The first time I went shopping in Vietnam, I was incredibly surprised by the aggressiveness of the sellers and the difficulty of getting a cheap price.
Used to shopping in Thailand, where shopkeepers are polite and laid-back, I hated shopping in Vietnam where people were pushy and I was often scammed. But, after a few more times practicing and getting used to Vietnamese culture, I soon found it was possible to get a good deal, if you knew what you were doing.
Getting the best deal shopping in Vietnam isn’t easy. It is however possible if you know the rules of the land.
Two Ground Rules – Before you start, there are two things you absolutely must know before going out shopping to try to get the best deal in Vietnam:
Carrry Lots of Change – The most important thing you need to have if you want to get the cheapest price in Vietnam is plenty of small notes and change.
Vietnamese shopkeepers are notorious for taking larger bills when you pay, then either refusing to give you your change or doling out your change in small segments, while you stand there begging for the rest. If you have lots of change and can pay the exact amount owed, it’s impossible for the seller to keep more of your money than they should.
As a Foreigner, You Will Pay More – Vietnam still has the dual-pricing common throughout much of Asia. While the Vietnamese will get one price you, the foreigner, will get a price much higher. That’s why, even when you bargain, you still won’t get the best deal possible as you’re not Vietnamese and never will be. But, you can get the best deal possible for you.
How To Get The Best Deal
Now the two ground rules are established, it’s time to look at how to get the best deal shopping in Vietnam.
Comparison Shop – Prices can vary wildly in Vietnam, depending on what you’re looking for. Make sure you comparison shop for similar items before making a purchase then, shop at the more expensive shop.
With prices already being higher, surprisingly you’ve more chance of getting a cheap price at a more expensive shop than a cheaper one as they have more ‘wiggle room’ with their prices.
Shop With a Vietnamese – If you know anyone in Vietnam, take them with you shopping and you’ll get as close to Vietnamese price as it’s possible to get. The last time I was in Hanoi, a Vietnamese friend took me shopping and it was immediately apparent how much cheaper prices were.
A Vietnamese friend can bargain for you as they speak the language and know the customs, which in the long run can result in prices being cut in half. Getting the best deal in Vietnam can all boil down to who you shop with.
Half the Price Asked – If you don’t have any Vietnamese friends, then you’re on your own.
When you arrive at a shop and decide upon what you want, ask the price. When the seller responds, immediately half the price she asked and counter with your offer. The seller will come back to you with a price around 5% less than before. Cut the price again, this time by adding 5% to what you offered before.
Keep doing this until you come up with a price you’re comfortable with. Remember though, when you originally offered 50% of the first asking price, that was probably close to what’s an ‘acceptable price’. Meaning it’s the price the seller won’t go below. So, with that in mind, there’s plenty of room for manoeuvering.
Be Willing to Walk Away – As the Vietnamese are more aggressive than the Thais, you also have to adopt a more aggressive stance. Of course, you should always be polite as, losing your temper will cause the seller to stop negotiating with you. But, you can be firmer with a Vietnamese seller than a Thai, and you can and should walk away if the seller isn’t offering a fair price.
Many sellers will immediately run after you and bring the price down when it’s obvious you’re done. Plus, few things are unique in most Vietnamese shops so, if the seller won’t sell at a reasonable price you’ll likely find it in another shop that will.
Shopping in Vietnam is similar to other Asian countries. The main differences are the seller will often have no compunction in taking your money and not giving you change, sellers are more aggressive in bargaining and the price for foreigners is much higher than in surrounding countries.
However, if you’re willing to have some patience, you can get a cheap price in Vietnam and, if you really work at it, you will get the best deal possible for a foreigner.