I suck at negotiating.

If I walked in to a Nordstrom and found a pair of shoes I liked, but decided the $100 asking price was too much, do you think they’d sell ’em to me for $80? Not a chance. Most US retailers don’t negotiate price. If you aren’t willing to pay the sticker value, you best start looking elsewhere. In Korea, however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Today I am going Skiing… no I’m not playing hookie from work, it’s Saturday here. I made sure to pack warm for my time abroad, but I never even thought about the possibility of hitting the slopes during my stay.

Fortunately I had a good jacket, warm pants, thermal socks, and some sunglasses. I had pretty much all the gear I needed for my mountain day, everything except gloves and a beanie that is. Looks like I had some shopping to do.

Just about every street in Korea is littered with street vendors. They sell everything from fried meats to paintings. Football jerseys to fake purses. If you are looking for it, a street vendor has it. Oh! I even had a woman approach me asking me if I’d like a “massage”. Something tells me she wasn’t just offering a massage if ya know what I mean. Sorry lady, I’m happily married and prostitutes aren’t my thing.

During my epic journey to find some decent gloves and a beanie –tuques for all you Canucks– I realized a few things about myself…

1. I get terribly uncomfortable when the vendor hovers me while I’m looking through their various products. In fact, I get so uncomfortable that my visceral reaction is to put down whatever I’m looking at (even if I want it) and just walk away. I know they mean no harm, but I prefer shopping without something looking over my shoulder telling me “This one very nice, I give you good deal”.

2. I have no idea which vendor I should go to. Every street is lined with dozens of booths. How do I know which one I should go to? It seems like they all sell the exact same things. I get overwhelmed by the options and start loosing interest and motivation to keep looking. (It’s kinda like when you are super hungry but there are a million restaurants nearby and you can’t pick which one you want to go to.)

3. How do I know if the product is legit? Obviously the quality of a beanie is not of great importance, but gloves are a different story. If they don’t insulate well and are not completely waterproof, they’re as good as garbage. I tried on a million different types of gloves, but since none of them are made by North Face, Burton, or REI it’s impossible for me to know if they’ll actually do their job on the mountain. I ended up buying a pair, sure hope they don’t suck!

4. Lastly, the most important thing I learned about myself during my Korean shopping extravaganza was that I absolutely suck at negotiating. Well that may not necessarily be true. I negotiate advertising rates for my blog, I negotiated the purchase price of Girl Ninja’s engagement ring, and I will definitely negotiate like a boss when it comes time to putting an offer in on a house. But I absolutely suck at negotiating small, petty, and already affordable things.

I found a pair of gloves that seemed pretty decent. The asking price was $25. I knew in my head (and from what everyone else tells me) I could easily knock a few bucks off that price. But guess, what. I gave the lady $25 and walked away with some new gloves. So what if I could have negotiated her down to $20 or $15. I got a good deal, and she probably got more than she was expecting. It’s a win-win. Besides, those same gloves at Target or Sports Authority probably would have cost $40, not to mention the vendor here in Korea probably NEEDS that $25 a heck of a lot more than I do.

How can I love negotiating so much when it comes to larger transactions, but clam up like a little kid when it comes to trivial things? Am I the only person that sucks at negotiating with street vendors? Should I let emotions (sympathy) be a part of the negotiating process, or just try to get the best deal possible?

25 thoughts on “I suck at negotiating.”

  1. Hi Ninja,

    I understand what you are trying to say but I think it sounds misleading. If you went to a flea market or an art fair or were dealing with street vendors in NYC, of course you could negotiate. But if you went to an equivalent of Nordstroms in Korea, I doubt that you’d be able to negotiate.

    I have learned in business classes that Koreans are some of the toughest negotiators but having lived there, I know for a fact that not every shopping is open to negotiations.

    Enjoy your time there!

    • You’re right. Didn’t mean for it to be misleading. I made the relationship between street vendors and Nordstrom simply because I see a lot of Nordstroms and Department Stores (and virtually no street vendors) in the States, just like I see a bunch of street vendors but virtually no Department Stores here. Totally understand how I made that relationship confusing. Ha, maybe I should try and go to a dept store here and negotiate just to see what happens 🙂

  2. One of my last memories with my dad aka grandpaninja (who loved negotiating the little stuff) was a trip to Tijuana 2 weeks before he went to ninja heaven. My dad would spend 10 minutes negotiating to save a buck because for him it was “the art of the deal” that mattered not the item..but on this trip a very young salesman approached him when he glanced at a little green handled pocket knife and my dad said $30 now this was almost 20 years ago and the salesman said ok so my dad bought the knife. I was shocked I had just spent the last 5 minutes negotiating on a dress to save a whole 3$ and he told me I could have done better – well he simply said the poor kid looked nervous and I guess I over paid and should have started lower. So maybe there are times in our lives when negotiating isn’t about the win but about the experience my dad felt good about what he did just as you have so all is GOOD!

