I told the auto rickshaw driver to drop us off at the Cottage Industries Emporium and got busy chatting with Gita on how much the seasons in Bangalore have changed in all the years I have been here. Suddenly the auto stopped and we found ourselves on infantry road outside Cottage Arts Emporium and my puzzled look was answered by the auto-rickshaw driver with a request to check out the shop as he would get a coupon for 2 litres of petrol for every customer he brought in. He also assured us that there was no pressure to buy. So we went in determined to walk right in and out of the exit in 2 minutes.But what followed was an amazing drama and a real eye opener for me on converting the mundane act of buying into an art of negotiating a deal.

We were welcomed very warmly by one of the partners of the store telling us which region each product was from , the material used and the type of craft it represented while casually inquiring where we were from. Gita's accent gave her away (she is half Italian and half Mauritian-Indian and has lived all her life in France) and the moment he realized he was dealing with a foreigner he knew where to steer us - the ornaments section, precious and semi precious stones set in silver.

This guy would dramatically open a box, peep in and pick out a piece saying "This is something very special" and place it on the velvet tray as though it was an antique piece of sculpture and then he would admire it himself from all sides. And while we are looking at it or trying it on, he would open another murmuring "I think I know your taste now. Here I have got the one that is perfect for you." As the pieces kept coming out,I kept looking for the price tag and not finding any, asked the guy for the price. And the response was a gentle "Make your selection madam. I will give you a good price." Trying to make a selection without knowing its price always makes me nervous but Gita was'nt worried at all which made me think that she was really going to be ripped off her Euros.And if she expected any help from me, she was going to get none as I had no idea about their worth or their price elsewhere.

So she selected 3 pairs of earrings and finally asked him "How much?". In the meantime we had been served Kahwa with saffron and my instinct told me that this was going to be along afternoon.
He picked each one of the pairs and after describing the stone and the place it was from he assured us that he was giving us the Indian price and quoted the price for each.
Gita :Is that your price if I take all three pairs?
He:ah if you take all three I will have to make a deal of course.
(He picks up his calculator and after some detailed calculation takes 200 off the total.)
Gita:No, I don't want them.
(And I pick up my handbag.)
He:No madam. I want to make you happy. Ok, you go ahead and quote your price. Don't you like them?
Gita: "Not at that price, no, I don't like them."
He:This one is real sapphire and that is garnet and that one aquamarine.
Gita:No,the sapphire one is not finished to perfection. I just noticed a couple of defects. I have enough garnets. I am more interested in the aquamarine.
He: ok, I really don't want you to go away unhappy. Tell me how much you will pay for all three.
Gita:No, I don't want all three. I only want the aquamarine.
(I put the bag back on the counter and sit down.)
I notice that he is keen to know how much she is willing to pay and she is not willing to divulge it. Not yet! Later I learn that it is bargain etiquette that if you have stated a price you cannot go below it. It is understood that if he comes to that price you will take it.And once he knows your price his whole purpose is to make you go higher than that.And so you should never let him know what you are willing to pay.

He:Ok, tell me your price for the aquamarine.
Gita:See if this was less than 1000, I don't even think about it because I like it. But if you say 1000, I begin to think of whether I need it and of all the other stuff I could buy at that price, may be a Pashmina or something.
He: Ah Pashmina? You like pashmina? We have some excellent pashmina. let me show you. You don't have to buy. It is just to show you our quality.

And so we turned around to the pashmina section and he asked us if we would like some more kahwa. And I knew the afternoon was going to be even longer than I had originally thought.
The pashminas come down from the shelf, different shades and grades and we get explanations on which part of the sheep the wool came from in each case. He still wont tell us a price until we have selected what we like.Finally she picks up five and he starts with an asking price of Rs 14,500 for 5 and she refuses to budge from her offer of 10000 for 5. Meantime, an American couple have bought 3 pashminas @ Usd75 per piece right there under our eyes!

But closer to me the chess movements were being played to perfection by both, neither missing a single step or giving away any advantage to the other.He wants to wring that extra 50 per piece from her and she will take 5 or none if he doesn't agree to her price.

