01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Masai Market Bargaining Tips 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Masai Market Bargaining Tips


First of all, I have to confess that I am hopeless at bargaining. I will fall in love with something and then will accept the price far too willingly. Sometimes I feel that it is a little mean to hammer the price down too low – largely because the sellers far outnumber the buyers in these markets. However, I have been knocking around these markets for long enough to see how others do it and have picked up a few tips of my own.

1.       Think before you shop. What do you want to buy and how much have you got to spend. It’s amazing how a tight budget will help you hone those bargaining skills! It’s also a good idea to have some lower denomination notes and change with you. Waiting for change to be found amongst other market vendors can double the time of your transaction – however, don’t worry – your trader might disappear for 10 minutes but they fully intend to find you to give you the change owed. I have never experienced a ‘disappearing act’ in these cases.

2.       Walking around the market with all of those goods laid out on the ground can be overwhelming. Not only is it a technicolour feast for the eye, but every time you want to bend over and look at anything at all closely, you are hit with a hard sales spiel that is impossible to ignore. Don’t be bullied. Look at and pick up anything you like and don’t be afraid to put it right back down again. My cop out is the phrase; ‘Nitarudi baadai’ – ‘I’ll come back later’. My advice is have a good look around to ‘get your eye in’ before buying anything. Check out the opening price of a Tusker T-shirt with a few vendors, before opening your negotiation.

3.       Go low. Generally the vendor will give you an opening price. They use a few tricks, such as whispering to create the impression that their competitors should not hear or telling you that you are ‘opening their business for the day’, i.e. you are their first customer.  And that they are giving you the ‘local price’ not ‘tourist price’. All of this gives the impression that you are being taken into the vendor’s confidence.   In spite of the guilt you might feel – go in at less than half the opening price. I generally end up settling on a price somewhere just above half but people who bargain better than me can often wind up paying less than half.

4.       Don’t be afraid to walk away. Yes, go on! Walk away!! The vendors might convince you to come back straight away to ‘talk’ – however, others will let you go. Just remember, time is on your side. After what has presumably a fairly stressful few moments of heavy bargaining, go away and decide if you really do want the item or not. If the vendor is not concerned about you going, then you are probably pushing for too low a price.

5.       Show the money. When you and the vendor are quibbling over the last few hundred shillings, then pulling out a note or two can really seal the deal.  If you say, well I have 600 bob, and that’s all I have left, then hand over said notes, the feeling of that currency in the vendor’s hand is often enough for them to agree to your terms. (This is where I feel guilty and start fishing around for coins to make up an extra 50 bob). Remember that you might need to keep a couple of small notes for your parking fee!

6.       Are you happy? Are you comfortable with the price you paid? I know that other people are better at bargaining than me but at the end of the day, if I have paid a price that I was happy with and that was within my budget, then that is more important to me than screwing the vendor down to the last possible shilling. (By now you can tell that I am a hopeless business woman!). Also, save enough cash for a ‘recovery’ cappuccino and a cake later (or something stronger). It’s amazing how the noise and excitement of the market can make you come over all weak and funny.

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