How to bargain in India -- the insider's guide

How to bargain in India -- the insider's guide

Beg, fight or bluff? Shopkeepers in Mumbai tell us how to take the hassle out of the haggle
How to bargain in India

"Money doesn't talk, it swears." Our local markets may not have been the inspiration for that line in Bob Dylan's classic, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," and the folk legend may not have known how to bargain in India, but nothing illustrates his words better than a bout of haggling in Mumbai.

Perhaps bargaining in India is in the blood. Maybe it's the satisfaction of making a killing or simply the idea of leaving with a heavy pocket that make us such unremitting hagglers. It is not uncommon, after all, for Indians to bargain on prices listed on the menu in a restaurant.

However, unless you have a degree in negotiation and a lot of practice, knowing how to bargain in India is a challenge. Shopping takes twice as long as it should when both seller and buyer are desperately trying to stay on the profitable end of this daily zero-sum game.

Yet the ferocity with which shopkeepers drive their prices belies the fact that most of them don't like bargaining.

They say it can't be helped, because no matter how reasonably they price things, someone -- especially us ladies -- ends up trying to bring it down. Here is what shopkeepers (who asked not to be named) told us about how to bargain in India, what works, what doesn't and what just leaves everyone in a sour mood.

Strategy one: Beg

How to bargain in India

Shame on you! Appealing to the humanity of your shopkeeper to manipulate prices. Scruples aside, this is a very effective bargaining in India strategy, especially if you are of the fairer sex. Big question is how much humanity does your salesperson possess?

Shopkeeper: "We feel a little awkward when ladies keep saying 'please, please' and are more likely to settle on a price quickly."

Best used: When you think your price and your seller are reasonable. Or soft.

Strategy two: Fight

How to bargain in India

This is a bargaining war of attrition and generally a bad way to go about things. Aggression can pay off at the expense of your vocal cords, but you could also lose out on a bargain entirely. If you try to redeem yourself by moving to strategy one and begging, it's usually too late because you've already ticked off the seller.

Shopkeeper: "I do not like to fight. We make so many sales a day and if we had to fight with everyone that would be impossible. If people start fighting, I tell them to go somewhere else."

Best used: Ideally never, but perhaps when your shopkeeper is being uncommonly greedy and rude.

Strategy three: Bluff

How to bargain in India

You have to be very smooth to pull this one off. Walk into a store, find what you want, name a price you think is reasonable and if your seller shakes his head, calmly refuse and walk out. More often than not they will call you back and give that painting to you at the price you mentioned.

Shopkeeper: "If the price mentioned is reasonable I would rather call them back and sell it than make no sale at all."

Best used: When there are a hundred other stores you can get the same thing from. The storeowner knows this and will give in to your terms.

Strategy four: Be unreasonable

How to bargain in India

It is common for shopkeepers to quadruple the prices of products out of sheer greed or general wishful thinking. The best way to deal with this sort of situation is to be equally unreasonable. If a cloth bag you must have should cost about Rs 250 and the salesperson wants a whopping Rs 1,000 tell them you won't pay more than Rs 100. That might bring them back to reality.

Shopkeeper: "My prices are never unreasonable." (Yeah, whatever!)

Best used: When you have a decent idea of what the product should actually cost and the shopkeeper thinks he is selling gold.

Strategy five: Lay your cards down and take bargaining off the table

How to bargain in India

Look disinterested, as though you are not dying to have those perfect sandals, and name your price straight out. Mention your distaste for bargaining and your fear of being cheated. It might strike a chord with your seller and you will be out of there in no time.

Shopkeeper: "I am always happy to fix on a win-win price without the struggle."

Best used: When it is hot, you are bothered and tired and in no mood to bargain. While some say bargaining is an inescapable norm, I think there's a good way out for non-confrontational and lazy shoppers like myself. Circumvent the hassle of the haggle by just taking it off the table. I've successfully used this strategy many times.

Got any other bargaining tips or tales? Tell us below.

Raised in several cities across India, Tarini's constant search for new homes forms the basis of her desire to explore incessantly.
Read more about Tarini Awatramani