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And Such a Bargain!

Published Nov 13, 2006 - (Updated Dec 12, 2012)


Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2006 issue.

The T-shirt with “Puerto Vallarta” spelled out in dancing dolphins is adorable, but maybe you could find it cheaper somewhere else. So, bargain for it! In Mexico the process of the purchase can be more pleasurable for both parties than the outcome, and for the tourist, a rich cultural experience as well.

Haggling over price is generally expected in Mexico, but keep in mind that to bargain is not to argue; rather, it is a courteous discussion of price. For a good deal, it’s not necessary to be aggressive or obnoxious, just knowledgeable and determined. Try these bargaining tips to take home a memory of Vallarta.

Do some research. Compare prices among various shops or check out what your neighbor under the next beach palapa buys. If you have a specific object in mind, investigate before leaving home.

Be casual about the item. Don’t let the vendor know how perfect that silver necklace is for your purple dress. Inspect other pieces too.

Let the merchant make the first offer. Avoid answering the “set-up” question: “How much do you want to pay?” Keep the seller wondering; don’t give him any idea of the amount you might consider spending.

Mentally set a top price to pay. Generally an offer of 50% to 70% below the asking price is not out of line, if you don’t insult the vendor. Acknowledge that the merchandise is more valuable than your proposal, but explain your limited budget. Expect to pay 65% to 70% of the original price – or more if you really want the item. Don’t pass up something you truly love over a few dollars because your ego wouldn’t let you lose the last round with a skilled beach hawker.

Avoid round numbers. Instead of offering $100 pesos, offer $92. You will either impress the seller with your expertise or confuse the negotiation enough to get a better deal.

Be deliberately slow. The more impatient you are, the more you will probably pay. When negotiating, time is usually in your favor. Once the merchant invests time in the sale, he wants to make certain he closes the deal, even if that means lowering the price.

Keep your distance. Stand about three yards outside the shop or away from the vendor. Sellers maintain control by keeping customers close. So if you can’t agree on a price, try walking away, usually good for another 10% off the price. If the vendor has approached you, make an exit with body language: turn away or begin a new conversation with another person.

In the end, be creative. Although the seller may not budge on the price, probe the possibility of “extras,” such as including a small item you can give as a gift, free shipping, or using a credit card when the deal was for cash. That way, no one “loses face.”

Learn a few words in Spanish. The real basics, of course, are “por favor” and “gracias” or “please” and “thanks,” but “cuanto es?” or “how much” and “mas barato” or “cheaper” come in handy. “Demasiado” is “too much,” or just say “mucho” and shake your head no. Knowing your numbers in Spanish is terrific, but to avoid doubt, write the numbers down before concluding the transaction.

Although bargaining is always expected on the beach, in open-air markets and in small souvenir shops, negotiating a better deal may be more thorny in upscale establishments with fixed prices, and impossible in chain stores. Usually, the better the air-conditioning, the more difficult it is to parley the price, and merchants may appear insulted when you politely ask if the tag on that ceramic vase shows the “best” price possible. Don’t be daunted. Try asking about a discount for buying several items or for cash payment instead of credit card. Some sellers may reduce the price by waiving the “IVA,” value added tax (15%), for shipments out of Mexico.

Vallarta can be a shopping paradise, and it is a vacation, so have fun bargaining for your booty. But be careful not to enjoy your new skills so much you end up paying for an overweight suitcase!

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