Cruise Tips: 12 Ways to Negotiate in a Market While in Port

We Americans buy things differently. We walk into a store, pickup an item, look at the price, carry it to the register and pay. If it seems too expensive, we stop after looking at the price, put it down and walk out. We wait until the item goes on sale.

In large parts of the world, negotiation is involved when making a purchase. A friend explained buying a rug in Turkey is a multiple day exercise. You might not be planning on going to a straw market in the Caribbean and negotiating over a hat purchase, because you already have enough hats. You might find yourself at an antiques fair in the US or the UK, realizing you need these skills.

As an example, let’s assume you are negotiating at an antiques market. There are rows of dealers sitting behind tables loaded with…stuff.

  1. Assume you are paying with cash. This makes sense if you are standing in the rain at Bermondsey Market in London talking with a person across a plywood table at 6:30 AM in the morning. Bring cash. Have it converted into small bills. Do not pull out your money or otherwise put it on display. The dealer does not need to know how the depth of your pockets.
  2. Understand the business. The assets (and profit) of the dealer’s business is represented by their inventory. Turning items into cash frees up cash to buy more inventory. If items are fragile, every time they are handled, unpacked or packed is an opportunity for breakage.
  3. Be respectful. The person on the other side of the table might appear weather beaten. Their clothing might be more wrinkled than yours. Treat everyone as an equal. Be gracious.
  4. Say hello and goodbye. A friend taught me this lesson concerning shopping in stores in Paris, but the logic works everywhere. When walking into a shop, greet the owner by saying hello. When you are leaving the shop, say goodbye. This is another sign of respect, treating people as equals.
  5. Assume they are knowledgeable. You pick up a dish. You recognize the maker’s mark. Do not assume they do not know their stock. Thanks to Antiques Roadshow, (around 40+ years) E-bay and the Internet, everyone knows (or should know) the fair market value of what they have on their table.   You might politely ask the price, but don’t try pretending it’s a piece of junk with no value.
  6. Be complimentary. This comes under the category of respect. “This is quite nice.” They are literally panning for gold to find stock to sell. Your comments confirm it was worth the effort.
  7. Start negotiations. You might ask: “What is your best price?” They will give a number that starts the negotiation. It might be the ticket price, but often they will go 10-15% below the ticket price. If you watch the BBC series Antiques Road Trip, the contestants regularly negotiate discounts of 30-60%. That is television!  Unless the dealer has marked up their inventory for that scenario, this never happens in real life. In Asia, the discounts on clothing and leather goods in markets can be steeper, but you are not talking about antiques.
  8. Continue negotiations. They put out a price. You need to decide what the item is worth to you. You offer a lower price. Perhaps it’s 20-30% off the ticket price. They might meet you in the middle. If there is visible damage, you might point that out as a negotiating strategy. They might stick to their price because the stock is fresh and there is lots of activity in the market.
  9. Earlier we mentioned the dealer’s cash is tied up in their stock. They want to sell as many items as possible. If you are interested in a few pieces on their table, ask the price of each, then ask what the grouping would cost you. They will likely discount the total further because you are buying in volume.
  10. Ask for a receipt detailing what you have purchased. Is the item genuine? You hope so. You want a piece of paper with the dealer’s name and contact information. You want a written description of the item, ideally including it’s age. You want the price you paid too. This establishes provenance if you were to sell at auction later. Near term, it helps id the Customs people have questions.
  11. You are responsible for the item now. The dealer might wrap the item in newspaper, maybe bubble wrap. This might go into a single use plastic bag they got from the grocery. Put another way, safe transport of the item is your responsibility. When shopping at antiques markets in London, I was curious about people pulling wheeled luggage. Did they just get off a plane? Later I noticed the luggage was empty, but filled with bubble wrap. That’s how dealers buying at an outdoor market get stock back to their stores. If you intend to buy, think ahead to how you will get that painting back to the hotel, onto the plane and back home.
  12. Be serious. Negotiation isn’t meant to be a form of sport. You do not negotiate a price down to your acceptable level, then walk away without buying the item. The dealer has engaged with you and invested their time. Do not waste it.

Negotiating purchases can be fun. It gives you a story to take home. If you are in a hurry, do not take the negotiation route. Walk into a store and buy over the counter at the posted price. It’s a lot faster.

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Cover photo: Wood Carver Jose, Quito, ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer

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