You’ve just spent 20 hours on a plane to arrive in the playground that is Southeast Asia. You’ve heard rumours that everything is cheap here, but how cheap? That is going to depend on how good you are at understanding the rules of bartering. The amount you are able to knock off prices can stretch your budget significantly. The goal is not necessarily to get the absolute cheapest price, but come to an agreement that makes both parties happy. After all a few dollars goes a lot farther in Asian countries and can mean a great deal of difference to the person you are buying from.
Rule #1 – Never appear overly interested in one particular item. It’s a game of supply and demand; if you let on that you are just dying to have the item in question, the price just doubled. Keep it casual, in 99% of cases you will see the exact same dress/souvenir/sunglasses at a dozen other vendors just down the street.
Rule #2 – Set your limit before you start asking prices. This will help you with rule #3. If you aren’t sure what a reasonable limit would be, shop around a bit first before committing to one store.
Rule #3 – State a price 25-50% below what you would pay. You are going to need wiggle room. As a rule, assume that they have quoted you twice what they would accept, maybe even 3 times. You will need to do the same to come to a middle ground.
Rule #4 – State why the product is only worth the price you want to pay – the material is cheap, you have seen the same shirt everywhere, there are better prices at other stalls/stores etc.
Rule #5 – keep it light, play it like a game, and don’t be offensive. If they are not willing to offer the price you want, then your options are to pay or leave the items. Not all items will use the 2-3 times mark up rule, and sometimes there can be very little wiggle room.
You may or may not be able to barter for accommodations, taxi rides and food, depending on where you are. Generally if there is a fixed price list, than it means fixed. That being said it never hurts to turn on the charm and ask “Is that your best price?”