Ah, bargaining is indeed a game and one which I really, really love playing. There really is just something about walking into a shop and inquiring about something and then…suddenly, the game is one! How low can you get the shopkeeper to go with the price! LOL. Bargaining takes skill and time and can…at times, cause a few to many unanticipated purchases, but sigh…such is life, particularly here in KSA.
Everyone bargains here…its totally expected (unless your at someplace like H&M or something) and so I’m going to offer up some tidbits of advice, should any of you come down this way. I reckon that how bargaining works here is the same as in other Middle Eastern countries.
If you don’t look like an obvious Saudi, taxi drivers jack the price up on any trip anywhere but, they especially try to fleece you if you look like an obviously non-Arabic speaking, compound living foreigner. Even if you look Arab but don’t speak Arabic, thats one strike against you, if your Arab and speak Arabic but, dangnabbit, live on a compound…forget it, they really jack their prices up! Hence, bargaining is necessary…but, only downer is, taxi drivers can be really hardnosed and they can be difficult to bargain with. They tend to stick to their prices and it takes a lot of work to get them down even a few riyals!
For example, I do occasionally take a taxi back to the compound we live on if I’m shopping relatively nearby. Now, sometimes I go to one particularly large and popular shopping complex which I can literally walk to in 25 minutes (if my husband is with me) and the first time I took a taxi back, I thought…Okay, its like 1/2 a mile…I can freakin’ walk…I should only be charged 5-10 riyals. Right… Nah! I walked up to the taxi drivers and told them I need to go to XXXX compound and the the guy who was going to take me literally got this cheshire cat grin and said, with a smile; 25 riyals! I was like…uhhhhhhhhh, no way…jaw dropping. I eventually got him down to 10 riyals but not without a lot of effort.
Can you imagine! Now, if I was Saudi and even if he was taking me across the city he’d still only have charged me 10 riyals, maybe even less!
So now, anytime I deal with taxi’s I have that in the back of my mind and always, always, I bargain them down by at least 10-15 riyals. And some of them, stupidly enough try to charge me the compound price because I have purchases with me…one guy said…well 10 riyals for you and 15 riyals for those bags. I said…um no, thats crazy, 10 riyals, no more (‘ashara riyal, khalas! complete with the i’m washing my hands of it hand gesture Saudi’s do) and walked away and sat down nearby, to wait for another taxi (hey, i’m patient) and like they usually do, he ran over and said, okay, okay 12 riyals…I accepted it and he took me back to my compound. (…and really, does the charging the person extra for bags really work? geeze!)
With taxi drivers, I do try to use what Arabic I know as much as possible, it helps, especially with the Saudi taxi drivers who tend to not know much English.
So you all know…every single time you use a Taxi here in KSA, bargain and bargain HARD!
In the mall I tend to not bargain too much, unless the shop is a small, single store boutique. Obviously, large chains will not bargain and the sales guy will look at you like a crazy person if you try to bargain at H&M or CenterPoint (Although I’m sure people have tried).
The little shops usually welcome bargaining. Even the expensive, upscale, designer boutique will allow it and in those places you can usually get incredibly good prices! Sometimes the shop keepers will automatically bargain for you and offer up less. For example, they might say “ that abaya is 700 riyals but for you, 500 riyals!”, that tends to make life easier and generally if a shopkeeper is doing that, that means they really, really want a sale and can be bargained down further (yah, i’m ruthless).
Some of these boutique shops have tags with prices on their merchandise, but still welcome bargaining. For example I got a 250 riyal tunic for 200 even though the price on the tag was indeed 250! All I did was ask the shopkeeper if he would lower the price and when he nodded I suggested a price and he agreed.
Generally mall bargaining isn’t as aggressive as taxi or suq bargaining and it’s better to use firm suggestion, also…if you suggest a price which the shopkeeper doesn’t agree with and then you walk out, mall shopkeepers generally wont follow you out, saying “come back” offering you a lower price. So if you walk out, be prepared to really not get the item!
