Secrets of Successful Bargaining

I'm convinced that this chasid outside a shop in Netanya used to have a red suit and a sleigh.

I will humbly say that I'm a pretty good bargainer. Better, in fact, than my Israeli husband. :) Ok, so I have those occasional slipups when I bargain and end up buying something that I don't want, but generally I can get WHAT I want at a reduced price. My secrets:

1. Depression. I'm not actually depressed, but acting depressed is a great bargaining chip. I learned this not in Israel but in Brazil on a college trip. At first, I would go into Brazilian stores and "ooooh" and "aaah" over everything-- what a beautiful pot! Wow, I love this hammock! The store owners figured if I liked the pot so much, I could pay full price. So instead I started to look downcast as I admired something-- "What a beautiful pot. It's too bad I can't afford to buy it at this price. Oh well, it will probably break anyway when I travel back home." Maybe the store owners just felt badly for me, but I started hearing lower prices. So when you're in a shuk or a small shop, try not to smile. Imagine your long-suffering Jewish grandmother. Observe wares with wistful sadness... if only prices were lower, perhaps you could afford to bring a few of them home.

2. Speak Hebrew. I know some "Anglos" who speak English to store owners because they feel they get better service this way, but I find that if I'm shopping in a touristy area, speaking Hebrew and demonstrating that I live here helps immensely. Part of this is that, as I said in my last post, Israelis know that all Americans are as rich. After all, they see Americans on TV-- you know, on The Hills, True Hollywood Story, Sex in the City, Oprah. So if you're an American tourist, it's only fair for you to pay a little extra. (I'd have to agree, actually.) They have far greater sympathy for Americans foolish enough to move permanently to Israel-- then they assume you are probably telling the truth when you say you only have 35 shekels to your name. Of course, if you want to speak Hebrew to bargain, you must have a good grasp of Hebrew numbers-- see Lesson #16.

3. Decide your price and be willing to walk away. This is very basic bargaining advice, but key. Decide the price at which you will accept the product, and then offer a price somewhat lower. If you really think you're being overcharged, be prepared to walk away. Often shopowners will agree to the price you offered as you walk out the door, but often they don't. And if they don't, keep walking. Remember: bargaining is an act of fighting for justice. If you are not being offered what you see as a fair price, do not pay more.

4. Ramp up your bargaining by appearing to grow more and more indecisive. If a shopowner knows you are determined to buy, they'll wrangle with you until you meet them in the middle or pay full price. But if they see you starting to waver-- for example, wondering if this food processor is actually going to hold up, or if you could just continue to chop vegetables by hand, or if this brand is good after all-- they'll try to close the deal quickly before you talk yourself out of it.

5. Point out flaws in the product (noncombatively). When I was shopping in Jerusalem, I found a beautiful embroidered shawl that had a huge stain on it. The shop owner assured me that it would wash out, no problem, so why should he give me a discount? I helpfully suggested that the shop owners themselves wash the shawl, because then they would undoubtedly get full price; after all, it would be such a pity to get less for such excellent work. In other words, I called their bluff in the sweetest possible way. I got the shawl for a third the stated price. (I did wash it and the colors ran, but it's still very pretty.)

6. Get the seller on your team. Just as shop owners try to connect with customers to get higher prices ("You from Pennsylvania? Ok, 15 shekel!"), you can connect with the seller to get a lower price. Never be combative with a seller; say "Lo, lo, lo" with a smile when you're offered a price too high, clicking your tongue, and giving the seller a look letting him know you're in on the joke. Don't bully the seller, but rather cajole him-- sadly and sweetly say, "Oy, that's a little too much for me. Can't you give me a good price?" I never outright disagree with a seller when they point out, for example, the beautiful etching on a kiddush cup. Rather, I say "Yes, that's really beautiful. Oh, well, I wish I could afford it."

7. Don't show a lot of money, and pay in exact change. Definitely don't hold out a 200-shekel note if you still have hopes of paying less. If you've already agreed to a bargained price, it's usually ok to pay with a bigger bill. But in a flea market in Tel Aviv, I once bargained a seller down on a second-hand belt. But then, when I counted my change (which she suspiciously handed to me almost entirely in 50 cent pieces), I found out she hadn't given me enough. She insisted that she didn't have enough change, and ultimately (after making a little bit of a scene) I decided to get the belt anyway-- the change she gave me already put the price below the price I was willing to pay. But in the future, it always pays to have small bills when you try to bargain.

8. Have a mean spouse. I actually have a very nice spouse, but one key to bargaining is the old good cop/bad cop routine, and both my husband and I have played Mean Spouse when we're trying to bargain. In fact, all of the above strategies can be amplified by a Mean Spouse. A mean spouse can splash negative thinking on a nice spouse's enthusiasm. If one spouse appears to be trying to talk the other out of the purchase, the seller will quickly try to close the sale. One key: develop code language to indicate when your spouse is playing mean spouse and when he actually doesn't think you should buy something. Trust me.

9. Say thank you! If you establish a relationship with a store owner-- even one who sells light bulbs and paint-- you can continue to get great deals from him for years to come. Plus he might come help you when you can't fix your dripping toilet or when your sewage overflows.

Important Hebrew phrase: "Ul-eye atah yechol laasot li mechir?" = "Perhaps you can make me a price" (i.e. cut me a deal).

Any strategies I've missed?


  1. 1. Have a secret compartment in your wallet where you keep the big bills, so you can pull out your wallet and show the seller that you "only have 50 shekels"

    2. I haven't tried this personally, but I suspect that a small child, preferably fussy and crying, is as good as a mean spouse, maybe better (especially if they're crying loudly).

  2. I thought about this blog post today, I had my first Israeli shopping experience today... nope I didn't move to Israel, didn't even visit. I don't want to flood your commet section so check out this blog I posted about it today: http://yonilevi.blogspot.com/2009/10/israeli-shopping-experience.html


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