I admittedly enjoyed the constant bartering and negotiation for practically everything (taxi, food, presents…) when I was traveling to Vietnam recently. It was fun. Upon returning to Japan I found myself with an itch I had to scratch…
The experience of buying stuff in Japan is different than a lot of South East Asian countries. I found this really correlated to how developed a country is — less developed countries had more mom and pop shops and markets where you could negotiate. Compared to Vietnam, Japan seems rigid. The selection is great with our supermarkets, electronics shops, and 50,000 convenient stores. But they are corporations and thus not local, so the prices are fixed. You don’t have much room to negotiate.
…or do you?
The good news is that you can, in certain circumstances. And even better, you don’t need to be overly aggressive nor do you need to have an Indian accent.
I’m going to focus on negotiating prices at two major electronics stores as it has worked for me, but you can apply this principle to other stores of course.
There are basically two ways you can go about doing this. Let’s talk about my two favorite electronics retailers, Yodobashi and Bic Camera.
Method #1: Flashing the flyer.
In a nutshell: Stores do not want to lose out to competitors, so they will offer you discount prices in certain situations.
- Go to store A (yodobashi camera) and pick up a flyer (chirashi) that is advertising a specific product. They usually have these flyers distributed at the counters, or next to specific products. If you can’t get a flyer then you can take a picture of the price.
- Take flyer from store A and visit store B. Show them flyer and tell them you would like that product, for a discounted price. The stores actually have a rule that requires them to offer you a cheaper price than their competitor.
- The store wants your business so they will usually agree to giving you a lower price. They don’t want you going to a competitor. However, if you face any resistance, ask for their supervisor or manager.
The flyers look something like this :
Method # 2: Taking advantage of point programs.
In a nutshell: The stores want your business and will try to offer some sort of deal to make it work for you, even if you don’t have enough money.
- Decide on the product that you’d like to purchase and how much it costs in Yodobashi, for example. Bring a lesser amount of cash with you. Say you’d like to buy some Bose headphones for 15,000 yen. Put 10,000 yen in your wallet and take your credit cards out (you don’t want people thinking you can actually afford the product).
- Visit any Yodobashi Camera store. Strike up a conversation with the staff and ask them a couple of questions. Go-to questions would be, “Can you tell me a little bit more about this feature? Is it water proof?” or “do you have these in blue or only red?”
- Show you are very interested in the product, but explain to them you only have 10,000 yen to spend.
- Make the move and simply ask for a discount. “Is there any way to get a discount?” or “Is there any way to get this product at X price?”
- Wait for the staff to fiddle around a bit with his walkie talkie for a few minutes and check with someone else in the store.
- You’ll find that most of these stores have different deals constantly going on, point programs that you can sign up for (for free), or some way to make it happen.
- Wait for the discount…and cha-ching! You are a very skilled negotiator, my friend.
I find this works better with more expensive products as they don’t want to lose a big sales, with a discount rate of 10-30% on the top end. If you’re looking at a 2,000 yen product and try to negotiate for 1,000 yen that’s half the price and most likely won’t happen. However, a 50,000 yen fridge at 42,000 yen (26% discount) is much more likely to get approved.
Method #3: Good old fashioned Flee Markets
ou can go to any flee market in Japan and actively barter. This is common practice and I’ve gotten some great finds. Here’s a great list of them here: http://www2j.biglobe.ne.jp/~tatuta/
- Get to the flee market early if you want to get the best items.
- Alternatively, if you come towards the end of the flee market everyone is tried to get rid of their stuff, so they’ll practically give it away.
- You can either keep this stuff, or consider reselling it on a platform like Mercari for a profit.