Why American’s Can’t Bargain – a Guide to Doing it Right

I noticed something recently on an American TV show called ‘Pawn Stars’ and that is the fact that Americans have no idea how to bargain. You’ll see the same thing on ‘American Pickers’ and other History or Discovery Channel shows. It is a common tale, you take something into the pawn shop and they talk you down from your original asking price and in the end they get the upper hand. Since we’ve been traveling quite a bit, I think we could take on the folks of ‘Pawn Stars’ and the ‘American Pickers’ with the bargaining skills we acquired traveling through Asia. But, in case you are new to the concept here are a few tips in the event you are traveling to Asia or are about to pawn an item.

As a Seller:
• Find a realistic and well researched asking price for your item by doing your homework. Look online for other items in similar shape and of similar age. Get a number from an expert, if possible.
• Now head to the market or pawn shop and ask for literally three times the number you are willing to settle for.
• Do not hesitate to turn a buyer away. You are one person with one product, and there are millions of people who are potential buyers, you don’t have to land the first one.
• Stick to your bottom-line price and do not go lower than that. Always attempt to go higher.

As a Buyer:
• Remember all the techniques you used as a seller and try to preempt their game by cutting their original asking price into 1/3rd of what they asked. This is a safe maneuver.
• Don’t be uncomfortable bargaining. In the bargaining game the goal is to end up with a number you are happy with as a buyer. Don’t worry about the seller’s feelings.
• Arrive at a price in your head that you are happy with and take one of two roads: 1) if you really want the product buy it at any price, or; 2) separate yourself from your desire to have the product and only buy it when the price is right. Don’t say your final bottom line price out loud until you get towards the end of your bargaining spiel.
• Try the walk away method. If the price was right, the seller will stop you from walking away. Naturally they are trying to get as much out of you as possible so don’t be the weak link. Hold your ground. Sometimes you will lose and your walk away bluff will result in you losing the item. Most of the time, however, the negotiations will reopen as soon as you take your first steps.

It is supremely important to stick to a deal once you make it. You don’t want to be responsible for making your whole country look bad by going back on a deal. Despite what anyone tells you, you are somewhat of an ambassador for your homeland. While some sellers overseas may change a deal once it is made, it is important to always uphold your end and take the high road. It is not at all uncommon in Central Asia and other nearby regions for a deal to be reached and then, as the product is being delivered the deal will change. Keep a level head and don’t ever give in to someone who breaks a deal. For example, we set a price for a cab ride in advance across a section of desert in Uzbekistan, as is the custom. Mid way across the desert, to no one’s real surprise, the driver pulled over and demanded more money to finish crossing the desert. When something like this happens, even if it makes your life a bit more difficult, you have to hold your ground. If they really won’t honor the original deal, get out of the car with all of your belongings. Someone else will pick you up. If you do pay someone extortion like that you make it worse down the road for the next guy, and make the scam artist a life-long fan of continuing this practice. We forced a driver to pull over and got out with all of our gear, leaving him with nothing for driving us half way. He could either stick to the original deal or get nothing. Naturally, he got us back into the car and we paid the original price. He tried the entire drive to get more money out of us, which is always annoying, but sticking to something you shake hands on is important as a person, and as a representative.

4 thoughts on “Why American’s Can’t Bargain – a Guide to Doing it Right

  1. B

    A few other hints that work well, especially in Central Asia. 1) When you walk away, keep walking expecting the deal is over – many times I have been tracked down 15-20 minutes later by a seller who thought I would be the first to blink, and return. When the seller tracks you down, he/she will try bargaining once again, but stick to your last offer – they came to you and they will make that deal. 2) Always, always make them make the first offer – then you are in control. A common technique for a seller is to get you to make the first offer, then they are in control. Be in control the entire time. 3) Like ATC says, stay unemotionally attached to what you want. In Central Asia and the region around it there are many bazaars and shops with the same products. If one seller pulls the product back after you counter with a 1/3 bid, walk away – you are in control. 4) If you feel that 1/3 of their initial offer is a reasonable price, then make your first offer about 1/4 their initial offer, and instead of meeting them half way each time, incrementally raise your price. Sellers love to get you to split each new price half way to theirs. Remember, 1/3 of their initial offer is your final price, not a step to meeting them halfway – that is one of their great tricks. 5) Try this some time: get them to give you the initial price, then make your 1/4 offer. When they come down to 3/4 of their initial price, raise yours 5%. When they look surprised that you did not meet them halfway, take hold of the product, put your money in your hand and shake theirs. You can use the handshake with money any time to seal a deal and many, many times that will do it. Don’t be put off by their reaction of disgust. I have had men and women spit at my feet for refusing to budge, and every time I won. 6) Never, never let them see how much money you have. Always separate your money into various pockets. If you know you want a leather jacket, and you only want to spend $50, put that much in dollars or local currency in one pocket, then when you reach your price, take it out and try the hand shake. 7) Have $2-3 in another pocket. Many times after being yelled at for being inflexible, I will hand out $1 or $2 more and seal the deal. They save face, I lose $1 on a great deal – but I win since they started at $150-200 on that $50 leather jacket I am now wearing around to the consternation of my American friends you spent a lot more. 8) Go to the bazaar and practice on things you don’t even want, just to get these techniques down. 8) Have fun with bargaining, its a game and well-accepted. 9) Remember, most Americans ruin bargaining for the rest of us by not doing it well, and paying way too much for anything – so don’t ever admit to being an American. 10) Don’t let the seller think you understand their language all the time. I have used the firm handshake-with-money technique, combined with the confused look at anything else they say, while holding tight onto their product, with great success.

  2. AbandontheCube Post author

    Great ideas, I especially agree that others ruin it for people interested in playing along by paying whatever the asking price is. This sets up sellers to think everyone will pay whatever they say. Its a pain. I also really love the advice about keeping your money in different pockets– smart move. When we are traveling we usually only carry a lit bit out with us and keep the rest on a card. Its hard to find an ATM, but if we got mugged we’d only lose what we had on us. And, when shopping, we don’t let people see what we have. Its hard because my camera case is pretty big so everyone can see we already have one high-value item, but I try to keep it under my arm as much as possible so as not to tempt anyone to nab it. Anyways, thanks again! I’m going to try the idea of giving a face-saving extra $1 or $2 to seal a deal.

  3. Misha Taiwo

    I undoubtedly would like that Lindsay Lohan could get herself together. What exactly is the girl’s dilemma? The woman has anything and everything on the globe going for her and certainly doesn’t have any clue!

  4. ayngelina

    Great advice, I’m Canadian and terrible at haggling but I’ve. learned it’s how things are done here. Sometimes I even say, “Oh that’s expensive” and find the price drops right away

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