Heading to Mexico and hoping to find some great bargains?
We’ll show you how to haggle successfully, in a few easy steps!
What to look out for
T-shirts, snow-globes, and sombreros aside, Mexico is world-renowned for its amazing artistry and talented artisans in nearly every field, whether you’re talking hand-made pottery and textiles to hand-crafted specialty tequilas and coffees … here are just a few items worth seeking out:
- Taxco silver jewelry
- Beaded crafts and jewelry – perfect for that hard-to-please teen at home
- Clay and earthenware pottery – we mentioned Talavera, but also look for works in black clay from Oaxaca
- High-end Tequila (often sold in bottles that themselves are a piece of art)
- Coffee, candy, and those fragrant Vanilla bean pods (along with real vanilla extract) – always great gifts to please a chef in the family
Know the merchant’s policies
Many of the shops in tourist destinations — especially the higher-end shopping areas — are part of a chain of stores that have a “no haggling” policy, the price on the item is what you’ll pay….generally they will have signs to that effect but you can always ask the merchant. In smaller shops, as well as street-and-beach vendors, haggling is expected and encouraged!
Know the price range
Finding the perfect souvenir is all part of your vacation experience, whether it’s a gift for someone back at home or a memento you’ll want to keep forever….but not at all costs! Having a price-point in mind of what you’re willing to pay for any particular item is critical before you go shopping.
Before you enter a shop — actually, before you even glance twice at it — know what you’re after and set a reasonable price in your head. Stick to your guns. This is really important, because the next bit is a long drawn out Mexican soap opera. But keeping that reasonable offer upfront in your mind is imperative. Okay, deep breath, we’re going in…
Remember your manners
A smile, and a Buenos Dias go a long way. Yes, these vendors see tourists like us all day, every day. Yes, they see us as cash cows walking into their shop or sitting on the beach. Yes, they will try and extract as many dollars or pesos as they possibly can. This is their livelihood. But, start with a smile. The Mexican people are friendly and very well-mannered, so it’s important to return their courtesy and be polite as well, even if you decline to buy and walk away.
The opening bid…
A rule of thumb is to take the given price, halve it, and that’s your starting point. Shop owners expect that your first offer is likely to be a ridiculous low-ball price (it’s part of the game) so they will counter-offer, and from there it’s a (polite) dance until you find the price you both agree on. It’ll take time, effort, and mucho patience.
If a vendor seems unwilling to bring the price down low enough for you (or laughs at your bargaining attempts), then it’s best to thank them politely and say goodbye and head for the door. Why? Here are three good reasons:
- He/she’ll probably call you back and agree a price that suits you.
- There are plenty more fish in that particular sea, go somewhere else.
- You’ll show the vendor you mean business.
In general you can consider yourself as having successfully negotiated a really good deal if you wind up at about 25% to 35% below the vendor’s starting price.
The more you buy, the more you save?
If one shop has all you want, then don’t be afraid to ask for a deeper bargain based on the quantity you’re buying. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Also remember to calculate correctly in your head, rounding out the dollars incorrectly can be a costly mistake, and might take the edge off that bargain. Be sure that you’re both talking numbers in the same currency, pesos or dollars, and know the exchange rate if they want only pesos (some shops will not take US Dollars any longer).
Know when to use Cash vs Credit Cards
For most souvenir shopping (the tchotchkes and less expensive items) you’ll get your best bargains if you use only cash, and never flash large bills, keep them small ($1s and $5s are best, never show anything larger than a $10). However if you’re buying something that is a luxury item — high-end art, fine jewelry, or anything truly expensive — DO be sure to use a credit card (AND if they still use duplicate-copy paper credit card slips — some do — be sure to get the carbon copy).
Leave him outside
While there are exceptions to every rule, it’s true that women are typically just better at bargaining. We can use our wily ways to get what we want, and talking is never an issue! Couples can use the ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach, which occasionally works nicely, but overall, the fairer sex is infinitely better at getting what they want. Hormones help too, certain times of the month tend to make us even more tenacious!
“If women ran the world we wouldn’t have wars, just intense negotiations every 28 days.” ~ Robin Williams.
A final word
If haggling stresses you out, simply stick to the larger shops, where the prices might be a tad higher, but still fair for the merchandise since they don’t mark up the cost with the expectation of lowering it again. It may not be as fun as haggling, but you’ll still find some great deals.