Tourist Tip #41 / Bagging a Bargain

Yasmin Kaye
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Yasmin Kaye

Whether you're a hardened haggler with the gift of the gab or a more timid shopper, making the effort to bargain can pay off. From the markets of the Old City in Jerusalem to the fashion boutiques of Tel Aviv, you may find that you can save some money simply by asking.

A small note of caution: There is definitely a time and a place to haggle. Your bus driver isn't going to be particularly receptive, nor will the cashier at the local supermarket appreciate your efforts. Generally speaking, if no one else seems to be arguing around you over the price, it usually indicates that the price is fixed.

So where is it best to barter, and how should you go about it? While perhaps counter-intuitive for most English speakers, in Israel it is acceptable to try haggle over the price of just about anything, except cars. It almost never hurts to try. Sometimes even major retail chains will be willing to bend on the final sale price.  

Once you’ve been told the price of the object you’ve got your eye on, you can try one of two strategies: the numbers game or the story approach.

The numbers game dictates that you start by offering a substantially lower price (half of list price for pricier goods is often a safe place to start) and see how far the seller is willing to meet it. In some cases you’ll immediately be told that the price is final, but if the salesperson reacts by quoting you a different figure or a special deal then you’re well on the way to sealing a (cheaper) deal.

One of the most important things to remember is to begin with a light and friendly tone, but when the seller begins to bend towards your target price, hold firm. The seller will usually reveal the lowest price they find agreeable by sticking at a certain price and repeating it with increasing forcefulness.

Alternatively, you can take the narrative approach by explaining to the salesperson why despite liking their merchandise, you couldn't possible pay the price they offered - just make sure your story is believable.

Some people, expert in both techniques, like to combine both approaches for maximum effect.

Whatever your approach, if you're unable to reach an agreement, thank the salesperson and walk away. This may even pay off – shopkeepers have been known to chase after customers and beg them to reconsider.

Whatever you do, do not return to make the purchase if the salesperson refuses to lower the price when you walk away. Such a move is considered beyond the pale and will often lead the merchant to refuse to sell to you altogether as a matter of pride.

If all else fails, you can always take a few tips from Monty Python's famous portrayal of haggling in the Holy City. “Ten for that, you must be mad!" is certainly a strategy. Whether it’s a winning one remains to be seen.

Haggling can be especially effective in markets, smaller shops and some family run stores, where you may have the opportunity to negotiate directly with the owner.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik