Bargaining in Thailand - Shopping Guide

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Bargaining or haggleing for items is something many people find distasteful and would rather not do. They simiply prefer to go to a store, find out the price of an item they want and then decide whether to buy it or not. Bargaining is, however, quite common in Thailand, although, of course, it is not done everywhere or in all situations.

Bargaining should not be feared, though. It is usually a very ritualized process. It simply takes a little more time and usually there are no checkout lines to stand in so actually the time required to bargain is not so much different than the amount of time one might spend in a store.

Where is bargaining done?

Bargaining is usually done in open air and street markets, with street vendors, and in small shops that have a window or a stand to sell to people walking by. It is even done in department stores although this is the exception and not the rule.

It is also done inside small shops, including those in modern shopping malls, although this is also the exception and not the rule.

It is not done in Western style convenience stores such as 7-11 and Family Mart, or the Western Style super centers such as Big C and Tesco. Bargaining differs somewhat according to exactly where it is done.

What is the bargaining ritual like?

What is the bargaining ritual like? The bargaining ritual is very simple although it depends somewhat on the setting. At a street stand, a customer simply looks at an item, and the clerk will either say "Can I help you?" or the customer will ask "How much is this?" Then, it is perfectly acceptable for the customer to say, "Can you give me a discount?" at which time the seller will lower the price.

Then, it is expected that the customer will say, "Well, that is still too high, can't you do any better?" Then, the seller will probably give a price that is still lower. At this point, the ritual is basically over. The seller has given the customer what is considered by the seller to be a "fair price". The customer then usually either buys the item or says "no thank you" and walks away.

How should I behave while I bargain?

No unusual behavior is required for bargaining. Simply smile and be polite, calm and respectful. It is okay to complement the seller on his products but don't indicate how much you really want the item you want. Don't argue, don't get angry. Simply smile and follow the instructions above.

What is a fair price?

A fair price is usually considered to be 20 to 30 percent below what the original asking price was or is…certainly no more than thirty. A seller will be very reluctant to go beyond that although it is possible that the buyer can "push" the seller and get a final, "take it or leave it" price. The customer does this by walking away after the second of the two lower prices is offered. The seller might call out a lower price or actually chase the customer down the street.

Do I have an obligation to buy anything?

Well, the customer is never under any legal obligation to buy anything but the ethical issues are more confusing.

Generally, the seller expects the customer to buy after he or she offers the second price or the final third price after he or she chases the customer down the street.

The customer should try to make a decision at the very beginning if the price being asked for is worth negotiating.

If the customer believes that the original price is simply too high, then they should probably just walk away at that point, at the very beginning.

How do I know what the price is if I don't ask?

That is a good question. You can't know for sure what the price is unless you ask.

But once you ask, you are in a position to know if you want to continue the bargaining or to walk away at that point.

You must remember that it is unlikely the seller will drop their price below 25 percent. You also need to do some homework about prices and merchandise.

What do you mean I should "do my homework?"

It is always a good idea to have a general idea of what prices are being asked. It isn't always possible to accomplish this, and it might be a little silly to gather this information for small items, but try to do it. This would involve simply asking sellers "how much?" and then saying, "thank you", and walking away. If you can't do your price homework, then have a good idea in your own mind about what is reasonable to you.

You should also have an idea in your own mind about whether you really want the item you are considering bargaining for. Will you buy it if you get the price you want? It is a matter of opinion, but there seems to be an ethical issue involved in bargaining for an item you don't really want and then walking away even if you get a reasonable price offer.

What are the ethical issues involved in bargaining?

Just remember that the sellers are human beings. If you have no real intention to buy, then it is wrong to play a game with them. They are very serious and maybe need your business very badly. Just walk away before the bargaining begins if you are not really interested. If the seller will not come down on the price, however, you are justified to consider the bargaining over.

One must also consider how far one wants to push the seller to get a price that is wanted. Generally, no more than three reduced offers would be correct. If, however, you are a believer in the adage that all is fair in business and bargaining, then you can disregard this section on ethical issues!! Of course, though, you are also under an ethical obligation to protect yourself. Keep that in mind, too. Some sellers are unscrupulous.

How is bargaining in a store different from bargaining in the street?

Generally, it is not acceptable to be direct and ask for a discount in a store, unless one is buying very expensive items. One should be indirect, and say something like, "Oh, I really like this but it is a little too expensive". The clerk will offer you a discount if it is possible. This will be the only discount offered. It is not considered correct or polite to bargain or haggle inside a store, except perhaps in jewellery and gem stores, and tailor shops.

Do I need to know Thai to bargain?

No, it is not necessary to know Thai to bargain. Most Thais who sell things are familiar with the expressions, "How much?" and "Too expensive". Often, these are the only two expressions required to bargain. Sign language and gestures are also useful, gently throwing up one's hands, for example, will communicate an important idea very effectively.

Many Thai, though, are not really familiar with English numbers – although those that frequently deal with tourists are – so it is always a good idea to carry a notepad and pencil. Generally, however, Thai sellers will have hand calculators, and they will show you the numbers in this manner.

What are some useful Thai language expressions for bargaining?

The following are helpful expressions. They should be spoken in a friendly, joking tone of voice:

How much is it? – Thao-rai?

That’s too expensive – Phaeng pai

Is this a fixed price? - Rakha ni taw mai-dai rue?

If you make it cheaper, I will buy it - Phom chah sue tha lod ik dai.

Words of caution

Generally, "all sales are final" after money and goods have exchanged hands. A buyer definitely can't "change their mind". The sellers generally consider themselves under no moral, ethical or business obligation to refund money or exchange faulty merchandise.

Generally, no receipts are given for street sales, and it would be difficult for a buyer to prove thay purchased something from a particular merchant. If a buyer is particularly unhappy with goods purchased, they can contact the tourist police, who are sometimes helpful in mediating disputes.

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