how to bargain when you don’t like to bargain: Otavalo Market, Ecuador

otavalo market, ecuador

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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?

otavalo market, ecuador

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?

meat at otavalo market, ecuador

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.

textiles at otavalo market, ecuador

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!

spices at otavalo market, ecuador

5 tips to better bartering

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.

produce at otavalo market, ecuador

I don’t plan on making bargaining a regular sport, but at least now, when duty calls, I can dodge a ball or two.

posted in travel .

23 Responses to how to bargain when you don’t like to bargain: Otavalo Market, Ecuador

  1. BRAVO!!!

    I am SO not a barterer. But, my friend Kale taught me how. So now the meanies at the market better watch out!

  2. Where I used to work had some people there on company visas, which meant a different culture. So I learned that getting a good bargain by bartering was hailed by their culture as an essential talent. Unfortunately the culture here, not so much. A guy sitting in another cubicle I heard bartering one day. No big deal right? He was on the phone with the electric company saying that his bill was not due for 3 more weeks and how much would they take off of the bill if he paid it now. Needless to say they would not barter. He got off the phone, puzzled. Then proceeded to tell his friend that he was going to call again because it the person that answered the phone obviously did not know what they were doing! Thanks for the tips here and enjoy the weekend!

  3. I have never been a barterer and not really sure why. I once had a co-workers that bartered her cable bill down by 50%. I was stunned. She spent over 30 minutes on the phone with the company going into all the details of why she couldn’t afford the full rate. They actually caved and gave her a great deal.

  4. Emma says:

    I’ve never put myself into a situation where bartering was an option. I’ve always been a bit wary of it, but I bet I could do alright. I’d have to face that ‘not a fan of interacting with strangers’ bit first though, so, I dunno…

    Good for you for getting out of Forever 21 and onto the streets. I love market blog posts more than almost anything:)

  5. donna picard says:

    Jean-Guy and I just loved this blog post Kale you have such a talent in the telling….. he too is not a fan of bartering I on the other hand have survived on it, he may reconsider the “wisdom” of it afer reading this

  6. kale says:

    Jen – You take those those market meanies, girl!

    Tina – I cannot imagine telephone bartering… that takes some real gumption!

    CJ – That’s hilarious!

    Emma – I have faith in you! And I agree, market posts are the best!

    donna – It’s true, you’ve always been skillful at getting a bargain!

  7. I’ve never been a fan of bartering either, seems like such a waste of time and energy for both parties. I like your tip #2, that’s very true, you never want to appear like you have too much money to spend.

  8. Great tips! This is how I barter: Pull out wad of cash. Ask, “how much is that?”. Say, “Ok, here you go, thanks”. I’m doing it wrong.

  9. Elle says:

    what a nice post!! I love the spices’ pic, what pretty colors =)

  10. Christine says:

    This is a very helpful post. I grew up watching my mother barter at flea markets, so I was pretty good at it up until I graduated from college when I rarely ran into situations where bartering was an acceptable part of business. This is a good refresher for when the next time I am at the flea market.

  11. What a great story! And I must admit I’m not a great barterer either although I admire anyone that can do it well! 🙂

  12. Kimberley says:

    Like you, I’m not one for bartering. But years ago, I spent 3 months in India, and by the end of it I was a pro. Hopefully I’ll be able to regain that skill if I ever need it again. 🙂

  13. Good for you! I’d be pretty terrible as well. I always feel like I’m ripping them off if I suggest a price that’s too low!

  14. kale says:

    Sylvie – I learned that toward the end of the day at the market. I pulled out my change and showed the man as if to say, ‘Well this is all I’ve got!’. My sincerity perhaps showed as I really was out of money. He shrugged and said OK, even though it was 2 dollars less than what we’d already bartered down to! I felt like a rock star! (The fact that I had just purchased dark rock star-type sunglasses might have helped with that feeling…)

    Julie – Your comment made me laugh out loud. 🙂

    Elle – Thanks! The spices were my favorite section of the market.

    Christine – Thank you, I know I’ll be referencing back to it next time we head to the market. There’s a time and place for it, but it’s not a role I slide into easily.

    Lorraine – Me too! My hat goes off to them.

    Kimberley – Oh wow what an experience! I’m sure you’ll be able to pull that skill out of your pocket when you need it.

    Jen – I know what you mean. I have seen however that often the price they give depends on who is asking, so that tells me they don’t always play fair! But it’s all part of the game. 😉

  15. Eftychia says:

    What a post!! What can I say…??? You’ve said it all…

  16. I am so with you Kale. I cannot bargain to save my life. I am always very very meek and the first price they give me I jump on. I suck at it. I like your tips for bargaining, and next time I head to somewhere with this culture I’ll stick these tips in my back pocket.

  17. This is a great post…. I’ll have to print & keep in my pocket cuz I suck at bartering!!!

  18. myfudo says:

    I love reading this post. i get to travel, i learn a lot and i enjoy your pictures =) Thanks for sharing!

  19. kale says:

    Eftychia – There’s always more to be said! 😉

    Maggie – I like that about you! I’d rather be meek than aggressive. But here I’ve had to toughen my skin a bit. Gotta make sure I get what I’m paying for!

    Heidi – Thank you! I should print it too, to make sure I don’t regress to running away from a bartering opportunity like I used to!

    myfudo – It’s my pleasure! I’m happy you enjoyed it.

  20. Parsley Sage says:

    I’m lucky in that my husband LOVES to barter. He has so much fun doing it. I just tell him what I want and walk away. He rocked and rolled in Thailand! 🙂 Great tips!

  21. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to barter, but I’m saving your tips for my next trip.

  22. Wiz says:

    Bartering only works if what you are offering in return is seen as being of greater value than what you are wanting to obtain.

    i.e – if cash is involved it isn’t bartering. Bartering is the exchange of goods not involving money. The word you’re after is haggling.

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