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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Haggling, Bargaining, Negotiating in Thailand- Thai culture.

Hill trip trinket sellers in the night market Thailand

Haggling, Bargaining, or Negotiating is an art form and nowhere more interesting than in Thailand. Haggling, Bargaining, or Negotiating is about getting your own way and has been one of the chief life skills of man through the ages. Here is my take on it after 20 years in Thailand and I end with a few suggestions and strategies. It is mainly aimed at tourists arriving in Thailand, those who fancy haggling at a night market but there are some useful tips for those negotiating in business. I hope the tips make sense and are useful. Happy haggling.

Haggling, Bargaining, or Negotiating is where one man pits his trading skills, and uses humour, leverage and an adaptive mind as well as reading all the nuances of the moment to get what he wants. The psychology of a meeting of two strangers is critical for know when to ask directly for what you want.

So how does it work in Thailand. What special Thai knowledge do you need to get the bargain you need.

Is this old map worth time bargaining over?
Average, general, ball park Prices
Preparation is everything. Get a general feel of prices among shops selling the same thing. In business this is quite a process and often means a lot of work researching and meeting suppliers maybe spending some time on line. For a night market situation I would walk along the shops and work out which shop and which sellers look like the most agreeable. I would then ask their neighbours about the prices of the goods I am interested in. This is a fact finding process and it is important to not bite at the first shop that promotes what you are looking for the way you like.

Haggle for a bargain in anight market Thailand
The Haggling dilemma
Both buyer and salesman have key advantages. The sales man has a price he has bought the goods for and therefore knows what the minimum market price makes senses to him. The seller also can haggle all day as this is his job whereas the buyer is often fitting it in between the beach and restaurant time.

The seller has the wallet and an approximate idea of how much he would be happy with and probably knows an approximate price he would pay in his home country. So the main question for the buyer is How to push the seller to come down to his minimum sales price.

How much would you pay for these coins in Thailand?
Haggling using time.Very few sellers are rushed to sell. Street sellers have all day. Business is a process. However you can often see buyers rushing in and hope that by battering down the salesman defences they will get a deal. This in your face style invariably fails as the sales man is more patient, it's his job.

I have done it myself. I go in and start trading prices before the salesman has got up off his chair. The frustration caused by not getting the deal you want is painful indeed and needs to be avoided. You know the taxi ride should be price A, why doesn't the taxi man just say it and be done and we can all get on our merry way. But this idea looses sight of the key part of the equation. This is the sellers livelihood and he is more than happy to wait to increase his sales price even by 5%. So, slow down be patient and you will get a better deal than if you are rushed.

Chatuchak street market, a perfect place to test your negotiating skills

Get the buyer to like you. Treat the seller with respect.
This is a simple enough idea but more progress is made with people who like you than with 'strangers'. Your counter offer is more likely listened to if the sales man is smiling and you are having a crack. I was always told to compliment another persons property. 'Nice shop you got here', 'is that golf course in the photo near hear, looks great'. Some might say it's a schmooze to far but if it is a genuine interest in the human in front of you I think it's OK and also, what's important to me, it seems to help the bargaining.

Negotiating with a smile in Thailand

Thai psychology in a negotiation.
It helps a lot to understand a bit of Thai psychology. Thai self respect or Face, humour, and the Thai smile are key components in haggling for a t-shirt, a wooden jenga game. If you can get this right and even throw in a couple of mini phrases in Thai you can get a great deal.

Chatuchak market in Bangkok Thailand

Thai Face
Thai Face in a negotiation is all about making the Thai man feel comfortable and not making any mistakes with body language. So, 1. Do smile non stop, 2. try to be happy, 3. be ready to laugh. 4. Don't point or 5. don't touch a Thai person's head and 6. apologies if you accidental touch any body with your feet. 7. Don't point with your feet.

Thai people are not usually big on hearty hearty hugs or embraces, often keeping back from touch ( it can be a hot and sweaty country after all) so a 'minimalist you ' can be your best you.

Enjoying some market food in Thailand
Haggling and Money
As a European I can be serious when it comes to money but in Thailand this idea can't be pushed to hard on the outside even if this is what your mind is telling you on the inside. For a street trader the sales are free and easy and if you go along with the idea that this is just a game, the negotiation flows more easily. The freer the flow of the bargaining the more times you can get your counter off in without it being turned down.

Thai Language
I have learn't Thai language over the years but it doesn't come easy to me. See the other Thai Language Blog here. I find the Thai for hello or thank you useful but one of phrases like 'Lot Noi Dai Mai' really makes a difference in the street market. This phrase means can you drop the price a bit and is said with a huge smile on your face to show that it isn't too serious. I only use it towards the end of the negotiation as it it is a last squeeze but I am always surprised by how many people are unnerved enough to drop another bit again.

Bargaining or negotiating tactics.
Always aim high in the street marketing process. Talk about, compliment and show interest in the most expensive item in the shop. This gets the trader's mind engaged. It is probably the item that creates his most profit. The next phase is to ask the price and then revert to talking about the most favoured item, complimenting as you go. Next I would comment that it's a price more than I am interested in paying. In this situation you will get the first counter offer from the seller. Next I will ask about whether it includes deliver or if I buy 2. This will get another lowering or improvement of the deal. And so on, until you say with regret that after all it is not in your budget. Now you can go to another item which is cheaper and start the process again..... and if you have the time, again.

Finally when the seller is really starting to know you, show interest in the item you want. By this time the seller understands you are not a push over and you will be offered a more reasonable price from the beginning.

Make it a negotiation.
From the tactics above you see that a simple request for a price has been drawn out and so from a sales situation, where there is a fixed price, to a haggled final price there has been a negotiation.

There are born negotiators everywhere but the art is a process and must be practiced with patience. Give it a go. It can be a lot of fun.

A typical night market in Thailand

 T shirt world in Thailand


  1. Thailand is nice country..
    i am interesting to learn about thailand culture..

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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