The Bargaining Trick You Need To Have When Entering Traditional Market In Indonesia

Erin Saiof
6 min readSep 11, 2018
Indonesian Traditional Market, Image source: Beritasatu.com

In Indonesia there are several places where people can get their basic needs. Famous, very clean, and expensive ones are the department stores. For food, there are also the grocery sellers with their cart that go around the blocks. My favorite place to get the grocery for myself is the traditional market and there are several reasons why.

First of all I enjoy the human interaction and conversation during the process of getting the food you look for. When you walk on any aisle you’ll find at least a seller asking, “What are you looking for Miss/ Mrs?” Some female sellers in fish hall that I often visit even call me sweetheart. If you like what you see, they you may stop and ask how much it is for a kilogram or a piece.

Secondly, some fruits or veggies are sold by some sellers and with this you may encounter them offering slightly different price, can be more expensive or cheaper. Also, you can find from very fresh goods to very dehydrated ones.

Thirdly, you always have the chance to bargain or the seller give you the discount without you asking for it.

Fourth of all, they always have the cheaper price compare to the department store.

Whenever I buy veggies or fish I usually bargain for IDR1k to IDR2k cheaper. Let say a small bundle of Kangkong (Ipomoea aquatica) cost IDR3k, so I’ll bargain to the seller for IDR5k for 2 bundles. Why 5k? Because Indonesia does not have 4k bill. However I can always shoot for 4k if I have 2 of 2k bill and say that I only have 4k or I don’t have a coin of 1k.

What if the seller does not agree with the price I give? Like my mom used to do, I’d leave the seller and try to find the others that sell the same goods and agree to my price. This also happens recently last Sunday when I try to buy a small papaya from the fruit seller on the corner. He says that it cost IDR6k, so I only bargain to 5k, but he insisted his price and even adds, “It’s actually IDR6,500” And because I stand for my price, this is what he says,”You can just take it out of the plastic bag.” While my brain still processing his kind of mean response he then takes the papaya out of the bag and put it on the table. Then a bell rings on my head, “I should not buy anything from this seller ever!” So I leave his stall and buy the papaya from the other seller that is not far from there and he gives it for 5k without I even bargain for it.

Banana Blossom, image source: GettyImages-lenawurm

Things come a bit tricky when you want to buy an exclusive item that only sold by one seller in that particular market. Last Sunday I spot 2 huge banana blossom and find out the price of each is IDR15k, so I try to get it by IDR10k, but the seller holds her price because she knows how exclusive her position is. So I ask her a stupid question,”Can I buy half of it?” Which will never happen. If you wanna buy it, you need to buy the whole heart.

That day, I also go to the fish hall to get some anchovies. There are two sellers there that have what I want, one offers me IDR30k for a kilogram and the other one offers me IDR35k. The cheaper one does not has the fresh look on the anchovies while the expensive one I can tell how fresh it is because the meat looks very transparent and I can see their skeletons. So I ask for half a kilogram without bargaining, but the seller says this,” I’ll give it to you for 15k.” So I just got IDR2,5k discount.

There is an egg seller that I like buy some fresh eggs from him. Since he has that cool scale with price, so I rarely bargain because he sometimes reduce the price by IDR500 when the scale shows number like IDR12441. But if the third digit starts to get to 5 then he will ask for that IDR500. However you can always play the trick of not having the coin of 500 and there are 3 possibilities that will happen. Either he accepts it or he will take an egg out and this will reduce the price or he will “fix” the eggs by exchanging some eggs with the small ones so you can have your price. I usually get 9 eggs with IDR12k.

If you like the price, then you can increase the chance of getting free item by buying a different item. This happen to me when I buy half kilogram of potato that cost IDR13k and a small onion cost IDR2k, because of getting the onion, the seller adds a small potato into the bag.

It will be a different situation when I try to buy other things other than groceries. I always aim IDR5k to IDR30k to whatever number necessary.

I remember one day a friend of mine ask me to accompany her to get some acrylic with name printed on it. When we enter the market, I tell her that we should do a little market research first to compare the price from each seller. Just on the first shop she almost agree with the price because she thinks it is affordable. So rule number 1, do not get or look excited in front of the seller. Play the poker face.

When we get to the second store, we find out that the price is way cheaper and yet I still ask for cheaper price and the seller agrees. After 5 foot steps away from the store, she says this out loud,”It is so cheap, right?” So I pull her away and after we pass the other store I then say, “Never say the price is cheap especially if you are still very close with the store!” Rule number 2, never ever say that seller has the cheaper price, keep it shut until you need it. We then visit at least two more shops until we find the one that offers us the best price with some good quality.

Let say after you go to several stores and finally find one that offer you best quality but slightly expensive. In that situation, you can say that the other seller offer you a cheaper price and do not mention the price unless that seller asks. If the seller is holding strong on his price then he/she must have a very good quality and somehow know the quality of goods of the competitors.

As fun as it may seem, some buyers can be very aggressive and even “abusive” by taking advantage of the seller’s weakness in basic math. Sometimes they can make it sound so confusing to the seller. I remember my mom tells me a story of a couple of our neighbors who only speak in their own language while bargaining from a 10 year old long bean seller.

After all, anyone can enter the market and bargain to the price they want. They may find tough seller or a nice one. And it is his/her choice to have the game of win-lose or win-win solution. Yet, once you realize you can bargain to a certain number and already pay for it, something inside you will say, “You could have bargain for cheaper price than what you’ve got.”

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Erin Saiof

Am an INTP-T, love delicious food, solve puzzle, watch 3D animation, write poems, give tight hug. Lastly, my opinion belongs to me