Seven Tips for Shopping Like a Local in India

Published 14 August 2017

Sandy Dhaliwal

With its vibrant and diverse bazaars and markets and lavish and expansive malls and emporiums, India is a dream destination for anyone who loves to shop. Whether you’re looking to fill your home or wardrobe with unique, signature pieces, are after quirky gifts and souvenirs to take back for friends and family, or perhaps are in search of some meaningful and memorable mementoes from your stay; you are not going to be disappointed with the wide variety of colourful keepsakes on offer in this one-of-a-kind location.

But be prepared for the fact that browsing stalls and stores in India is a bit of an art form, and nothing remotely like an ordinary shopping expedition back home. While we often regard hitting the high street as a form of therapy, the same cannot be said for an equivalent experience in India… in fact you may feel like you need therapy by the end of your first outing!

Don’t be scared off though, as it is all part of the fun and uniqueness of the Indian travel experience. And by employing some key techniques, you will easily be able to get the most out of this exercise; I say exercise, as it is a little like a full-scale operation when you first start doing it. But by the end of your trip (and by heeding the advice that I picked up after volunteering and travelling the country) you’ll definitely end up going home a pro, hopefully with a treasure trove of goodies too. Check out my top tips below:

Necklaces in Anjuna Flea Market, Goa

Necklaces at Anjuna Flea market, Goa image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Shop with a local

Coming from an Indian family, I have learnt that there is such a thing as a local price and a foreigner price. I also picked up that bartering or haggling is everything; and the type of price I am likely to receive will depend on who I’m with! Generally, when travelling alone or with family or friends from the area, I’m able to get the best deals. This is how you shop in most places in India – you can bargain the price down if you don’t want to pay what is initially being asked – unless you are in a shop that clearly indicates that it has fixed prices. However, if I am with an obvious tourist, sadly the price goes up exponentially. You can still get the prices down to something a little more in your range, but generally not as low as local price.

However, if you have made friends with locals during your trip, why not see if they can come with you and barter on your behalf? I used to arrange deals for friends without traders knowing I was with them (generally by making them hide somewhere) and would often make decent savings that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve had we looked like we were together. When the seller realises what we’re up to, they are a little annoyed, but it’s okay to be a bit ruthless; as everyone is when it comes to making sales in India!

Stall at Anjuna Flea Market, Goa

Stall at Anjuna Flea Market image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Haggle for the price you want to pay

I’ve already touched on the haggling and bargaining that takes place with most transactions in India, but there is a little more to it than that. There is an etiquette to how it all plays out. Firstly, try and have an idea in your mind of what you want to pay for something. The seller will have an extremely inflated price, often starting at say 2000 rupees when you’re probably going to end up paying 200 rupees. As they have gone so high with their price, go extremely low with your counter (lower than you would actually pay) and eventually you should be able to meet somewhere in the middle. The trader might additionally ask you for your best price (the highest you’re willing to pay) or tell you their best price (the lowest they are willing to go) and if you can’t compromise, politely leave. If the seller can meet your price, they will run out after you to get the sale anyway. Though if the seller doesn’t pursue you, you might have perhaps gone a little too low. Saying that, another seller may accept your price, so it pays to stick to your guns.

Another tip you could try to get the seller onside is by using their local language, they might lower the price if you impress them!

Devaraja Market in Mysore

Devaraja Market, Mysore image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Don’t buy on impulse

The more you shop around and get a feel for the prices of the items, the faster you will become a pro at knowing what price you should be paying. And let’s face it, anything that you see at one place, you’re bound to see further along the line elsewhere; as everywhere generally sells the same stuff! While you might take a shine to an item early on, take your time and shop about before committing to the purchase. At the same time, you shouldn’t show too much interest or enthusiasm for anything you want, it’ll just make it harder to haggle the price down, should you end up going back and getting it; as the stall holder will see that you really like it.

Friends trying to haggle in Goa

Friends trying to haggle in Goa image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Plan your trip in the morning or afternoon for the best bargains

The time of the day can be vital to making those savings, as well as having your pick of the best that’s on offer. If you head over in the morning you’ll definitely have more choice on products, but as it’s the start of the day, it might be harder to get the price that you want. However, the first sale of the day is seen as good luck with merchants, so you might end up being in luck after all. But, I generally got my best deals when visiting stores and markets toward the end of the day when the sellers are packing up and soon to be heading off. If they haven’t had the best day of it, they will more likely drop their prices. Shopping anywhere when it’s quieter or less saturated with tourists is always going to work in your favour too, so if you can find some places off the beaten track, all the better.

Markets in Puri Odisha

markets in Puri Odisha image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Trust your instincts

This is something not to just consider while shopping, but generally while out there. You will likely encounter those trying to sweet talk you about all sorts, be it a fabulous tour you should take with their agency or they  may even tell you that your hotel is full or your transport is cancelled, though they can offer you a great deal! If you’re feeling unsure or think it sounds too good to be true, definitely question it and check out the validity for yourself, holding your ground no matter what. Many people get stung when they’re new to the place and unsure how things work. But, if you counter (in the same way you’d approach haggling) you’re more likely to be left alone.

Now, how this relates to shopping is because you will more than likely be getting taxis during your visit. Many taxi drivers will suggest taking you to a shop, market, hotel or attraction as they will receive commission for any transaction you make. If you’re not interested, politely and firmly decline or get another taxi if they’re not backing down, as it more than likely won’t be worth your time and you’ll probably be overcharged. I’ve been told before that my hotel didn’t exist, my train tickets were not valid, the market I wanted to go to was closed and many other fibs so that an opportunistic person could take me somewhere and gain commission. I was quick on the uptake, but people can be very persuasive so it can be easy to fall for; but if it doesn’t quite add up, trust your instincts and get confirmation for yourself on things first.

Shop fronts in Mysore

Shop fronts in Mysore image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Buy regionally for the specialty items

India is famed for a wide variety of wonderful items, from teas and spices to saris and bangles. Many states are famed for certain produce such as tea in Darjeeling, Kanchipuram for silks and Jaipur for jewellery; so if you’re savvy on this knowledge and have done a little research beforehand, you may be able to buy from the source or maker themselves, while making savings at the same time.

Spices at Mapusa Market

Spices at Mapusa Market image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself

Lastly and most importantly, make sure you take time to enjoy the shopping experience! It can seem frustrating, but the process is meant to be lighthearted; which can sometimes be lost in translation if the traders seem a little aggressive, they’re not meaning to be – just think of it like a competitive sport. I guess in a way, it’s a bit like how we banter back home. It’s all in good fun, so enjoy!

Get haggling in India with one of Round the World Experts' India Holidays.

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