Time to get real, my travel-loving compadres. It is absolutely, 100%, most definitely expected that you will haggle when you visit Bali. No, you can’t haggle over the price of Diet Coke at the local mini-mart, but you can haggle at other local stores and, sometimes, even hotels. Basically, if you go into a shop and there isn’t a price on something, you’re going to haggle for it. Unless, of course, you don’t mind being ripped off and being the talk of the shop-owners household for all of eternity!
But does that mean it’s a free-for-all? Ahh no, there is a certain etiquette when it comes to haggling in Bali. You can’t just walk in there and go wild, you’ve got to understand, respect, practice and finesse the art of haggling. It’s like a dance, between two strangers, involving a counterfeit handbag. Totally normal.
If you’ve never haggled before but are planning on doing it in Bali, these are the tips you need to know before you try. I guess these tips are globally transferrable too so if you do try them out somewhere else, let me know how you go! (Hope you don’t get punched in the face by a Thai street vendor.) You should also read my guide of 23 Things to know before you visit Bali.
Watch: our ‘Bali for first-timers’ video
1. Make sure you really want it
Don’t even think about commencing the haggling process unless you really want the thing you’re haggling for. If they won’t give you the price you want and you end up walking away, so be it. But haggling, getting it down to a good price and then deciding you just don’t want it and then walking away isn’t good manners.
2. Play it cool
These people are seasoned professionals and you are a rookie. Don’t stand there clutching a pair of shoes, drooling all over them like a teenage boy with a nudie mag. You have got to play it cool, my friend. Find the thing you like, look at it for a minute then put it down and go stare at some other things. Act like you want those instead. Play hard to get. Make it seem like you’re settling for those gorgeous tan flats.
If you’re there with a friend, come up with a code. If you really like something, say, “Yeah, it’s alright, I guess,” instead of, “Holy shit, Laura. I freakin’ LOVE these shoes. I MUST have them or I am going to die.” No chill = no bargaining power. Get a grip, girl!
3. Set a price in your mind before you start
Really assess the thing you’re looking at and think about how much you would be happy to pay for it if you were in your home country. Carefully consider the quality of the item you’re looking at, especially if it’s a knock-off of something or an item of clothing that will most likely fall apart after two washes. Then, set a price in your mind, like, “I’d be happy to pay $7AU for this pair of shoes at home.” That, right there, is your target price. Convert it to Rupiah (roughly 65,000 Rupiah) and keep it at the front of your mind. You’re ready to roll.
4. Start off low and go, go, go
With your target price in mind, ask the shop owner what they want for the shoes. They’ll say something ludicrous like 500,000 Rupiah (roughly $45AU). You’ll scoff in fake shock, shake your head and counter with an absolutely absurd price that is much lower than your target price. Say, something like 10,000 Rupiah (Roughly $1.00AU).
It is now the shop owners turn to scoff at you. They may say, “No, no, no! I have a family! It cost me 400,000 Rupiah just to buy the shoes. I need to make a living! Get out of here!” The game is afoot.
5. The old back-and-forth
From here you’ll find yourself locked in a game of wits (or maybe knit-wits). They’ll come down in price and you’ll go up in price, there’s no way around it. Just be sure you stick to lower than the target price you set right at the beginning. They’ll throw in stories about how they’re trying to put their dog’s cousin through Med-school or something and say that you’re rich and can afford their meagre Balinese prices, but don’t let them get in your head and psych you out, it’s all part of the haggling game. This guy’s at work right now and he’s having the time of his life playing hardball with your soft Gringo mind.
6. Don’t get intimidated
They may come across as rude or dismissive, don’t take it personally, it’s just the hag life. In fact, you may draw a crowd of other shop owners who pop their heads in to listen to the action and see who’s going to get the deal; you or the shop owner. Do not let the pressure get to you. The shop owner doesn’t want to get shown up in front of their mates and you don’t want to be the loser tourist who paid $20 for knock-off Ray Bans.
7. The ‘I don’t need it’ fake out
There may come a time in the haggling process when you find yourself at a stalemate. You only want to pay 70,000 Rupiah, but they won’t go below 150,00 Rupiah. Time for the ol’ fake out. Say something like, “Look, I’m not paying more than 65, man. Sorry, I’ll go somewhere else,” then shrug like you’re sad but also like you don’t really give a shit, then turn and walk off purposefully, but not too fast. There’s no way they’re letting it end there. They’ll yell out then counter again with their lower, ‘Best price.’
Note: the words ‘best price’ don’t mean anything.
8. Don’t be rude
Even though negotiations can get heated at times, just remember to always keep your cool and never, ever be rude. Their hardball tactics are just how they do business, so keep that in the back of your mind. Take it all with a grain of salt and you’ll be fine.
9. Know when to hold em, know when to fold em
If you get down to 80,000 Rupiah and you’re happy to pay it, just pay it. It’s around $1AU dollar more than your target, so, what do you really care!? But, if it feels like you’re getting ripped off and they’re asking you for 150,000 IDR and you really don’t want to pay that much because the shoes aren’t worth it, then don’t pay it. Just say thanks but no thanks, you’re dreamin, and walk away. You can just try again tomorrow, somewhere else, because everyone in Bali sells the same stuff!
Watch: our ‘Why I love going back to Bali…’ video
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.