How to bargain: The ultimate guide to scoring deals in the markets of Asia

How to bargain: The ultimate guide to scoring deals in the markets of Asia

Veteran hawkers and experienced hagglers share secrets for squeezing the most value out of shopping and bargaining
It would appear this mother-daughter haggling duo didn't get the "catch discounts with honey" memo before hitting Beijing's Antique Market.

There are plenty of good bargains to be had in the markets of Asia. 

But the most important thing to keep in mind when psyching yourself up for a bout of haggling is that you win some, you lose some. 

As long as you're happy with what you paid, don’t stress too much when you find out that the guy in the next stall was offering the same tacky tourist trinket for a buck less.

But if it's the kill of the prices that thrills you, try these bargaining and shopping tips from experienced locals.   

Early bird gets the sale

From Hong Kong to India, Asian vendors believe that the first sale of the day will release the floodgates for business to flow forth. 

Cantonese call it "fat see" (prosperous market); Thais refer to it as "berd bin" (open invoice) and often tap the banknotes you just gave them on their wares to boost their fortune.  

Look disinterested. If vendors know how badly you want an item, they'll be less inclined to cut you a deal. Basically, it all relates to a superstition that holds that if you don't release the first item of your inventory fast, sales will be hindered for the rest of the day. 

"I always try to push the first sale of the day, so I'm more inclined to give a bigger discount," says Apple Tirada, a clothes vendor based near the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce Thailand in Bangkok.

So what happens when she doesn’t get that first shirt off the rack in a hurry?

"I've had entire days when we just sell one item." 

More on CNN: 10 rules to stress-free shopping in Asia

Shop around

No matter what you’re buying, common sense dictates that you research the market before you throw down a wad of cash.

After a bit of browsing and enquiring, you’ll get a good feel for how much vendors are marking things up. 

For instance, in Beijing’s Hongqiao Pearl Market the notoriously pushy vendors are known to initially toss out a price up to 300 percent higher than what they’re really willing to sell for.

It’s all to give you the illusion that you’re practically stealing that Mao coffee cup from them.

That said, the word on some streets is that in certain instances your reconnaissance missions will prove to be futile. 

"At the electronics markets in Korea, with the stalls of camera equipment and lenses and whatnot, there's not much use haggling with them," say Simon and Martina Stawski of blog/vlog site Eat Your Kimchi.

"You may think you'll get a deal if you speak with one guy, then go to another stand to ask for another price, but there's supposedly no point because they're all run by the same boss. They're just trying to give you the illusion of choice." 

Regardless of how efficiently a given market underworld might work, it doesn't hurt to do some retail espionage of your own. 

Bulk up 

Why settle for one Mao watch when you can have two? Buying in bulk will usually get you a better price. Strength in numbers is a great concept to apply to discount negotiations.

When shopping at Bangkok's Platinum Fashion Mall, make sure to ask the shopkeeper the wholesale price on a bulk buy, as there's usually dual pricing at play -– a retail price for just one purchase or a wholesale price if you buy two to three items from the same shop. 

Even in Singapore, where haggling isn't as common as in other Asian countries, market vendors will give you a better price if you’re buying more than one item.

"Don't accept the first price for your sari and gold bangles in Little India," advises Manda Foo, marketing director of a hotel booking site in Singapore. 

"And definitely ask for bulk discounts when buying fabrics and souvenirs around Arab Street and People's Park Center in Chinatown."  

More on CNN: Wheeling and dealing at Bangkok's pawn shops

'Skin tax' 

When traveling, being a noob doesn’t do your wallet any favors.

Many countries in Asia inflate prices for foreigners, taking advantage of their lack of knowledge of local economics.

The logical thing to do is to drag a kind-hearted local along to avoid paying inflated rates.

"I had two friends over from France, and I took them to the export surplus heaven Sarojini Nagar Market," says Udit Hooda, co-founder of a New Delhi-based boutique travel company. 

"They wandered off ahead of me, and when I caught up with them they were about to pay four times the 'local price' for some dresses they had fallen in love with. I jumped into the negotiations and got them the local quoted price. 'Skin tax' -- that's what we call the extra amount people try to charge foreigners in India." 

More on CNN: How to bargain in India

Know when to walk away 

Ah, the walk-away game. So widely bragged about by tourists who seem to think they came up with this ingenious form of trickery all on their own.  

At Hong Kong Ladies' Market, don't be afraid to walk away if the vendor isn't in the mood to negotiate. Basically, this is the idea: you walk away when the vendor doesn't agree to a low enough price. In theory, the obstinate vendor will be so crestfallen that he or she will chase you down the street and give you an exasperated "OK, OK, you can have it."    

But don’t think the vendors aren't on to you. The walk-away strategy should be employed only if you're not going to be kicking yourself later when the shopkeeper calls your bluff.  

"When I'm at the Ladies' Market in Hong Kong, especially when I know there are other vendors with the same stuff in the market, I just leave,” says R. Chan, manager of a Hong Kong advertising agency.  

“I can't be bothered to haggle a few dollars with an uncooperative vendor, and sometimes they call me back, sometimes not.” 

It’s also worth hitting the stands that don’t have any other customers.

“If the missus really wants the item, I wait until there's no one else in the store to hustle for the discount," says Chan.

More on CNN: Hong Kong's hardest street vendors go soft and tell us how to bargain

Leave the money and run

Instead of walking away you can always play a less risky hand by putting your acceptable fee in the vendor's hands and betting on the fact that once they feel hard cold cash, they'll cave.  

"The vendor wanted RMB180 (US$29) for a bag, which my visiting Australian friends thought was very reasonable," says Ashley Crawford, brand manager for an international retail brand in Shanghai. 

"I decided this was against my morals, so I decided to demonstrate to them how a white guy can bargain in Shanghai. I offered the lady 100 yuan, but she rejected me and turned away to talk to other customers.

"My friends were getting impatient, so I just took the bag, put the bill in her hand, and started walking away. She protested, but I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was pretty close to accepting, so we continued walking out of the store." 

Not recommended with thuggish-looking characters, or you might be running away rather than walking smugly. 

Time your shopping 

There’s a time and place to haggle -- flexible pricing is not prevalent across the whole of the Asian continent.

Haggling or negotiating prices is not really part of Japanese culture.

Not to worry, though, you can still find great bargains if you visit at the right time.

Department stores in Japan traditionally hold bi-annual clearance sales in January and July, "but the massive one is at the beginning of the year," says Fumiko K., a cabin manager with Etihad Airways. 

It's a simple case of oversupply and reduced demand. This rule even applies to food.

"Japanese people are crazy about seasonality," adds Fumiko. "If you buy watermelon toward the end of the season in August, it will be cheap, because no one will want to eat it then."  

More on CNN: How to make a mint at Japan's antique markets

Catch discounts with honey

At the risk of stating the obvious, be nice and don't annoy or insult the vendor.

"I get peeved when shoppers give me random excuses why I should give them a discount, such as 'I made the effort to walk here, I didn't take a bus',” complains Thai vendor Apple.

“Or when they tell me they know where to buy the item at the wholesale price. Then why don't they go get it cheaper elsewhere? Or when they ask for five baht (US$0.16) discounts. What's the point?" 

Do you have any haggling tips? Share your bargaining expertise in the comments box below.