    Enjoy those gloves and it’s cool to not save a few bucks on trivial things and go for the big savings on large items.

  3. My best negotiation was in Venice, Italy with an illegal street vendor. I learned a valuable lesson about negotiating. If you have very little money on you, you can only offer very little. My wife liked a fake Prada bag (in front of a real Prada store nonetheless). The guy wanted 100 euro, but we eventually agreed on 20. After looking in my wallet, and my wife’s, we realized we only had 10 on us. The vendor decided it was better to get 10 euro instead of being stuck with merchandise he couldn’t move. Win-win, especially since these guys get chased all over Venice by the police – it was quite an entertaining sight when we ate dinner outside.

  4. Negotiation is an art that some of us gringos never learn to master. My little negotiation story: I was on a Carribean cruise some years ago and visited the San Blas Islands belonging to Panama, where the Kuna Indian women sold woven blouse designs called molas.

    Many of them were being sold for $10 or so, but I saw one particularly intricate one for $20 and decided to negotiate.

    ME: I like that. I’ll give you 10.
    ME: How about 13.
    KIW: 20.
    ME: 15?
    KIW (silently points to the intricate design, and traces with her hand all the stitching.)
    ME: 18.
    KIW: 20.
    ME (hands over $20 bill).

    I found incidentally that these so-called primitive Indians really knew the value of a dollar. If they saw you trying to take their picture, they would turn their backs or cover their faces. You had to pay a dollar to take a picture (non-negotiable), so I gave a dollar to a girl in a beautiful native costume who had a little lizard perched on her head. But she looked very cross with me, and it was explained that I should have given her two dollars because there were two people being photographed; i.e., the girl and the lizard.

    • I’m sorry, “primitive”?

      Seriously? What is wrong with you? I usually like what you say here but I don’t like this, at all. Even if you’re merely implying that other people (wrongly) think this, why invoke it at all?

    • I also don’t get why you would take pictures of people you don’t even know like they were part of the scenery or something. I mean, at what point would it cross your mind that they’re people, and maybe don’t want some random stranger photographing them? If you came up to me and I didn’t know you, and you were trying to take my picture, I’d be like “what the hell are you doing?” I like how it’s implied in your words that of course these people who don’t even know you should be thrilled to have you take their picture.

      • To clarify: Some of the cruise ship lines dock near the San Blas Islands and send boats to the Kuna villages, so the tribe can sell its wares. The molas, which can cost as much as $200 apiece if bought here, are usually no more than $20 if bought on site. In using the word “so-called,” I was implying that these Indians were not primtiive in the least, however they may seem to others. I was in fact making a joke on myself in terms of my failure to negotiate with the woman selling her molas.

        As for the picture I took, I of course don’t as a rule take pictures of strangers. In this case, however, even when I tried to take a long shot of the village, the Indians would hide their faces if they thought they were part of the picture. It’s not as if they objected to being photographed – quite the contrary, they just wanted to be paid for it! And the young lady whose picture I took was very definitely trying to make some money from the tourists. Her only objection apparently was that I was getting an unfair discount by not paying for her lizard.

  5. I was stationed in Korea when I was younger. We won’t mention how many years ago that was. At first I was shy about negotiating prices with vendors, but after being there awhile and seeing what my friends paid for stuff, I gradually got used to negotiating. After a year, I was a pro at it. I remember negotiating with a shop owner one time. We had been going back and forth on the price, finally I called his bluff and walked away. He started chasing me down the street…ok, ok, I’ll sell it for your price. It was getting to be fun!

  6. I’m not a big fan of negotiating for prices or having people hover over me. But I’ve gotten enough practice at it that I don’t feel so awkward about it now. Before going to a flea market or street vendor, I know what I want and what I will pay.

