We revived this article with a few added updates. Remember as you read this article it's all about PRINCIPLE.
Many of the vendors know us now and when they see us coming are ready to be bargained with. Frank is a good bargainer, probably because he grew up in Italy and he often went shopping with his mother and listened intently while she haggled with the street vendors. Frank does the same thing here in Cuenca. He touches and inspects things really well before he buys and many times if the vendor won’t budge in price we move on to another vendor that will give us the price we know the item should be.
Bargaining is Part of the Ecuadorian (Latin American) Culture
Here in Ecuador they expect you to bargain and haggle with them and if you don’t, well you’re going to pay more! I read on a blog a few days ago where the blogger was saying how the produce vendors don’t make very much money and so you shouldn’t try and lower the price and bargain with them.
This is untrue, on both accounts. You bargain because you know what the price is already or what the price is that the locals pay. In other words, you wouldn't try and make them lower the price that they give to the locals. Some vendors raise their prices the moment they see gringos heading their way. Why should you, just because you are a foreigner, pay more than the local? the vendors make money selling to the locals, believe me.
For an example: If you know that the price of a bag of tomatoes is $1 already then you don’t bargain and try to get it for less, unless the tomatoes are really ripe and need to be used right away. The going price is $1 for most bagged produce, so if the vendor tells you the bag of tomatoes cost $2, then you bargain with them. Or you can over pay and buy the over ripe bag of tomatoes for $2 dollars.
A part of Ecuadorian culture “is to bargain” and “to negotiate prices”. Most gringos pay the first price the vendors give. There are only a few gringos who will actually bargain about the price because most of them don’t like to bargain, for two reasons; actually three reasons, see number three in our update below. One, they aren’t very good at it, and two, they can’t speak enough Spanish to bargain with the vendor to begin with.
UPDATE 2015 Number Three: They've been made to feel sorry for the vendors by other gringos who tell them they don't make very much money. We would believe this to be true if only everyone were quoted the same price! For example if the locals are quoted $3 for a bag of tomatoes then that is what the gringo resident should pay too.
Do you think a foreign resident should pay more than a local?
You should not pay more for something just because you are a foreigner. You should pay the same price as the Ecuadorian standing next to you. But if you want to pay more for something just because the vendor knows he or she can get away with it, then go ahead a pay the first price they tell you.
It’s silly to say you shouldn’t bargain with the vendors because they don’t make very much money…you bargain because they are targeting you and asking a higher price than what it should sell for!
The truth is, bargaining prices with sellers is not making them poor defeated peasants because most people will pay the first price that they give rather than try and bargain. Ecuadorian vendors will hike the price up with their own people when they seem like they are wealthy. Ecuadorians are good at bargaining and negotiating and would rather give you a fair price then have you walk away.
Be Willing to Walk Away
Sometimes you have to walk away. Last week I saw an Ecuadorian bargaining with the vendor lady over the plantains, he didn’t get the price he wanted and so he walked away. Walking away works! For an example, one day we watched and listened carefully as the strawberry vendor downtown told the local Cuencana that the strawberries were $1 a pound, but when Frank asked her she said $1.50 a pound. Frank tried to bargain with her to what she sold them to the local for but she put on her whiny tone (it is how they act when you try and bargain) and wouldn’t budge and so we walked away. A few blocks down the street we bought the strawberries for $1 pound.
Real-estate is Negotiable
Almost every real estate classified ad in the Spanish newspaper says the price is negotiable. The Ecuadorian owner wants you to buy their property and so they are willing to negotiate with you on the price. Now we know this is done in the U.S too but it is a little different because they usually negotiate with numerous people and will take the “best offer” or they have a bottom price they will not go below and if you quote lower than their bottom price they stick to their guns and won’t sell. Here in Ecuador, it may take weeks, and months of negotiations but in the end both parties are happy and end up being winners.
You shouldn’t be afraid to bargain in Ecuador—it’s expected! The first words any foreigner should learn when moving to Ecuador are the numbers so they can bargain with the vendors. Don’t expect to be able to bargain at the grocery stores and government offices because the prices are fixed, although Frank got a family discount at the notary office downtown because we had a lot of documents that needed notarized. Frank asked if we could have a 'family' discount and the Notary gave us one. It certainly never hurts to ask—all they can say is, “no”, right?
You can also bargain at the mom and pop shops, such as the furniture stores, markets, bakeries, street vendors, craft stores, clothing stores, and virtually any Ecuadorian owned shop here in Cuenca. If you come to Ecuador you should learn to bargain because it can be a lot of fun!
UPDATE June 2015: The truth is, Cuencano's and most Latin cultures are known to actually snicker and talk amongst themselves when gringo's pay the asking price. So, now you know. :-) The best way to know what to pay for an item is to listen carefully to what is quoted the locals. Many times they won't quote a figure to the locals when gringos are in earshot (happened to us today at the coast) so you have to act non nonchalant and act like you're not really interested/listening.
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy in Cuenca Ecuador! Enjoy the Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog!