicits higher value! The walking out of the store and the merchant calling after you to “come back we can talk some more…” Chances are whatever you are bargaining for you will see the exact same item somewhere else – so if you do walk out and are not called back you know you’ve gone below what will be accepted. You can hope to find the item later – or there is no shame in swallowing your pride, smiling and coming back into the shop with a higher offer, just be sure they are really letting you walk.

This past trip to Egypt I developed a new line that was good for knocking a third off whatever price was currently being batted about. Oh yeah, another important part of successful bargaining is to smile, keep the humor going, if you look like you’re having fun the prices will undoubtedly get better. Anyway, my new never fail line was to look the seller in the eyes, smiling, throw my hands into the air while appearing as comically shocked as I could muster and ask “Why do you hate me so very much?”

This invariably caught the merchant off guard and he would laugh, pleading that “No, no, no – I don’t hate you, I am giving you a good price” Then he would lower his “good” price even more. Another trick I picked up this time was no matter how low you got the price down to, right before you shook hands – okay, this is important too, once you’ve shaken hands the deal is done – both parties are bound by their word and negotiation must stop - so this other trick, right before you shake hands on the lowest price you’ve been able to bargain you pull yours back a bit and say “Plus, you give me a gift.”

This will result in the shopkeeper wailing something along the lines of, “You are ripping my heart out!” but more often than not they will throw in some other little trinket from their shop to seal the deal.

Now, let’s say you have negotiated this great price on a fertility icon for your mother in law, if you have change coming do not hand over your money until you have seen it. You would be amazed how nobody ever has change – so ask to see the change before finishing the transaction. A shopkeeper may feign insult, just tell them you know that he is honest but one of the merchants down the road had cheated you like this, so now you are just being overcautious – chances are good that he will agree with you that the other seller is a crook and it is good you have come to this shop. Nevertheless, it makes good sense to scope out the change first.

So, can this M.O. be used stateside? Certainly.

The second day back home from our trip to Egypt our water heater crapped out. The igniter which lit the natural gas to warm the water burned out. We called a local plumbing repair service and they came out. I had already diagnosed the problem through an error code on the electronic panel of the unit and the technician verified my finding. Unfortunately he did not have the part to fix it right then and would have to order it. For this work he quoted me a price of $450.00 and some change. After he left, I looked the part up online – getting three different prices – none of them over 95 bucks. I printed these out and waited the two days for our repairman to come back.

Our guy comes back and I ask him how much the new part costs. It is a good idea to have a little bit of inside info when going into a negotiation – like knowing what price a previous seller let me walk out of a shop in Cairo – the fact that I had three different prices on the new igniter put me ahead in this deal.

He tells me that his company paid 160 dollars for the part. I reply that they are being ripped off and show him the three quotes I have. He blusters a bit about overhead and shipping blah blah blah – but right out of the gate I had him. I tell him I want an itemized bill now – because to my reading, he is about to charge me $350.00 in labor for a twenty minute job. He offers to drop the price by ten percent – I counter with how about double the real cost of the part, $200.00.

He wasn’t ready for that – I doubt that anyone had ever lowballed him to this extent before. We went back and forth awhile, he calling his boss three times, and we finally settled on 275.00 for the job. Once that was sealed with a handshake I paid him the 275 and then I tipped him an extra twenty bucks – the “gift” thing works both ways. Plus I figured it would smooth over any ego issues that might impinge on the correct installation of the igniter.

Now would I have had the gumption to bargain over the price of a hot water heater repair bill without the experience of shopping in the markets of Bali, Bahrain, Istanbul or Luxor? Who knows, probably not. Even so I challenge you to go out and strike a bargain today.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the haggling tips. I will keep them in mind next time I'm in Egypt.


Kelly W. said...

I could see danny saying this to me! "I can't go outside? Why do you hate me so very much?" You must be secretly a grown man with a 5 year old's logic.