  7. I love negotiating! To me it’s a game to see how low I can get the other person.

    I lived in Beijing for 3 years and in my experience, nothing you can buy on the street is real. Not a single thing. That North Face jacket or backpack? Not real. That Zippo lighter? Not real? Oakley sunglasses? Not real. The DVDs? Not real (obviously). So if the gloves you bought appear to be name brand, I highly, highly doubt they actually are. That’s not to say they won’t keep you warm, but I doubt they’re really waterproof, for example.

  8. 1. You can ask them to not do that or if that doesn’t work, just walk away. If it’s an open shop area, other shops will see what happened (if it’s a slow day, everyone stands outside the shop and scan for potential customers) and won’t do what they were doing if you enter their booth. Especially with caucasians (being PC here) since it’s assumed they have “lot of money.” If you want that particular item and you walk away, you can always return and they’ll stay out of your way (well, from my experience) to not risk losing a potential sale.

    2. I’m not sure it matters what booth you go to in Korea, but a couple of my friends that went there on holiday several years ago stated that the prices for the items were the same in all the booths. The only difference was negotiating. It may be different now.

    3. Street markets (I can say for Korea and China), nothing is legit. If you want the real deal, you’ll have to go to the department store.

    4. The tip my friends suggested when shopping and negotiating in Korean markets (not the stores) was to start extremely low from the price you’re willing to pay (which I guess is true in negotiating period). If they don’t agree or their counter isn’t close to what you want to pay, you can move on since you’ll most likely able to find the same item elsewhere.. And like what happened to Norman, if they REALLY want your sale, they will most likely run after you. (It also helps if you can maintain a poker face when negotiating on an item you want)

    Have fun perfecting your negotiations skills and to trying out new cuisines!

  9. I’m annoyed that some people say you start negotiating by lowballing them. A successful negotiation is by definition win-win. Everyone gets something they wanted and gives up something they can live with. The idea that there is a winner and loser in a negotiation is a naive thought from people who don’t understand value propositions.

    You see it in three places very often: salaries, house prices, and car prices. You can offer an amount that represents a reasonable value proposition to you and the seller. Car dealers are especially hated because they say no to an offer of $10k below MSRP – would you sell something for so little? Of course, they do some things to counter “typical” customer negotiating tactics that seem unfair. Someone tried it on me once, but I stood firm and he realized I was making a valid offer.

  10. I have a hard time with negotiating but I think for me it’s more “time value of money”. Negotiating isn’t enjoyable for me and going back and forth for 15 minutes to save $5 isn’t worth the time for me. Though I take krantcents point about cultural expectations and so generally spend a short time negotiating when it’s expected, but then will either buy or walk away fairly quickly. I ended up avoiding markets in Egypt just because of the aggressiveness of the vendors (along with false flattery) which just really turned me off and made me feel unsafe.

  11. I remember when I was in the floating markets I bought a hand crafted Chess Board. They asked for $400 initially and after debating ended at $50. Crazy detail on the pieces, sadly it didn’t fend the trip home so well (somewhere along the way it got smashed). I was confident I could get it down below $50, but same as you — I didn’t really care.

  12. I was in china last year and went to a couple of the markets. some people we were travelling with loved the experience, but I found it really confronting and frustrating.

    One example I could think of was business shirts. Many stalls in the market all selling the same thing, and after a couple of sales you work out the eventual price. Starting at about 500yuan (say $75), ending up at 40 (about $7). I didn’t have the patience to play the game, so I bought 5 or 6 at once, offered them 50yuan each. they get more than normal, and i get out of there faster. It still took some time to convince them that it was a good deal, but they all knew that i could have gone 2 stalls down and paid 40. And i’m convinced that they still make decent money from that too.

    I did find some examples where people were arguing over about 5 or 10yuan – under $1.50. As much as these people make a decent (not great, not necessarily western level of lifestyle), living, that $1.50 means more to them than it does to me, so i didn’t care. unfortunately, i also knew that their starting price was over 10x what the end price was, so that avoiding the negotiation at all is hard.

    Anytime that this topic comes up here is what I think of:


  13. I’ve never been to Korea but have spent quite a lot of time in Indonesia. I used to be really competitive about negotiating with the street vendors to try and get the absolute lowest price possible. These days not so much. I earn in more in 1 day what these people earn in a month, paying $10 for a shirt instead of $5 means nothing to me but it means a lot to them.

  14. I’ve never been to Korea, but I have traveled around SE Asia quite a bit. Seems like you can always half the asking price when negotiating just for starters. Plus, if you get a pair of gloves for $5 and they don’t work you are only out $5 rather than $25.

