10 Tips for Negotiating and Buying Souvenirs Abroad

For eight years I owned a retail shop selling jewelry, antiques, decor, furniture, and clothing accessories in Sarasota, Florida. I would travel to locations abroad (primarily India, Bali, and Thailand) to purchase items and have them shipped back to the USA to sell to the many interested customers of the store (now owned by my sister). It was trial by fire when I first started doing the buying. I read books and articles on how to do the buying; they were not extremely helpful, I quickly realized during the first of my negotiations for merchandise. I hope this blog gives you more information than I had–whether you are just buying a souvenir for yourself or a 40′ container full of goods.

1. Visit several stores to look for similar pieces to get an idea of a price range. Sometimes, if you find a fixed-price shop you can get ideas of the maximum price you should pay (though you can still often bargain for a lower price at a fixed-price shop). The fixed prices are often higher than what you can get similar pieces for at other shops, but it gives you a good starting point. And IF you want to purchase from the fixed-price shop, it is definitely easier and nobody should judge you for doing so. Bargaining takes time and “time is money,” right?

2. When you are shopping, try not to get overly outwardly excited about an item that you are interested in purchasing. The shop-keeper will recognize that you really want the item and will hold out for more money. Remain indifferent throughout the whole process. This is my least favorite part about shopping in places where bargaining is common. I don’t buy much, but when I do, I like to be excited about it (plus I’m a really bad actor.)

3. Get a price on one item at a time, even if you’re purchasing multiple items. If you choose to purchase a number of items, go through and get prices on each item. Then at the end, say you’ll take all of it, but that you expect a further discount (usually another 5-10%)

4. There is no rule about how much of a discount you should expect. I see many articles that state you should a demand 70-90% discount. That sometimes applies in India and some other countries, but vendors in many other countries don’t start their prices that exorbitantly high. There is no universal rule as to how much of a discount you should ask for. I use a different technique…

5. Buying to resell (for retail), my technique is to work backwards to decide the price I want to pay. For example, If I see a piece I would ask myself how much I would expect that piece to retail for in the United States. I would expect to pay 1/10 to 1/3 of that price (keeping in mind I still have to pay for shipping, import fees, etc). So, If I see a piece that would likely retail in the USA for $100, I would try to pay somewhere between $10 and $33 for that piece in the store.

6. Assume nothing is actually an antique. I’m not saying that there are no antiques to be had, but sellers around the world have gotten REALLY good at making items look like they are antiques. Note: please remember that many countries will not allow you to export pieces that are more than 100 years old, and in rare cases US Customs may not allow you to import antique pieces from certain countries (due to memorandums of understanding between the countries).

7. According to economists and social psychologists, the person naming the first price sets the tone for the whole negotiation process–so you should really be the one offering the first priceEpisode 1 from the Slate Negotiation Academy perfectly explains that both parties gravitate toward the first number that is given (this episode is well worth listening to!) If you roll in with a low number, the seller will be more likely to work toward your price instead of the other way around. Just know that if the seller agrees to your price at any time during the process, the piece is considered sold. This isn’t a law and you won’t go to jail if you back away–it’s just the way the game works.

8.  Start the bargaining process early and make it drag on. This makes the seller be invested in the process of selling this to you. It’s OK to make them show you many different items. Obviously this tip only applies if you are serious about buying a piece; we certainly don’t advocate wasting a vendors’ time when they could be helping other customers.

9. When you get the price down significantly, they may say “this is my final price.” A good technique at that point is for you to sayyou’ll need to do better than that.” It’s a very effective way to bargain to get the price a little lower. Always keep in mind that you don’t NEED this item. Be ready to walk away from the whole negotiation. And know, that if you walk away, MOST of the time they’ll come chasing after you wanting to sell for the price you wanted.

10. Remember that these sellers are just trying to make a living. Don’t take anything personally. Have fun with the process–it’s like hanging out with some local folks playing a game. At the end of the game–everyone wins. You don’t need to worry about offending someone by offering a low price. You need to remember that they won’t sell the item to you unless they want to. The most important thing is that you are happy with your purchase and the price that you paid; you may not have gotten the item for a record-low price, but if you are content with the negotiation and your shiny new prize, that’s all that matters.

Good luck and happy shopping!


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BJ Graf

I've been traveling for more than 20 years; I have a passion to see the world and take photos along the way, but equally enjoy helping other people to experience the world.

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