After 20 minutes of haggling over the pashminas, he agrees to Rs 12,000 for 6 but complaining it was his fault to have quoted us a fair price to begin with. He is only concluding this deal because he wants her to refer him to more of her friends visiting Bangalore.And he wants her to be happy!
She retorts by saying she doesn't really need them but is taking them only because she likes the quality even though she knows she can get it a little cheaper elsewhere if she looked around!
He tells us that if we can find it less than 3k in any shop in bangalore we could go back and he will reimburse our payment and we could keep the stuff for free!

And finally he throws in the aquamarine earrings too at Rs.500 (even though his break even price is 650!)and adds a gift of a pack of saffron and a papermache handpainted jewel box, all the time insisting that this was a deal in which he made no profit whatsoever. But of course, he says, one can't always do business with people, there are times one loses for gaining a relationship!

We walked out of the shop one hour later. I was completely dazed by this total new approach to buying while she explains to me how it is the same in Africa, Egypt and Turkey where the merchants are actually offended if you do not bargain. Since it a piece of handicraft or art, they do not believe in fixing a price. It is all about how much the buyer estimates it to be worth and whether the merchant is willing to sell it at that price. So the price differs between individuals and it is not dishonest at all. She tells me that they really appreciate when you know the real value of their ware, its quality and its worth. I guess this goes back to the time when the seller was also the maker of the goods he was selling! It must have given him great pleasure to talk about his ware and see them appreciated whether they were bought or not.
While there is practical sense in going into a fixed price shop and picking up what you want, this is sheer adventure. We seem to have lost out on an art for the sake of the security of a fixed price.

That was indeed a real shopping experience for someone who does not have the ability to get 50ps knocked off the price of a kg. of vegetable. This is probably the longest time I have spent shopping but I simply loved it. Next time you are in Bangalore call me, I could take you there, all for another delightful experience of 'making a deal' on a carpet or a shawl. But be prepared to spend an entire afternoon for this.
17 Responses
  1. Pradeep Nair Says:

    "I now know your taste. I think I have the right one for you..." Such words make you stay on...

    But I am always skeptical when people reduce the price... bec no one sells anything for a loss...

    Once in Ahmedabad, I bought jeans, shoes etc after the seller reduced more than 3/4th the original amount. But at the end of it all, I was left with a funny feeling of "what is it really worth?!"

    And also I wonder whether I bought the stuff, because he wanted to sell or I wanted to buy?

  2. Mahadevan Says:

    "Security of a fixed price" - I think many settle for this.

    The price we are willing to pay is the value we attach to a thing. This is what the seller is precisely trying to find out. As you have pointed out correctly, if the seller also happen to be the producer, he would like to know what the customers feel about it and what value they want to attach.

    At times we feel elated that we could outsmart the vendor. Here we want to pat us on our back for our bargaining ability and we really do not attach any value to the goods.

    I think Delhi Hatt is a lovely place for bargaining, especially for pashmiras and I read yesterday that they are planning a Hatt at Mumbai ( Belapaur, Navi Mumbai) and Bangalore too.

  3. Altoid Says:

    LOL! the many times I've been to Cottage Industries has been to pick up a couple of items, pay for it and exit. Never even imagined such a traditional "buyer-seller" bonhomie exists!

    And who would've thunk they'd feel offended at the absence of bargaining. I will definitely call you the next time I am there!

  4. Wow! chess game indeed
    Next time I shud go there

  5. Usha Says:

    pradeep:Ya, that is my problem with non fixed price too - I don't know what is the right price. But here it is ok because if you like a carpet and are willing to go upto 25 k for it, then you go through the process until you get him to agree to that price. Or there is no deal!
    One has top look around a bit before such deals to get a general idea I think.

    Mahadevan: Security of a fixed price may be ok for the day to day things and regular buys but for one off buys, arts and crafts, bargaining may bereing in a bit of charm and challenge.
    Delhi haat - looks like I ought to make a trip to delhi soon to enjoy all this.

