Even in the modern hustle and bustle of a thoroughly modern city, Istanbul’s heady and exciting atmosphere brings vivid visions of all that is exotic and mysterious, enticing the visitor with her hidden, but tantalizingly wondrous charms.
Learning To Bargain in the Grand Bazaar
Bargaining can be a stressful experience for some people, especially if you’ve never bargained before, or it is your first time bargaining. If you happen to be in Turkey, where the shopkeepers are famed for their bargaining skills, you might feel doubly tremulous. Fortunately, its an easy art to learn, and here are a few things you can do to give yourself an edge in the bargaining process.
Before the Haggling
You’re wandering in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The labyrinthine market is filled with the buzz of haggling merchants and gossiping shoppers. Little crowded stores line the alley, filled with the most exotic and the most mundane of merchandise. Shafts of sunlight from the windows above play across the crowds and warmly caress your cheek as you search the stores for a lamp — a beautiful, authentic ‘Aladdin and The Magic Lamp’ kind of lamp — to remind you of this exotic and complex land.
Before you enter any shop intending to buy, the first and most important thing to do is your research. While you’re looking around the shops, check out the goods that interest you. Look through a lot of stalls and shops to get a feel for the variety available, the quality and the average price paid. Try and learn the numbers of the local language and (discreetly) listen in when the locals are asking the shopkeeper for prices. As is usually the case, tourists are offered much higher rates than locals, so knowing the local rate helps in the bargaining process. Don’t be distracted by the shopkeepers and assistants, who will often call out to shoppers with special offers and other enticements!
Finally, you come to a store that looks interesting. You enter the shop like you couldn’t care less if you bought anything. Glance around the shop like nothing really interests you that much, and languidly inspect a trinket here, an item there. Allow the shopkeeper to seat you, bring you apple tea and show you his wares.
One of the most pleasant things about shopping and bargaining in the Turkish bazaars is that you’re under no obligation to buy. Shopping is a social occasion, when you not only shop for necessities or souvenirs, but also share conversation and laughter with the friendly shopkeeper, over some apple tea and biscuits. The shopkeeper may spend quite some time showing you his wares and extolling their virtues. Even then, you’re not under any obligation to buy. Any shopkeeper who puts pressure on a shopper ‘because of the amount of time spent’ should be avoided.
While you’re busy chitchatting with the shopkeeper and checking out the goods in the store, you suddenly spot a gold painted, bell-infested, rusty old lamp that you really, absolutely positively must have.
Now here comes the trickiest bit of the bargaining process: it is absolutely vital that you DO NOT SHOW TOO MUCH ENTHUSIASM. A poker straight face is your best weapon in the bargaining process. If the shopkeeper knows you desperately want something, he’ll automatically assume that you’re willing to pay a higher price to have it. Its just human nature. So, decide in your own mind the price you’re willing to pay for it, keep on pretending that you couldn’t care less, and let the bargaining begin.
To And Fro Goes The Bargaining
“Ah, a beautiful item, beautiful, ” says the shopkeeper, “A very good buy. I give to you for special price, just for you. What will you pay?”
Once the shopkeeper starts talking prices, its time to get down to business. The first thing to remember is to let the shopkeeper make the first offer — ask him, “what’s the price?”. His reply is sure to be highly inflated, but then, he doesn’t expect you to accept the first offer.
Now comes your counter offer, and here is where all that market research comes in handy. You have to choose a counter-price that’s substantially less than what you want to pay, but not so low that you’d show to the shopkeeper you don’t know what a reasonable price for the lamp is. There is no fixed formula for making a counter-offer, but about half or a quarter of the shopkeeper’s price is usually cited as the rule of thumb. This is the trickiest bit for new bargainers and requires some astute judgement, and sometimes, a handful of courage.
“So little is all?! Ah, my friend, how could you make such an offer? Surely you do not believe that such a gem as this is worth such a poor sum? Please, my friend, rethink your offer!”
Then comes the bit where the shopkeeper shakes his head, asks you how you can sleep at night for robbing a poor innocent man of money to feed his six young children and sick wife, then offers a slightly lower price. You counter that the lamp is in fact defective, dented, dull and hardly worth the ground it sits on, then offer price only slightly higher than your initial counter-offer. With many protestations on both sides and much shaking of heads, the haggling continues.
“Yes, that is a good price for such a treasure — I agree!”
Finally, you offer a price and the shopkeeper agrees to it. Success! Your agreement has become a verbal contract — you’ve agreed to pay such and such an amount, so make sure that you have the cash ready! You should never offer a price unless you’re willing to pay it.
In most cases, the price is assumed to be cash — but you can always check whether the shopkeeper will take credit card. Surprisingly, sometimes even the dingiest, most ancient shop will have credit card facilities. You can also check if they accept anything other than local currency — in some countries, if you pay in United States dollars or some European currencies, you get an additional discount. Of course, this practice may also be illegal, so you’d have to check with the authorities first before attempting to do so.
Of course, there are always those occasions when no matter how low the shopkeeper brings his price, it isn’t low enough to suit your budget — and the shopkeeper is adamant that its his lowest price. If there isn’t too much difference between selling and buying bids, you might as well not let a few dollars stand between you and success. Or, to be emulate the real pros, you can pick up a few other items as well, and have the shopkeeper give a further discount for buying more.
Victory – A Bargain!
“Friend, wait, do not walk away! Perhaps I can make a better offer!”
As a last resort, you can try the ‘walk-away’ tactic. If the shopkeeper is adamant that such and such a price is his lowest offer, and you aren’t incline to buy anything else, then you can just thank him and walk away. Sometimes, rather than lose a sale, the shopkeeper will call you back and agree to your price, or at least make a slightly lower offer. If not, at least you’ll know the final price the shopkeeper is willing to offer, and can return in an hour or a day to snap up that bargain.
Once you’ve made your purchase, it is a good idea to carry it off with you. Some shops will ship your purchase to your home, especially if it is a big item like carpets or furniture. The problem is that sometimes, the shops never get around the shipping the purchase, or it gets lost in transit, or the item is ‘accidentally’ switched with one of lesser quality or price. If you would rather have the shop make the shipping arrangements, then try and get as many details about the arrangements as possible, and try to verify them.
And then….once the last details have been worked out, once the lamp has been wrapped, the shipping arrangements made, the tea cup taken away and money paid over…once all everything is over and you walk out of the shop with less money in your wallet and a brand new lamp tucked under your arm. You can hold your head high and walk with a certain jaunty confidence in your stride, for you know that you can, after all, handle yourself well at the bargaining table, even against the skilled shopkeepers of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.