otavalo market, ecuador
Two women walk into a store. One is polished, manicured, decked in high heels and weighed down (gracefully) by several carrier bags. She walks into the store, her air of confidence wafting in with greater presence than a surging gust of wind. She slowly slides her sunglasses off, narrow eyes examining her surroundings. Or perhaps she does not even bother to remove her sunglasses. The sales people rush up to greet her, help her with her bags, or simply congratulate her on being so fabulous.
The other woman shuffles in nervously behind her, moving to avoid whiplash from Ms. Fabulous’ long shiny hair as it sweeps back and forth. Hands in her pockets, feet in her most comfy (therefore worn-in to the point of near shoe death) flats, and weighed down by unruly tangles of hair. She spends no time idling but goes straight to a rack, the discount rack, avoiding eye contact. She surveys the merchandise while hoping desperately not to be noticed by any store personnel, who will surely smell on her the dirty word that hovers over her, budget, and have her swiftly thrown out onto the street.
Can you guess which woman I am?
Don’t get me wrong, I used to feel quite comfortable in a Gap store and once upon a time even convinced myself I was right at home in Banana Republic. That is, provided I had my ‘30% Off’ email printed and scrunched up in my bag. Alas, 8 months in South America has resulted in a somewhat lower standard when it comes to personal appearance. A fact that is rather ironic when I see all the platform heels and shnazzy-looking women walking the streets of Quito around me. I would not have packed such a primitive wardrobe had I known what an ordeal walking into a store would prove to be! Walking into a Forever 21, for instance, I am immediately rushed by a sales assistant, or two, who watch me like a hawk and refuse to leave my side. They either say nothing, just glued to me like a shadow, or they speak rapid-fire Spanish which I visibly cannot fully understand and yet does not slow them down in the slightest. Either way, I find the whole thing terribly uncomfortable. I’m used to being ignored in stores! What is all this fuss about? Can’t you see I’m dressed like a hitchhiker?
And so it was that when friends asked us if we would like to accompany them to a famous Ecuadorian market, Otavalo, I was as excited by the chance to explore something new while acquiring some goods as I was terrified of the prospect of all the intense interaction. Let’s face it, I reasoned, if I am accosted in Forever 21, what on earth will a huge outdoor market do to me? And of course the most unsettling fact of all: I am not a good bargainer.
I have witnessed some who have the gift of bargaining. It is a beautiful thing. They sway in and out of various booths with the ease of a bee buzzing from flower to flower, pollinating a little here or there as it sees fit. They seem to feel that they have won no matter how the bargaining works out, such is their confidence.
I, on the other hand, have never enjoyed bargaining. I like things to be clearly defined and understood from the outset. No funny business, ya hear me? I see those who can bargain aggressively and I think to myself, It’s just not my personality. On the other hand, I love a good bargain and feel strongly that being overcharged is simply not fair! What’s a gal like me to do?
While perusing the Otavalo Market, I came up with a 5 tip guide to bargaininging for those who don’t like to bargain. And in the interest of fairness, I am going to share it!
Tip 1 – Think of bargaining as a game of dodgeball. You played dodgeball in school, right? It’s been defined as “any of a variety of games in which players try to hit other players on the opposing team with their own balls while avoiding being hit themselves”. So the goal in bargaining is not to be hit by that unfairly high price. If it’s too high for you, run away from it! If you feel like you can catch it, go for it! But throw it back and see what happens. Don’t give it all up at once. You could have the thrill of hitting the other player, but the goal is also not to be hit yourself. So if you get them down, even a little, you win!
Tip 2 – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, the eggs being your money and the basket being your pocket. Keep different amounts of change in various places so that when you reach for what you have, it’ll be modest and not give the impression you’re loaded. Because even if you’re not, if you pull out a lot of bills, they’ll think you are. Simple, but true.
Tip 3 – Act shocked or surprised no matter the price they first give. Here’s how I worked that out: Expect the price to be $0, and you will genuinely look surprised when they give you their price! This tells them immediately they need to be willing to lower, and trust me, they are.
Tip 4 – They start high, so you should start low! Whatever price they start with, you can be sure they are willing to go lower, sometimes even much lower. So whatever price you are willing to pay, venture lower. They do not want you to walk away empty-handed, so you really have nothing to lose.
Tip 5 – If all else fails, just start to walk away. Show that you are disappointed, but that it is just not within your price range. Even if you really want it and circle back a little later, they will see you are hesitant enough to lower their asking price.
I don’t plan on making bargaining a regular sport, but at least now, when duty calls, I can dodge a ball or two.