    Altoid: This isn't the CIE on MG road. This is the CAE on infantry road.VCIE would be offended if you bargained, lol.Ya please let me know when you go there next.You will certainly have an adventure.And I will give you a top up course.

    ITW: Yes, come back and tell us your experience!

  6. Hip Grandma Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hip Grandma Says:

    I almost missed this post the post on stray dogs that followed kind of over powered my senses.
    While in America I read a true story about an American woman visiting Turkey who was offered some antique pieces which she bought at a throwaway price after a lot of bargaining.In fact she bought 3 pieces just to keep the vendor off her route.she was subsequently arrested for having smuggled goods in her possession and the rest of the story deals with how she was harased by customs officials and how her status as a foriegner went against her getting a fair trial and so on.I am sure this shop did not sell smuggled goods.I want to just warn those who may be tempted to buy from unauthorised vendors

  8. Rajaram S Says:

    I guess you wanted to write a post as long as your shopping experience :-) One of the longest posts i have ever had the patience to read. But, it was interesting, like a thriller :-) Was keen to know what the final decision was and at what price

  9. Usha Says:

    Hipgran:Oh yes, I have heard similar stories particularly about antique purchases. But this kind sells kashmiri arts and crafts, carpets and shawls and jewellery. No such issues. Genuine shop.

    Rajaram:Heheh..yes, guilty as charged. But how could I bring out the whole concept of this leisurely bargaining without faithfully reproducing the whole sequence of events!
    Thanks for being patient.

  10. Sunita Says:

    I like the perspective you brought in of what you think is 'worth' while bargaining hand-made-crafts.

    If I can manage to knock off a two or five in a bargain, I feel all great but it requires patience & time and sometimes its not even worth it.

  11. Unknown Says:

    Nice write up Usha, as usual makes me think on the paradigms of buyers and settlers and our MRTP stuff..

    hard to believe that 'art' can be tagged with price but the proposition like not having a price tag makes almost every piece on judgemental value!! humm... perhaps will take time to digest this one!!

  12. awesome stuff usha! I am horrible at bargaining - i almost feel like I am disrespecting the person if I suggest a lower price. I must touch base with you - if I do visit bangalore.

  13. Usha Says:

    Sunita:I can only think of that as the rationale behind not having a fixed price. They do not intend to be dishonest you know.
    I also take a similar attitude when it comes to spending a lot of time vis a vis knocking of a few bucks but my friend's approach was different - she wanted to have value for her money. she knew the quality and its worth and so was sure she could bring him round to it and it worked.

    Rajesh: Thanks.
    While we can value the raw material that goes in how do you estimate the cost of labour and the creativity that has gone into a hand made piece. It is totally subjective right?

    STS: Thanks. pls do. I hope I have imbibed some of it in the hour spent there!

  14. CatGunHome Says:

    In my wise, educated, wisdon-filled, enlightened, intellectual, insightful, introspective, influencial, uplifting, balanced, objective, logical and coherent opinion, the desire/ demand to/for bargain is just an euphemism for human touch, which the West sadly lacks. Perhaps the only reason that prevents poor countries like ours from having a bunch of serial killers, violent madmen and others is that we can reach out to another person and talk.

  15. CatGunHome Says:

    A typo (wisdon) is included, only for you, for free.

  16. OOOH! the pleasure of a getting a good bargain is almost indescribable, except by those hwo have done/witnessed it. Your friend is marvellous. Reminded me of a pal of mine- her husband keeps a discreet distance from her when they go shopping. He says that this is to avoid getting slapped by the seller.
    If a thing costs 100, my friend starts at 15.(watching her go thru her spiel is riveting). The seller pretends to be insulted, offended, pained at her offer. But what amazes me is that both of them still linger to complete the deal.

    Finally she gets it at less than half the quoted price! Almost always. I should tell her to go to Turkey, Egypt or Africa on her annual holidays, where she can hone her art.
    I have learnt a bit from her, but then art can't all be learnt, some of it is inborn!

  17. Usha Says:

    JLT: I realised what a fine art it was and the subtle games being played only on that day. But yes, as you say it cannot be all learnt. The finesse is inborn.