I once heard that bargaining is truly the most popular non-contact sport around the world. And just as is true of any sport, the skills of one who bargains gets better with practice. Growing up in West Africa in the early 80’s and 90’s, I knew from a very young age that one had to develop great negotiation and bargaining skills. Just as children had to go through puberty to develop into men and women, bargaining in the market place was also an essential developmental process that every single person had to go through in order to emerge as a respectable and bonified young man or woman with street cred.
As I traveled around the world though as a young adult, I quickly realized that the art of bargaining was not restricted to West Africa. It was an art that permeated every corner of the seven continents. Even in the West where the shopping experience appears to be regulated by some intangible governmental force and a doctrine of order, there are still places where the art of bargaining is fully embraced. Unfortunately, a significant portion of people in the West have not had to experience the essence of bargaining and are often left with an uncomfortable feeling when they come face to face with the opportunity to negotiate the price of an item on the streets, particularly in Africa. The reason is that unlike the people I grew up around in West Africa, people in this part of the hemisphere have been wired to accept that the price tag on an item for sale is in fact the true value of that item. The question then becomes “based on what valuation?”
The valuation of any item is relative to the conditions (the need, the demand or brand name) that surround that item. As far as I am concerned, every item for sale is negotiable; I owe this belief to my West African upbringing. With some healthy pricing negotiations, a happy medium is usually reached. Some folks may still frown at the idea, but hey, it’s worth trying for the sake of your bank account.
So, how do you go about developing this skill especially if you’re uncomfortable with the idea? Below are some steps to consider as you start to develop your street cred in the world of negotiation in the African marketplace.
- Become comfortable with the idea: I understand that if you grew up in the West, you’re used to sticker prices. As I mentioned earlier, everything is negotiable. Even the high-end stores with sticker prices will give you a discount if you find a small flaw with the item. If you never ask, you will never receive. Keep that in mind!
- Get to know the store owners/sales person: Once you enter the store (or stall), strike up a friendly conversation with the owner/sales person. You never know…if they like you, they may be willing to entertain the idea of bargaining the price of an item and may even offer you a great deal, just because of your friendly nature.
- Do not appear too eager for an item you desire: This is true even in the non-bargaining world. If you appear too eager, you open yourself up to being taken advantage of. Relax and don’t appear too interested. A nonchalant attitude could cause the store owner to find you intriguing and may cause him or her to want to sell the item to you at an even higher price (don’t ask, that is our human nature … the more disinterested you act, the more the other party wants to please you).
- Determine in your mind what the value of the item is to you: Every single item’s price is relative to a lot of different factors. A US$5,000 Gucci purse has been valued at that particular price because of the cost of materials used to make the purse, distribution and marketing costs, as well as the cost of the Gucci brand name. In most cases, the cost of the brand name is what catapults the prices of these “high end” items to the sometimes ridiculous prices that are associated with them. Well, I have news for you. Just because the price tag says US$5,000 does not mean that it has to be worth US$5,000 to you.
- Let the store owner make the first offer: Don’t EVER start off with how much you’re willing to pay for the item. Always let the store owner make the first offer and then use that price point as the anchor from which the negotiations start off.
- Counter the offer: This step is self-explanatory, but be careful not to insult the store owner by countering at an absolutely ridiculously low price. Bargain away, but be fair.
- Try walking away: If all else fails, try waking away. As mentioned earlier, if you act like the item is not that important to you, the store owner will most likely be intrigued by your nonchalant attitude and will most likely pull you back and give in.
Once you have negotiated the price of the item down to a price you’re comfortable parting with, some people will say that you are obligated to purchase the item. I beg to differ. I say you have a goal to spend the least amount of money on that particular item. So, if there are other stores in the area that have the same item for sale, go to step 8 below.
- Shop around: Honestly tell the store owner that you want to shop around and that you may be back should their price be the best deal you find. Keep in mind that this may turn the store owner off, but it should be a risk that you are willing to take, especially if you’ve set a spending goal for yourself.
Well, that’s it for now. As you follow steps 1-7 and maybe 8, remember to have a good time! Take your time and enjoy the experience!
Adeyelu Asekun is a The Voix contributor and an avid traveler. Catch her on her latest adventure!