two bargaining tactics

A few weeks into my career in India, my coworker Dipankar and I decided that we needed some beanbag chairs to turn our shared cubicle into the “cool” corner of the office. This was back when MG Road was still apocalyptic, and the only sign of life along the road was those abandoned storefronts where a few beanbag vendors had set up shop.

So Dipankar and I skipped out on work and headed up MG Road, shockingly free of traffic at this time of day. Approaching a vendor sitting by a stack of dust-covered beanbags, Dipankar explained our intention to buy. We followed the vendor through an alley and into the bowels of the abandoned building, where empty beanbag skins were piled in clear plastic bags in areas cleared of debris from the attempted “sealing” of the building. A stairwell rose to the sunlight where a second floor used to be.

Dipankar and the vendor got down to business. The bargaining took place in Hindi I couldn’t understand, a rapid back-and-forth that seemed to be going nowhere until Dipankar said something that made the vendor laugh. Suddenly the vendor clapped Dipankar on the back and agreed to a price. I gaped at the suddenness of the completion to the negotiations. The vendor waved someone over to clean the beanbags of the road dust that permeated even this far indoors, and then we were on our way.

“What did you say to him? What did you say to him?” I asked eagerly, bounding along in Dipankar’s triumphant wake. Dipankar told me his magic words: once they’d reached impasse, with Dipankar pushing for less and the vendor refusing, Dipankar suggested they meet in the middle. He named a price and then made it seem fair by saying, “It’s not your price, it’s not my price.” It was a friendly tactic that made it sound like both parties were making a concession — as if both had an equal stake in the outcome. At the same time, it was so absurd that the vendor couldn’t help but laugh, and then agree.

Jenny and I added it to our repertoire of bargaining techniques. It worked really well on auto drivers.

*   *   *

When Jenny and I moved out of Brooklyn, we posted our stuff on Craigslist and sold as much as we could. There was very little bargaining involved, because most Americans see a number attached to an item and accept it as take-it-or-leave-it. Our dresser, our Ikea rug, our second-hand couch — we advertised a price, and if it didn’t sell, we advertised a lower price.

Obviously it didn’t work like that in Delhi. Anyone who showed up at our flat to look at our stuff would immediately offer half of whatever price we’d written down. “1200 rupees for that electric heater?” They’d say. “It’s too small to heat my flat, it’s not a name brand, and winter is over anyway. I’ll give you 600.”

With bargaining thus initiated, it was then up to me to make some concession to their offers. They expected me to drop my price by 200 rupees or so, after which they’d probably move up 200, until we met at 900. But I didn’t want to play their game — so instead, I tried to short-circuit it.

“I’m an American,” I’d say back.  “Americans don’t know how to bargain. We both know that you’re better at bargaining than me. So can you just give me 1200 rupees so I don’t get confused?”

Believe it or not, once or twice, that actually worked.

20 responses to “two bargaining tactics

  1. Lol. Delhites have tremendous bargaining skills and I think my mom could count as the best bargainer, EVER. Something I don’t know if I should particularly be proud of to be honest.

    And just for the record, bargaining is done in anything and everything. Except probably groceries.

  2. @Tanuj: Are you serious about Groceries? Yes in supermarkets you can’t but with vendors you have to otherwise there is no fun/skill in buying them.

    @Dave and Jenny: WOW! I loved your strategy, smart move. What I love about your blog and experiences is the fact you try so well and succeed to get embedded in the Indian social setup.

    Grocery buying for me when I was new in Zurich was mind boggling. For people frequenting supermarkets it is an easy process, you choose what to buy, there are few lines of product (high quality-high price, low quality-low price), stuff it in cart and pay for it. A grocery buyer in India, the real skilled one needs to have a context of what is the current rate of groceries in the market near to them and you keep track of which vegetables are on the rise these days and which of them are in season. And even a hint of food talk amongst friends and relatives would lead to an exchange of this information. As I commented in a previous post grocery buying is an art of negotiation. I recommend you to record the negotiations in grocery buying and get it translated it would indeed be a valuable research material for what arguments do people give to decrease the price or the vendor would give not to do so. This might not be a trend in metropolitan cities but in towns yes.

