Cozumel Bargaining — the do’s and the don’ts
Cozumel’s waterfront shops will never bargain–particularly when a cruise ship is in port and they feel they have a captive audience. To find a store that will bargain, you have to get off the beaten path. So if you’re interested in trying your hand at this, Check out our Off the Beaten Path Shopping Page.
General Rule of Thumb: if the store is air-conditioned, they probably will not bargain.
Seeing more than one service person dressed in the same “uniform” is another dead give-away. And, of course, don’t try to bargain at the food markets or liquor stores.
Bartering is expected and often even relished by shopkeepers on the side-streets located approximately ½ block in from the water. In fact, the potential for striking a good deal increases the further you venture back from the waterfront Málecon.
It can definitely be worth your while to hone your skills in the age old art of bargaining. Expect to save 30-50% on your purchases by doing so–sometimes more on large ticket items. And, if you go about it in the right way, bartering can also be a chance to have some fun getting to know a wiley Cozumeleno trader.
Before you plunge in however, we’d advise scoping out the best of what’s available on the waterfront at stores like Cinco Soles (on the waterfront 4 blocks north of the ferry pier). This store has a wide selection of what’s available elsewhere on the island–but at full retail prices. Find the types of items you like here and note the price–which will be top dollar for the island–before you go elsewhere and start haggling to pay one-half to two-thirds as much.
Bargaining, as author Carl Franz puts it in his indispensable Mexican travel book, The People’s Guide to Mexico, is not an argument. Instead it is “a polite discussion of price,” a dialogue that should always be kept “light, friendly and easy-going.” The conversation must never even pretend to anger or sarcasm.
But don’t start your dialogue until you’re sure you’re ready to buy–if the price is right. Otherwise you’re wasting a lot of the shopkeeper’s time and that’s rude in any culture.
Once you’ve made the decision that you’ll buy that little carved wooden idol you love or the batik hanging that would look perfect over your couch, however, slow down and take your time.
Remember, bargaining is a back and forth proposition that should spin itself out in its own good time. A shopkeeper that tries to hurry you is just pulling a trick out of his hat that’s worked before. Refuse to allow yourself to be rushed!
Standard practice when opening negotiations for an item you’d like to purchase is to offer half the price on the sticker–or, if it’s a store with no price tags, approximately half the first price quoted you by the shopkeeper.
If you’ve done your homework, you already know the waterfront retail price for similar items. And that should give you an idea of the final price you’d be looking for at a shop with much less overhead.
Of course, you’ll need to be aware of whether you’re comparing apples to apples–or to oranges. Certified, non-lead-leeching, microwave proof pottery is going to cost more than other kinds, for example–even though they may look the same to the uneducated purchaser. Hammocks are another example of how quality can vary considerable. (Check out Buying Hammocks for tips on this kind of purchase.)
If you don’t know the price range for the item you desire, try making non-committal comments like “seems like a lot” and “Probably not for me” until the price comes down as low as you sense it’s going to go without a lot of prodding.
When you’ve made what you feel is your last fair offer, Franz suggests you “dig in your heels.” When the shopkeeper comes back with yet another alternative price that’s higher than the one you’ve decided on, try the Golden Trick of Silence. Take your time, look around the store a bit as though you’re thinking it over. Sometimes this technique alone will be enough to do the trick. If not, start acting up a storm. Feign an expression that’s equal parts disappointment that you couldn’t purchase the coveted item and regret–that the price was just too high. Then start moseying out the door.
This approach will often score for you. But, if not, be prepared to continue on your way to another store–perhaps to return to the same place tomorrow for more negotiations!
All this said, it’s one thing to get a fair market price for an item, and another to relentlessly hound a struggling merchant into the ground for a few extra pesos or dollars. Keep it light and friendly–and don’t sweat it if you suspect you didn’t get the Absolute Rock Bottom Price. At least you weren’t “Just Another Tourist” and got a better deal for your efforts.