The fine art of haggling in India


In India, absolutely everything is negotiable – from wedding arrangements to richshaw rides to each individual fruit in the market. Here, the back and forth between buyer and vendor is an art form that requires skill, practice and confidence. For many, India, as a third world country is in much need of development and innovation…but to those who can see beyond, India brings one skill to the table that we could all learn from. That is the skill of haggling.

Once in India, I was especially eager to get to Jaipur, where I heard they had the market of all markets. With exquisite bed linens, embroidered tablecloths, traditional clothing, fine jewelry and trinkets of all sorts, Jaipur was clearly a shopper’s paradise. I arrived with cash in hand ready to do some serious damage.

Before heading to the market, I made a decision that in retrospect must have saved me a lot of money. I decided to start my day with a tour of the major sites. During this tour I met two women of Indian descent, who insisted that we tour the markets together after our sightseeing tour.

We were a force to be reckoned with. As the women were fluent in Hindi they were able to speak to stall owners in their native tongue – a clear advantage from a bargain seeker’s perspective. As such, they made sure to tell me in no uncertain terms that I was “not to so much as open my mouth” during any negotiations. 

To them I was just an “American tourist”. I’m not sure what gave it away. Could it have been my baseball cap, bermuda shorts or Ray Ban sunglasses? It didn’t matter. I reluctantly agreed to do my part and as trying as it was, I kept my mouth shut.

After much back and forth on the price of an ornately designed decorative cushion cover, my Hindi-speaking friends were eventually at the closing point of negotiations, with a final price within sight. They looked at me, each with a half grin to confirm that I was in agreement with the price they were able to secure. Much to their dismay, I acted disappointed.  I didn’t say a word.  I got up to stammer out…started walking…and just then…the stall owner yelled out at us to slash the price in half again…without so much as a word from me. 

We paid his price and walked out with a look of satisfaction on our faces. My new friends looked at me admiringly and praised me for my expert negotiating skills.

So, Lesson 1:
Body language – don’t assume it’s all in your words. Sometimes, your actions, facial expressions and willingness to walk out are just as important as your verbal cues. Calmness can cost you.

Lesson 2:
Aim for a 70 per cent discount and don’t accept less than 30 per cent. The name of the game is Counter Offer.

Lesson 3:
If your shopkeeper is stuck on a price and won’t budge further, try for a quantity discount. Ask him/her to throw in a second item for free.

Lesson 4:
Act like the expert. You know the prices of competitors and this item is higher than the going market price.

Lesson 5:
Remember that the first and last sale of the day are considered lucky. So you’re at a slight advantage at both ends.

Lesson 6:
Inspect your item closely and if there’s a defect point it out. 

Lesson 7:
Be discreet. No shopowner wants other potential purchasers to know that he’s giving it to you for beans. Keep your haggling private between you and the shop owner.

Last but not least, have a good time. The art of haggling involves humor, patience and a love for shopping. Don’t let language be an impediment and remember the phrase Nahi Chahiye or in English, I don’t want that!

Donna Salle is a freelance travel writer and can be contacted through her website at

Source = Donna Salle, Travels with Heart
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