Travelers know the sound well,
“Sarong for the pretty lady”
“Yes? Lunch time?”
You can’t travel around the globe without being persistently pursued by touts and street vendors. Instead of crossing the street, avoiding eye contact and repeating “no, thank you” over and over again, maybe we should pause and consider what we can learn from the seasoned touts making a living on the streets of the world.
7 of the Most Successful Selling Tactics Learned from Touts and Street Vendors
Know Your Customer
Touts know who their customer is. They can spot you from 500 meters, and trust me they know the exchange rate. They know the prices in your home country and use it against you to illuminate how “cheap, cheap” their item is.
They pay attention to the clothes you wear or the hotel you walked out of, and price their items accordingly. Also, if you won’t pay the price they request, most vendors know that the next buyer will. If they let you walk away it is because you’ve negotiated the price below what they think they can get out of you.
Make Eye Contact
The quickest way to get rid of a tout on the street is to avoid eye contact. They may follow you for a few minutes and continue to try to lock eyes, but in the end they will give up without your eye contact. Vendors watch your eyes, they can tell when your eyes linger on a certain item and are quick to start the negotiating process. By making eye contact with them or something they are selling you are telling them that you are interested and a potential buyer.
Each seller wants you to believe and trust that their item is the best for you to buy. Eye contact is a practice they have perfected and it demonstrates confidence in their product and keeps you engaged during the negotiations.
Stay With The Buyer
Most everyone with something to sell will stay with you, whether it is following you down the street in their tuk tuk or walking with you through their store. Vendors know that once they walk away, you could quickly reconsider the purchase and walk out. By staying with you they are able to keep the pressure on and shorten the selling process. They have seen it work more often than not, which is why they stay persistent.
Always Negotiate On Price
Vendors will scan you up and down looking for buying cues. They use their experience to price the item at what they think you will pay. They will start at 3–4x what the item is worth and wait for you to negotiate it down. Negotiation is the fun part of shopping in Asia, so go back and forth but remember you are working with professionals! Everything is fair game and it is the buyer’s responsibility to know what it’s worth, and the vendor’s opportunity for a jackpot.
You can’t say no only once or twice to a persistent tout. You have to say no, walk away and keep walking for a few minutes for most of them to leave you alone. They might stand next to you on the beach while you completely ignore them for 5 minutes because they see something in you that could potentially give them a sale.
Taking no for answer is not an option. “No” is just an opportunity to ask again and ensure that you don’t need transport, or a sarong, or a massage. If you don’t need it today then maybe you will need it tomorrow? Or the next day? Or the day after that? The percentage of “no’s” touts receive would be enough to turn anyone from a job in sales, but they keep selling and asking and persisting.
Ask The Buyer’s Price Point
Many times I have been suckered in by browsing a store with no intention to buy and I hear that infamous question: “How much do you want to pay?”. A second ago I didn’t want to buy anything and now I am considering how much I would pay if maybe I bought a new purse that I don’t need. So maybe I throw out an extremely low price thinking that he will laugh and send me on my way.
By throwing out that price I have inadvertently verbally committed to buying this item if it was at my named price. Of course he won’t take my offer he will open with negotiations maybe 20 – 50% higher. He’s not going to lose the sale by offering a ridiculous price but he won’t settle, because time and time again he’s easily out-negotiated a simple tourist.
Assume the Sell
Touts do a great job of getting their item in your hand, even if you don’t want it there. They assume you are going to buy whatever mood ring, bird food, flying glow in the dark pirate ship they offer. If they physically put it in your hands you will feel even more inclined to take ownership and pass over the dollar or two that they are asking for. I had a seller empty an entire bag of bird seed into my hand against my will and then demand payment. They are sneaky, but smart.
In university, professors drill the basic selling tactics into our heads and send us out into the workforce to cold call, persuade and close the sale. There aren’t written rules for selling in Asia, just age-old practices that are continually successful. Maybe instead of avoiding a tout, engage them and pick up a sales lesson or two for free (or for the cost of a taxi ride).
Great analysis of this! It happens to me most often in Central America, though few vendors actually make the sale because this aggressive persistence turns me off. Unless it’s a child. I’m a sucker for anything a kid is selling.
They are persistent, and we also will prefer to buy from someone low key than from someone who’s bothering us. But it must work because plenty of people are buying!