This week, I spent a couple days working alongside April trying to strike some deals for merchandise for the Amor Store. At first, she needed me to help her translating, and making sure no one tried to get "advantage of her." However, as her confidence rose, by the third day of negotiating or haggling she didn't even need me to translate.
So, I thought I would re-share some of the tips we used when dealing with merchants.
It is a common misconception that haggling is something reserved to take advantage of tourists. The reality is that in most regions in Mexico, most people bargain for their daily purchases with each other. Bargaining is especially true with street vendors and small markets.
These are some tips on how to negotiate for some deals when buying souvenirs or Mexican crafts during your mission trip.
Keep in mind how much something is worth
A factory made product will be much cheaper than artisanal, not only for the time it took to create, but the care and originality of the product. Unique pieces are worth much more. That means that if you want to take home a real artisan product, make sure that is made in Mexico.
When buying souvenirs ask many questions to find out their authenticity. Ask if they know the artist or crafter personally. How long did it take to create? And, of course, ask the price? If an item is a lot cheaper than you saw it elsewhere, considering its elaboration, it will most likely be fake. Or not quite of the quality you are willing to pay.
In Michoacán, for example, artisan guitars are worth around $35. Chinese imitations are sold for around $15 or less. We found some beautiful ceramic crosses, but we could never afford the Talavera from Guanajuato and Puebla.
In the case of buying a fake, I suppose you could negotiate down as much as you wish, because no matter what you will be paying more than it’s worth.
Art is subjective, if you love it, think how much you are willing to pay and respectfully put forward your offer. Take into account what you would be willing to pay for a similar item if you saw it in a store back home, and come up with an offer that respects the time that the artisan put into making the item.
The great thing about street markets and haggling is that the item will be sold by how much they are uniquely worth to the different buyers.
In most artisan markets, you can expect at least a 30 percent discount. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Win – Win
Offer to buy more than one item for example. We had the fact that we were buying in bulk on our side. However, even two items and grouping similar items can help you get the best deal. This way the merchant will be selling more, and you’ll be getting a deal on more than one item. You can expect to negotiate a better deal with multiple purchases.
“It is learning how to negotiate to keep both sides happy – whether it’s for a multi-million dollar contract or just which show to watch on TV, that determines the quality and enjoyment of our lives.” Leigh Steinberg
Carry cash and in different denominations
Credit card fees aside, most merchants prefer to make their transactions in cash. We learned that having some dollars exchanged for pesos saved us money because the exchange rate is not always the best. Ask for the price in pesos after you are given a price in dollars and vice-versa to make sure what option is best. Also by having the exact change you need to buy your item, you’ll reduce the last opportunity to pay more for that item when you are told they don’t have change. (Which could very well be true)
Keep perspective on how much you are really saving
Street vendor, courtesy of Larry Cohn
Giving the woman who sells churros at the border a fraction of what she’s asking is not really saving you much (after all how much can a churro really cost you?).
You might put her in the position to accept your lower offer; covering the cost of the ingredients is better than throwing it away. But your savings will prevent her from making a profit from the labor she puts into making the churros and transporting them to you.
On the other hand, don’t pay more or buy something out of charity. You are not helping when you strip away their dignity. You’ll turn people who want to work and are selling their products into beggars if it’s a way to sell you something.
Be prepared to walk away
If people outright refuse your price, it is because they can’t afford to give it to you for less. So as you negotiate be prepared to walk away. We did a couple of times with some ponchos. We understood their position, but if we could not sell them for more on camp, we could not support our Pastors, so we had to find something else.
If you are going to spend any time in the developing world, you will probably visit a market where the art of haggling will be seen everywhere. Haggling is a completely acceptable proposition, but make sure you keep the reason you are negotiating pure and reflective of your vision of justice.
Now, go and strike a deal during your next mission trip.
This post was originally published on January 15, 2015