You're walking down a busy street in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There are curio vendors everywhere, and all are trying their very best to get your attention and you are looking to barter for a good deal.
You see something you have been looking for, its the perfect memento to an awesome African Safari vacation. It doesn't have a price tag, so you ask the vendor, how much?
Zimbabweans are some of the most friendly and welcoming people on the planet, they also live in a country with rocketing unemployment and extreme poverty, so it's only natural that they are going to try to get as much as they can for themselves. They bank on the fact that some visitors take out their wallet and pay the asking price without hesitation, it's a numbers game.
That said, these guys are also very happy to bargain with you. They want your money just as badly as you want their wares and that's why they all know how to negotiate like pro's, after all, they do it every day.
Street vendors will be more than happy to talk about their wares for hours on end if it means they can make some coin off it, but who is going home the richer in this situation?
The answer should be, both of you. Concluding a deal with a win win is an ideal result. So, how do you ensure a happy ending?
Here are my 10 top barter tips to get a bargain on the streets of Victoria Falls.
1. Browse First
A basic rule of thumb is to never buy from the first vendor you come across. You might be thinking to yourself, they probably have a good deal!" Chances are that there will be others with similar wares at the market, no doubt each with a keen desire to help you part with your cash. Moving on and checking out the competition will give you a good idea as to what is on offer. Once you know where the best deals are, go back and start haggling.
2. A Fair Price
Pay what you think is a fair price for the type and quality of the curio. Try not to convert the asking price into your home currency, this will not be an accurate gauge on what the goods are really worth. You have to ask yourself what the item is worth to you. Think about what the same amount of money will buy you at your hotels curio shop for instance. This should put the curio's worth into a better perspective.
3. Go for a Bulk Deal
Markets may be known for the hustle and bustle, but they're also bursting with opportunities if you go in prepared. You might have heard this phrase from vendors while walking through the market-"If you buy three I can give you a discount." The best time to make use of this offer is when buying lots of smaller items, you'll get better prices as well as some great backup gifts or extra stock when needed back home. Be sure not to overlook other offers too like free delivery. Just beware, see my bonus tip at the end!
4. Make a Trade
Trade some of your unused travel gear, like clothes, shoes or even your cap. A struggling Zimbabwean will often see more value in getting a new pair of shoes than taking the cash. There are certain products that are just not available to some locals. You will be surprised at some of the great deals you can do by making a simple trade. Think of it this way, now you wont only have found the perfect curio, but since your shoes are gone, it will fit perfectly in your suitcase for the trip home.
5. Don't be the First to make an Offer
Never be the first to put a price on something. The vendor will pick up on your inexperience right away and take advantage of it. Quoting a price that is far too low, will also not go down well, so refrain from using numbers. The key is to let the vendor set the fee and then work your way down from there. Be pleasant and share a laugh with them. When you've reached an understanding, shake hands.
6. Hold Back on the Enthusiasm
So the trick is not to show how excited you are? You may have thought it always best to be honest about your desires and wants so that people can know what they're dealing with! The reality in a situation like this, is that the only person who gets a good deal on anything when they have 'a glint in their eye' is the other person.
7. Speak the Lingo
Zimbabweans can communicate in both English and Shona (a native language) Learning a few words in the language of the country you're visiting might just open the door to a few dollars off the sticker price. Furthermore, it makes you seem more professional and puts them as ease – rather than some obnoxious tourist they they might have dealt with before. Vendors will see that you've come prepared to haggle and give you a great discount.
8. Remember the Balance
Don’t be overly proud of yourself if you got a big discount. Most vendors would have anticipated this and doubled or tripled the price, so don’t be afraid to offer much less than the asking price. They can always decline. No vendor will walk away with a loss on a deal. You should be firm when negotiating, but within reason. Remember the win win i mentioned earlier.
9. Involve a Partner
Having someone to act exasperated, impatient, or want to walk away with you in tow is often all it takes for the street vendor to hurry after you and accept your lower offer. This works especially well if you get the impression that the vendor is being stubborn. Sometimes its all that is needed to make them reaslise that a negotiation is a two way street.
10. Have Fun
Most importantly, make sure you have a good time. You're on vacation, so relax and enjoy it. Shopping will, of course, add to the excitement, but too much pressure and hard-core haggling can distract from it. So keep it under control and return to the resort with a great bargain and a big smile.
It's always a good idea to know who you're shipping with if your vendors offers to deliver your curios back home. If they can't provide information on their agents or records of recent shipments, it may not be worth trusting them in the long run. Some vendors are completely trustworthy and never deliver anything that isn't up to snuff--if this is true for your seller, don't take any action at all! But if there are doubts about whether or not they'll ship your item correctly to its destination location, make sure you either ask your hotel manager to make a shipping recommendation or arrange international transport yourself through FedEx or DHL. Both, operate in Victoria Falls.
The Zimbabwe dollar is no longer in circulation. The primary currency in Victoria Falls is the United States Dollar, but the local people will take variety of currencies including British Pounds, South African Rands and the Botswana Pula among others.
The Victoria Falls Tourism Police are on duty seven days a week from nine to six and have the welcoming presence. They patrol the small road network and can be there for you when needed. They also play an important role in keeping the street vendors in check. Although harmless, street vendors can become a nuisance at times.
Like many towns in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls relies on tourism for its livelihood. Your contributions really help keep this tiny town ticking over! I hope you have a blast bargaining with vendors, testing out your new-found skills, and going home with fond memories and that newly acquired something for the mantlepiece.