The Art Of Haggling In South Korea

With South Korea’s cute fashion sense and incredibly cheap market clothes, it’s no wonder that haggling has become an unofficial second language. I’ll be the first to admit that the thought of haggling is a terrifying concept to me. My first month in Korea I refused to try and shop anywhere where prices weren’t fixed, but after receiving a few tips from Korean friends and co-workers, I finally faced my fears and tried my hand at haggling.
Shopping [Myeongdong / Seoul]

Guess what? It was incredibly fun. No matter how uncomfortable you think it might be, I think you should give it a go. After studying these 6 tips, you too will be a master in the art of haggling.

1. Dress Down For A Shopping Trip

You don’t have to wear your Sunday Netflix Marathoning Sweat Pants – and don’t pretend like you don’t have a pair either. You know, those sweat pants you wear when you binge on old episodes of Lost on Netflix? The pants you haven’t washed in a month that you only wear when you eat an entire tub of ice cream in front of the tv all alone.

Yeah, those pants.

Put them back into the dirty laundry pile because we don’t need to dress that far down to go to a market and learn how to haggle. All I’m saying is dress simple and clean. Leave your Louis Vuitton bag at home, and keep those Tory Burch sandals off your feet. If a seller looks you up and down with all those designer pieces on you and sees dollars signs, you’ve already lost the game of haggling without ever starting. So first things first, dress simple.

2. Never answer the question “How much do you want to pay?”

Oftentimes when you find a cute piece of jewelry or outfit without a price tag and you inquire for the price you’ll be met with a sticky sweet smile and a seemingly innocent question. “How much do you want to pay?” Never, ever, under any circumstances should you answer this question.

This is a no-no for 3 big reasons.First, you don’t know what the actual selling price of a garment is, so if you guess too high, it’s a win for the seller who will jump on your high price. Second, if you state a number that’s too low, the seller will not give it to you. They’re going to talk you up to the price it actually costs. The most important reason you should never answer this question is because only those sad few who are not yet fluent in the language of haggling will actually answer this question. You might as well take a sharpie and write “ATM” on your forehead if you plan on falling for such a rookie trap.

3. Perfect the “Fake Walk Away”

Found the absolute gotta-have-it-or-I’ll-die dress but the seller refuses to come off an exorbitant price? Do the fake walk away. Everyone’s walk away is unique to them, but I’ll tell you how I pull mine off. I put my finger to my chin in a thinking gesture and I slowly walk away from the garment taking long, slow, dramatic steps away. I take a few longing glances back every few feet, and wait for the seller to call me back and play fairly. Usually if they are staking a price too high, they’ll come down to a more realistic price to sell rather than lose the sell altogether.

4. Perfect the “Actual Walk Away”

As is true in nearly every aspect of life, you always need to know when to actually walk away. I don’t care how cute that peacoat is. If you’re going to be eating ramen noodles for two months because the damn coat costs a whole paycheck, you’re bananas if you actually purchase it. Cue Gwen Stefani B-A-N-A-N-A-S

5. If you can, haggle in the national language

The open market is the perfect place to practice that basic Korean language skills you’ve been working on. Not only will you clock in some real life language practice, but chances are you’ll charm the pants off the seller – although, hopefully he sells you a new pair instead of the ones he’s wearing. Koreans love foreigners who love Korea. Show them that you’re all about kimchi and k-pop and they’ll be putty in your hands when it comes time to haggle.

6. Be Friendly

I suppose this one is optional. Some people like to wear their poker face when they head out to haggle. I, however, am a firm believer in the saying that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Smile, laugh, be friendly and show a seller that you make a great customer. Not only will you get great discounts being sweet, but oftentimes the seller will remember you the next time you visit and throw in free gifts or discounts!

Congrats! Once you’ve haggled a great deal, you can stop calling yourself a tourist and start calling yourself a resident of South Korea. For more information on shopping in Korea check out the Shops section on my blog.

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