There are only a few small, boutique mall shops in which I don’t even bother to bargain in. There is a shaylah shop with stores around KSA and the Gulf, they tend to stick to their prices and an abaya shop which has a very difficult owner who won’t budge-at all…even with Arabic speaking, Saudi customers! In those two shops…I just don’t bother.
Suqs and other similar places/shopping situations
Suq bargaining is without a doubt the most difficult and is definetly a game. The shopkeepers expect it and are extremely skilled at it and they will fleece you if you arent up for it!
Any shop I go into, I keep that in mind. If you don’t look Saudi or arent fluent in Arabic…the prices go higher and higher and higher! Now, some expats don’t even bother…Ive heard some people on the compound shuttle say they just go into a store or walk up to a stall and buy something they want at whatever price the shopkeeper or seller gives. Now, those types are the reason why as soon as they see a foreigner they think they can fleece them!
Please don’t do this!
Generally in outdoors suqs or bedouin suqs…like the Thursday morning suq in Qatif or the bedouin suq in Hofuf you will be rubbing shoulders with Saudi’s and so the bargaining needs to be very aggressive. Also, Ive found that most of the stall owners dont know any English so I usually brush up on my Arabic before going to these places and keep a mini “cheat sheet” in my purse. Also, often their accent throws me for a loop. Like, in shops if the shop keeper says “15” it usually comes out as something similar to “khamstash” but, at the outdoor suqs and bedouin suqs…usually it doesnt, and I have to ask them to repeat themselves several times. This makes bargaining at these places difficult as not understanding in the first few tries does give me away as a non-Arabic speaker. In general though, when I can understand the stall owner, and bargaining commences I start as low as I think is humanly fair. Like if some bokhour is 100 riyals I ask for 30 riyals…usually around 45/50 riyals we agree to the price. Some times if I feel like the stallkeeper isnt being reasonable…I just say enough, khalas, do the hand brushing gesture thing Saudi’s do and move to the next stall. Usually in these places there are several stalls beside each other offering the same thing. Maybe stall A charges 90 riyals for something, well beside it, Stall B charges 60!
Recently my husband, son and I went to the fish market in Qatif and thats exactly what happened. Just by walking 2 feet my husband got a kilo of fish for half the price he was offered at the first place (and my husband is a really poor bargainer, so thats incredible!).
In actual suq shops, its much the same, although as soon as you turn to walk out the door if your price wasn’t accepted the shopkeeper will tend to run after you, offering a better price or accepting your original price.
Now, suq shops can be funny places…because even time that Ive gone into shops just to look around and inquire as to prices (in a general fashion) I find myself then drawn into bargaining and usually it’s difficult to leave without making a purchase! Because, the shopkeepers think…OK, she came in here, is bargaining, she must really want to buy something. It can be EXTREMELY hard to leave as they keep trying to bargain with you or show you other items. In those instances, I find its a good idea to make a lame excuse such as “my husband is outside waiting for me, i’ll talk to him and then be right back”, otherwise…forget it, you’ll be stuck in there forever!
In one fabric shop, the situation was mildly scary as the shopkeeper was determined to make a sale and would not let me leave! It took 15 minutes of me saying I have to go, I’m not buying anything for the guy to leave me alone and let me leave. Obviously…I’m never going back there!
And a note about language usage. Unless your shopping in an outdoor suq or Bedouin suq you can usually get away with bargaining in English or if the shopkeeper doesn’t know much, then using both Arabic AND English tends to work out well.
So, don’t think if you bargain here, that you have to know Arabic, you dont need to. If your aggressive and stick to it, then bargaining in English works just as well. I also find it useful to pay attention to what Saudi’s are offering as prices and paying! I use that as a yardstick.
…and this is why my husband always jokingly calls me his little bazaari.
(Bazaari is Farsi for a bazaar/market merchant, but its also like a way of being-kind of, its hard to explain, but I think you all get the gist)