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Tips on How to Barter

September 25, 1988|LUCY IZON | Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes.

A confusing custom people who travel for the first time might encounter is bartering over price.

In many areas of the world, retail businesses operate differently. You can barter, or negotiate, for sweaters in Florence, for stereos in duty-free shops in Fiji, for a boat ride up the Nile in Egypt or for a taxi ride in Bangkok.

Bartering can be fun. However, for the novice, bartering can be intimidating. In any case, here are some rules to follow:

Before you begin, watch other shoppers and take note of the item's original asking price, then the selling price. Check with other visitors at your hostel or hotel and ask them about prices they paid for their items.

If you have particular purchases in mind, consider what the article is really worth to you. Set a top price and stick to it.

Walk Away

If the seller doesn't meet your price, turn and walk away. When a shopkeeper sees that you have made your final offer, he may accept your price.

Be careful about bartering in markets, if you plan to pay with a credit card. The stall may display a credit card sign, but shopkeepers usually barter with cash sales in mind. Stall owners have to give a certain percentage to the credit card company. Your negotiated price may not have covered a profit nor the percentage to the credit card company, so stall owners may want cash.

If you are in a country where it's normal to barter for taxi transportation, get advice from residents on fair rates for the distances that you want to travel. Always settle on a fee at the beginning of a trip. If possible have a resident help you negotiate.

I once tried to arrange a rate with a taxi driver to travel between my hotel and a market in Cairo. The fare the driver quoted me was about $5. That may seem reasonable, but it was more than three times the rate offered a student who negotiated in my behalf.

Always be wary of drivers who offer to show you shops or factories that offer special rates. The rates shopkeepers charge are often inflated to cover a commission paid to taxi drivers and tour operators who deliver customers. Take time to compare prices and quality at several shops.

Successful Purchases

Study prices charged for similar items in large stores that don't barter. I admired a bedspread in a shop in Bangkok that had a great deal of hand-stitching, and I noted the price.

Before the end of my trip I was able to buy a bedspread of similar quality for one-third of the Bangkok price at a market in Chiang Mai.

A successful purchase makes the bartering system enjoyable.

It's very important to closely check the quality of an item before bidding. Another time I bartered for a vase in Egypt and felt quite successful when we went from a starting price of about $50 down to $10. Unfortunately, when I added water to the vase, it leaked like a sieve.

If you don't know where to begin bidding, offer about 50% of the seller's asking price, then work your way toward an amount that is acceptable to both of you.

Don't enter into the bidding if you don't intend to buy.

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