I look up from Ubud market’s maze of handmade soaps, silk dresses, and wooden keychains to see a man with a wild-eyed expression. I’ve just finished negotiating with a woman to buy a silver anklet, and we are laughing and joking with one another as she wraps it up for me. His overwhelmed expression betrays his situation; he is brand new to the Ubud market.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he says, referring to my recent negotiation.
“You gotta have fun with it. It’s a game!” I reply.
Lucky for me, I learned the art of negotiation early on in my travels, and although I was a bit rusty when I set foot in Ubud market in Bali, I pulled it together pretty quickly and embraced the experience.
One of the things I appreciate the most about the Ubud market (and shopping/negotiating in Bali in general), is the humour and fun with which business is conducted. Negotiating is truly a game. It goes kind of like this:
- “How much is this?” I ask.
- “X” they reply.
- My eyes widen and I feign some sort of comical exaggerated pain.
- They ask me to suggest a price.
- “My price is so low, I can’t tell you. You will be upset with me.”
- They laugh and urge me again to name my price.
- Depending on the item and what I think it’s worth (or am willing to pay), I name a ridiculously low price, usually about 25% of the asking price.
- Now it’s the vendor’s chance to widen their eyes and feign exaggerated pain.
With this, we both smile and laugh, and the game is on.
Back and forth we go, each stating our case. The vendor explains why it’s worth so much more than my offer. I explain why I simply can’t pay what they’re asking. Every time they inch down in price, I thank them for the wonderful deal they are giving me, but say that it is still too expensive for me. Every time I inch up in my offer they continue to tell me it’s not enough, but they respond with a further discount.
The trick is to express interest in the item at hand, but not to actually be too attached. Before the negotiations begin, set a price in your mind for what it’s worth to you. Start with a price well below that, and work your way up to your final price. If you both can’t agree on it, walk away. If the vendor chases after you with another “final” price, you’ll know they had more wiggle room. If they let you walk away, you know that your price was simply too low. You can decide if you’re willing to return later with a higher offer.
And remember, in a place like Ubud market, there’s probably another half a dozen stores where you can buy that exact same trinket. So if your negotiations fail the first time around, find another vendor with the same item and try again. It’s fun, and a cultural expectation.
An ethical note about negotiation:
In many cultures and societies, negotiation is part of the fabric of commerce. In places like Bali, just about everything is negotiable; negotiation is expected, and vendors inflate their asking prices accordingly.
If you, with your western sensibilities, come into a market and pay the asking prices (because it’s still a steal for you, or because you think you’re helping somebody by knowingly paying more), believe it or not, you could be playing a part in crippling that country’s entire economy. You might think you’re helping that person, but in fact, I believe you’re hurting the bigger picture.
Read this article for more on this idea: How Tourists Unwittingly Cripple Local Economies.
Watch the Ubud Market in Action
The central market in Ubud is near the Royal Palace and is a maze of vendors selling everything from keychains to clothes, sarongs to statues, carvings to kites.
Watch this video to get in on the action, including a nail-biting negotiation with one of the vendors, and lots of penises. Seriously. You gotta watch.
Click here to watch on YouTube.