Friday, March 9, 2012

How To Barter With Dignity

One of my least favorite parts of a short-term mission trip is the bartering for souvenirs to bring home for people. I vividly remember being on a short-term mission trip to Zimbabwe in 2001. We went shopping in a market one day and one of my teammates (Matt Harber if you are reading this, I’m talking about you) was getting the best deals so I went and watched him buy a small painting. The merchant asked for 500 and Matt said 10! I realized right then that I didn’t have the heart for bartering. I don’t have the heart to say 10! Maybe you are like me and feel almost ridiculous haggling over a few dollars with someone who clearly needs it more than you do. Yet there’s always a part of me that wonders if I could have gotten a better deal.

Over the years, I have seen and experienced a lot of different strategies. Let me tell you my least favorite first. I call it the fake walk away. It’s the strategy of giving a price and then walking away when it isn’t accepted. But you don’t really walk away, you linger just enough to make the seller come begging to you. It has never felt right to me whether I am doing it or watching it.

Before I give you my strategy for getting good deals and making shopping pleasant, let me share a key realization. The merchant won’t sell the item if he or she isn’t making money. So, if you purchase something you can feel good about the fact that the person is making money. Here are my keys to a good shopping experience.

  1. Look around first. Most merchants are probably selling the same stuff, but take a look. Take note of where you can purchase certain items.
  2. Eavesdrop. Listen in on conversations to see what prices the merchants are offering and agreeing to.
  3. Decide what its worth to you before you ask. When you see something you like, decide how much you are willing to spend on the item. When you ask about the cost, you will probably hear an outrageous number. Counter offer with your number.
  4. Refuse to negotiate. The merchant will likely come part way down to your price. Just say “no thanks. I’m willing to spend ________.” You might give the merchant a couple of more chances. Eventually you can say “I understand if you can’t sell it for that price, its ok. I’m only willing to spend _______ so I will have to look for something else.” Then you can walk away without intention of coming back. If the merchant accepts the offer, then you know he or she made money and you don’t have to wonder about a cheaper price because you paid what you wanted.
  5. If your offer isn’t accepted, move on. Remember, there are probably five other merchants with the exact same product. So, you can move on and try another merchant without hesitation. Try a new item or adjust your price based on a realistic amount.

There is another option, however. Most international churches have people who make and sell wares and souvenirs. Talk to your host to see if there are people from whom you can order items. That way you shop haggle free and you bless people from the congregation!  

Questions for the author? Contact Tory at or 520-404-0841.

1 comment:

  1. I share your discomfort about bartering over a price with people who have so little. I especially liked the suggestion at the end of buying gifts that have been made by people in the church with whom you have been ministering.