  15. “In fact, I get so uncomfortable that my visceral reaction is to put down whatever I’m looking at (even if I want it) and just walk away” HAHAHAHA!! I do the exact same thing! Glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

  16. Just negotiate in good fun – if you are already happy with the price, then make a game out of it, chat up the vendor, ask questions about the local area, where to go eat, what to see/do, etc. Some don’t speak very good English, but others pretend they don’t as a negotiation ploy (it’s easy to stand firm on price if you don’t understand what the buyer is saying, right?).

    Some of the best times I had in Korea and similar places came from talking to the locals and finding out where to go or what to do. Instead of walking blindly into a bar or restaurant, many times you would get a recommendation for a place off the beaten path, which has better food, and sometimes better prices. I even had shop owners send runners to get food and drinks when I was in Turkey. We ended up staying there for over an hour, bought some rugs, they boxed them and delivered them to the base gate for us, and then I picked them up and dropped them off at the post office to ship them. Then the shop owner sent us to a restaurant we wouldn’t have otherwise found, where we avoided the rowdy crowds and had an amazing meal for about $5.

    It’s not always about getting the best “price” — which is overrated when $5 doesn’t mean a bunch to you in the grand scheme of things. It’s about respecting the other person and making an event out of it. That is when everyone really wins. 🙂

  17. I’m getting better at negotiating. When we bought our first (new, ugh, never again) car, we spent about 7-8 hours total at the dealership; saved about $3-4K. When we bought our next one (used), we spent about 4-5 hours total from start to finish; I can’t recall numbers, but we saved a couple grand. One the next one (a “new used” car – no previous owners on title but was used as dealership loaner), we spent about 3 hours and paid used car price for a (sorta) new 2009 Wrangler, with lifetime new-car warranty intact. On that last one, I discovered that the longer I sat there saying nothing and looking cranky, the more the price came down. (1-2 minutes of silence = extra $1K savings, BAM!)

    I put my negotiation skills to the test today. Had to take my car in for some work – the 4WD light was on when 4WD was off, and the dealership had just done a transfer case fluid change-out. I couldn’t get them to agree that they caused it (and I can’t say for sure they did), but I rejected their initial pricing offer. Told the rep that I was not comfortable with the parts price nor the time to repair. He asked me what I would be comfortable with…told him the part was a $50-75 part and that the work to be done should take anywhere from 20-40 minutes. (Thank you, Jeep repair forums, you saved my arse on this one.) Got them to slash the parts price down by >30% ($110 down to $73.20, the dealership price listed on the interwebs, hrm, interestink – someone else googling, too?!) and the 1.5-2 hours labor went down to 1 hour. And it was done in just under 45 minutes. Lessons I learned from this round & previous experiences:
    – do your homework. If you know what you need, find out what fair pricing is in your market. If you have to pay labor charges for work to be done, find out what a fair work time frame is for the work.
    – don’t be afraid to say no. I’m a people-pleaser. I’m very fearful of saying no. But I’m also a cheap bastard, so I’m a little less afraid to say no to spending too much money!
    – expect some give & take. I’m glad that they gave me the listed dealership price for the part, and even though I knew that the repair would (and did) take less than an hour, I also knew that they had to do some diagnostics/checking to verify the repair…so I was fine with paying for an hour of labor when the repair took 40-45 minutes; add in the 30-45 minutes of fiddling to diagnose, and that’s fair.
    – play nice. I was very upset about having to pay anything at all, but I kept my cool. People are more apt to actually negotiate reasonably with you if you’re reasonable & respectful & don’t flip out on them.
    – expect for your intelligence to be underestimated, and don’t freak out. This totally happened to me today. I may be a “girl,” but I’m not stupid and my google-fu is strong – I can do research on fair pricing & fair labor. See “play nice” above. 😉
    – if at all possible, do not leave the premises if you’re paying for labor. If I left the car instead of waited, I wouldn’t have known the actual amount of time taken to diagnose and repair. They could have tried to charge me out the wazoo. I prefer that strangers leave my wazoo alone. 🙂
    – always bring your laptop (or other web-capable device) to a dealership repair shop! Not only do most have free coffee, but most have free wifi. I did research before I brought the car in today, but I also spent my wait/diagnostic time doing more in-depth research and checking current prices so I was armed when the time came. (Plus, if you bring headphones, you can stream movies/TV to keep entertained while you wait.)

    TL;DR version: be an educated consumer, leave your emotions at home, the interwebs be a wonderful resource, and don’t be a jerky jerk.

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