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The Big Question About Shopping in India
Friday, November 28th, 2014

By Deepa Padmanaban

Shopping in India has an interesting element, which is usually not discussed much on travel forums. It’s the question of “To B or not to B”, the ‘B’ here being ‘bargaining’. While some cultures may frown upon bargaining, in India, bargaining is almost an integral part of the shopping etiquette, especially when you are buying from street-side shops or little kiosks in famous shopping areas. There’s one disclaimer though- avoid bargaining when you are in a luxury shopping mall selling branded products.

Indians have mastered this skill, of bargaining, so much so that it’s considered an art form, with deal-finders gloating about their bargaining skills. However, if you are visiting from another country, one where bargaining is considered not polite, it’s time you pick up the basics of bargaining. It’ll not just save you money, but will also let you experience shopping in India as it should be – a little colorful and a little complex.

shopping in india, bargaining tips, travel tips, travel shopping tips

Shopping in India - Colorful!

Whether you are walking on the bustling streets of Delhi, the idyllic beaches of Goa or the sun-kissed lanes of Kerala, one thing in common is that shopping streets in India are designed to entice. Colorful trinkets, traditional weaves, glass bangles in hues one never thought existed vie for attention along with random artifacts, antiques and the like. The vendor, usually a frail looking man or a woman will appeal to your materialistic desires in plaintive, sing-song or just quotidian tones. But before you bring out that moolah, sharpen your bargaining chops.

In the movie ‘Godfather’, Don Corleone says, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”. The art of bargaining is a skill in which the vendor and buyer do a dance of offer and counter offer, till they come to an offer which the other cannot refuse.

When shopping in India, bargaining is as much a social skill as it is a business skill. It is a challenge associated with fun and pride of saving your own money; a subject of discussion among friends, each one relating their shopping accomplishments and a great dialogue between buyer and seller. The buyer, with a feeling of triumph, visibly pleased at the successful transaction and a hard-earned great bargain, while the seller, who was planning for the bargaining ahead of time, happy with the profit!

shopping in india goa - bargaining tips

Anjuna Market, Goa. One of the many places where bargaining skills come in handy!

But before you set out on your bargaining spree, it’s helpful to get familiar with the place, price and language. Before visiting a shopping destination, do some research ahead of time. While most street markets in India make an allowance for bargaining, there are some like the vendors in Pondy Bazaar, Chennai who do not take kindly to bargaining and may just ask to go fly a kite!

Whenever possible, try and take a local with you, someone who will genuinely help you and not expect a commission in return. If you plan to stay at a homestay or a little boutique hotel, ask the hosts for recommendations and tips. At the shopping area, peruse a few shops and compare prices to get an idea. Go at a busy time and observe how other shoppers are bargaining.  You might notice that some wily buyers pitch one shopkeeper against another to their advantage. If you are unable to find a local person to accompany you, it may be prudent to learn a few local words like ‘How much’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘too expensive’. There’s nothing like speaking the local lingua to break the ice. But also remember not to show eagerness in order to stay in control of the bargaining process.

Once you have decided on the item you’d like to purchase, mentally make a note of how much you’re willing to pay. Although there is no set rule, its standard practice to assume the actual cost is about 50% of the quoted price. Once a price is quoted, make an offer far less than what you are willing to pay. If the vendor counter offers, the bargaining has begun!

Prepare for a courteous act of dueling, without getting offensive or aggressive. A bit of going back and forth, a bit of compromise on both sides can result in a successful sale.

If the bargaining is not going your way, you can pretend to leave! If the seller wants to make the sale, they will stop you before you can leave, with a better offer. But there is a chance that the vendor may not stop you and let you go.

If you’re really keen on the buy, don’t worry about paying a little more than you had planned for. The vendor probably needs it more. The art of bargaining is to ultimately go with one’s gut instinct while keeping it a pleasant, enjoyable activity.

Happy shopping!

Image credits: Vincent Huang, Kamal Venkit, Klaus Nahr Flickr CC; Wikimedia commons. 

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Posted by Admin at 11:00 am
    Comments ( 2 2)
  • Yasmin

    April 9, 2015

    Hey I was wondering if you have any contacts in Pondicherry?

    I’m looking for textile and homeware manufacturers and I was wondering if the people who loan out the villa’s in the area may know. It is a very difficult area to navigate via email and websites but I would love your thoughts. Looking for handmade goods in the region as many French people manufacturer in this region so it’s going on but hard to locate what factories are doing this manufacturing.

  • sudha

    April 9, 2015

    Yasmin, do mail us at info@goseekandhide.com.

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The wise man travels to discover himself - JR Lowell


My name is Sudha Mathew. I'm an ex-banker who quit the rat race after a decade to follow my passion for travel and to combine it with my experience in understanding client requirements and exceeding their expectations.


While our content is mostly about the holiday experience, the accommodation and services, there's so much more to a journey. I have discovered a whole new me through travel. So I've reserved this corner of the website to share the unexpected aspects of travel. This space is also to hear from you about your journeys and discoveries. Bon Voyage!

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