    And BTW you have to have a little bunch of coriander, chillies or lemons on the side if you are buying enough groceries from the vendor.

  3. @thequark, Yeah no one bargains for groceries or at least I haven’t seen anyone. But then again, people get the full value of their spending by taking free chillies + cucumber etc. with their usual vegetables. 🙂

  4. @Tanuj This is one of the things I missed in metros having lived a large part in towns/large cities which are not “metro/cosmo”-politan. But while living in Bangalore I tried to bargain in vain because I didn’t know the local language.

    Bargaining also depends on the context of market you are in. I shopped in the fashion street in Mumbai for a T-shirt (with a Harley Davidson pic printed on it) for Rs 60 when the initial price was Rs 200 by starting at something like 40 or 50 but no budging till near end but yes the closure has to be at “Na Teri Na Meri” (neither your argument/price nor mine). Try doing this in other places you’ll end up embarrassing yourself

  5. Yeah it all depends upon the location/market and the store in question. You can do fantastic bargaining at places such as Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Karol Bagh in Delhi. And places such as Linkin Road, Colaba, Fashion Street in Mumbai. A place/shopping complex in Delhi is famous for its cheap goods, called Palika Bazar. My mom purchased a leather belt for Rs.80 while its supposed MRP was Rs.600! Can’t bargain more than this, can you? 🙂

  6. There is always this cheap place which would be a grey market, Palika Bazar in Delhi or Rehmani Market in Kanpur 😀

    There is this fascination with counterfeit branded accessories even if you know it is counterfeit! The weekly bazar near my locality would sell Nike ki baniyan (vest) and Denim ka powder on a thela (push cart).

  7. lolz… have used that in between settlement tactic a lot… specially in Palika and Saroijini Nagar markets… still seen it work at many places…

  8. loved this post!

    I thought I was a good haggler (seen my fair share of flea markets in my day) but was soon humbled when I was often laughed at for my futile attempts at negotiating!

    There are some days that I don’t have the energy to bargain … (when often it’s only a couple hundred rupees less than the quoted price) and other days that I am known to haggle until I finally hold out the money that I’m offering, with a question mark on my face … and then walk away.

    Works every time (or at least most times!)

    Thanks for the great entry!

  9. “It’s not your price, it’s not my price.” What a good line.
    Good post.

  10. I enjoyed your story about learning how to negotiate. A deal is made because the parties to it agree they are at the same level of EITHER advantage or disadvantage. It is a basic skill to help you in most transactions, and it’s FUN too! Glad I found your blog.

    (I write about philosophic topics and the arts on mine.)

  11. Excellent advice for buying, but I really dislike haggling.

  12. hi dave & jenny..
    nice blog about delhi & india. thanks for sharing your experiences here in delhi.
    and here is the the third trick; confidently ask for the price below half of what he’s offering, and tell him that one of your friend got one from another market at that price, and add ” kya bhaiya ?(means what’s this bro..?).. we are not new here..”. at the end.

    keep it up.

  13. Uh! Just Uh! What fantastic writing! I write a blog on WordPress as well and have perused this site many times over searching for truly solid and enjoyable writing. As a 22 year old English major/ Entrepreneur minor from Manhattan moving to Brooklyn this summer to start a career in the publishing/brewing industry, your writing hits me between the eyes- exactly where I want it. Thank you for writing how you do. It is refreshing to see well constructed sentences with zing! I would LOVE if you could glance at my blog… Any feedback would be much appreciated. And even if you don’t, really, fantastic writing guys!

  14. thats funny, i dont think ive ever had to haggle before, i just dont,

  15. You need a “like” button.

  16. this post will amuse the non-Indians more.. coz we are born and brought up in bargain 😛 ..

    My dad would say: “Let’s settle for a Rs 800 cricket bat. Not 1500 and not 100!!”


  17. Yeah.. bargaining has come to America too! See below link. Amazing what you can get in a buyer’s market.
    I think it is a universal desire.. to get a good deal

  18. Pingback: three great things happening in Delhi right now | Our Delhi Struggle

  19. guys can anyone of you could help in my research project… my topic is haggling in streetshops of Delhi by Foreigners.. I want to know about their experinces and perspectives.. thank u!!!

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