The most important thing to remember when you are dealing with shopkeepers and stallholders in Thailand is to smile. It might sound trite, but the smile is one of the most important parts of getting a good deal when you are shopping in Thailand. Smiling establishes good intent and even if you don’t end up agreeing a price or buying anything, if it’s all done with a smile nobody loses face. An aggressive, confrontational approach is not the way to bargain in Thailand.
Most stalls and markets are willing to do a deal. If the price isn’t marked up on the item you are interested in, then there will usually be a lot of room for negotiation. To get the best deal, don’t ask for the price straight away. Try and establish a rapport with the person selling; smile, get them to smile or better still, get them to laugh. It doesn’t mean you have to launch into a 20 minute stand-up comedy routine, but if you have a sense of humour in your haggling you will definitely get a better deal. Thais like everything to be sanuk and that includes shopping. Ask them if the item is hand-made and if so, did they make it themselves. Compliment them on how nice their stall is, how nice their smile is or how good their English is. If it’s a DVD you’re buying, ask them if they’ve seen the film, ask if it’s any good, tell them they look like Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie; make them smile.
Don’t worry about trying to speak Thai. If you can, then all well and good, but it isn’t essential. In most tourist areas, many shopkeepers can speak English to some extent. As a tourist you won’t be expected to speak Thai, but if you’re polite and remember your sawatdee kha/khap and your khop khun kha/khap you’ll establish a good rapport immediately. At some stage of your browsing you will probably notice the ubiquitous big calculator. Just about every stall that deals with tourists will have a large calculator on hand to save any misunderstandings when it comes to agreeing a price. If the stallholder doesn’t speak much English, you can still guarantee he’ll understand the words, ‘how much?’ Once you’ve uttered those magic words, then the fun begins and the stallholder will either quote you a price or key it into the calculator and show you. Normally, this will be a price well above that which he is expecting or hoping to achieve. When he gives you a price, smile. You should counter with an offer well below that which you are expecting to pay. However, be sensible. Decide before you start haggling what you think is a fair price and how much you’d be prepared to pay. After a few offers and counter offers you should come to an agreement. When you are haggling over that extra 20 Baht, try and put it into context; think about how much it is in your home currency. Nobody likes to get ripped off, but think about how much this item is costing you compared to buying something similar back home. Stallholders, market traders and small shops all have their overheads to pay so consider who needs those extra few Baht the most. At markets and in tourist areas many shops and stalls sell similar items so you can ask around at a few stores to establish what the average going rate is and decide on how much you want to pay. If you are buying in bulk that’s obviously perfect from the shopkeeper’s point of view and he may offer a discount straight away, but there’s still usually room for extra negotiation.
Department stores and large shops work on a fixed price, so it’s not the place to start haggling. However, if you have bought a really expensive item, there’s no harm in asking for a discount or a free gift. Very often this may be offered automatically, but if it isn’t, just smile and ask politely.