Top Shopping Tips for Cruise Ship Passengers:
How to Be a Savvy Onboard and Onshore Shopper
In this article you will find:
Are You a Savvy Shopper?
The Psychology of Travel-Shopping
The Cruise Shopping World
Shopping Bermuda: Bargain Seekers Meet the “Fix”
Shopping Dubai: Grandiose Desert Mall Retailing
Price Uncertainty and the Art of Bargaining
100 Best Cruise Ports for Shopping
Final Shopping Tips for Success
So, you hate to shop? Sure, until you buy something you love or a grateful friend compliments you for the beautiful scarf you purchased along Barcelona’s Las Ramblas or at Bangkok’s fabulous Jim Thompson shop! Or maybe you love to shop? Until you make a mistake – learned you got scammed by paying 40% above retail; discovered that stone in your beautiful new necklace was a fake; or bought an expensive but almost worthless painting from an onboard art auction/gallery! Maybe your credit card company can help you with your bad shopping decisions, but maybe not. Sorry, but maybe cruise shopping shouldn’t be in your game plan.
Or maybe you need to approach shopping from a different perspective — with a set of rules for becoming a savvy shopper who finds shopping to be both rewarding and fun. Let’s call this “Cruise Shopping 101” – an exercise in better money management while traveling. After all, shopping on cruise ships and in cruise ports is not the same as shopping back home where the products, people, places, and processes are familiar and predictable – from product reviews and fixed prices to free shipping, guarantees, credit card protection, and return privileges.
With cruise shopping, you’re a fish out of water who frequently encounters friendly but sketchy strangers who have eyes on your money. Do you trust them, or do you need to bulletproof yourself against unscrupulous characters? Are you getting good value or are you being ripped off? And what about visiting local markets in countries where prices are largely determined by haggling? Are you a savvy bargainer or a pushover who pays the merchant’s first asking price?
Are You a Savvy Shopper?
What can you do to ensure a stellar shopping experience?
Begin by understanding your environment and culture. A good starting point is the cruise ship’s complaint department. What are the major passenger complaints they receive about shopping? Jewelry and art are top complaints. Naïve passengers get scammed on both. If you’re such a passenger, you may have to ask yourself an embarrassing question – why would I even THINK about buying jewelry and art on a cruise ship filled with holiday makers and a floating casino? After all, cruise ships are for eating, drinking, entertainment, and gambling – not shopping for questionable goods that could become hard lessons on what-not-to-do-when-cruising!
You’ve been warned, but you’ll still want to do some fun shopping. Temptations abound. In fact, shopping should become another form of education and entertainment, or what some call cruising edutainment. So let’s develop some basic cruise shopping smarts so you can truly enjoy hassle-free shopping!
The Psychology of Travel-Shopping
Over the years, I’ve writing more than 20 international travel-shopping guides on 30+ countries — from the Caribbean to Mexico to Italy to Turkey to China to Thailand to Australia. Among the many interesting shopping behaviors I’ve observed, one in particular stands out: Individuals who normally do little shopping back home, and declare their general dislike of shopping, often shop up a storm when in a different environment or culture. They unwittingly engage in “shopping as a sport” and “shopping as fun entertainment” topped off with joyful moments of drinking, dining, telling shopping stories, and making new friends. Unfortunately, if such newbie shoppers are not careful, their shopping forays can become very expensive and disappointing forms of entertainment.
Traveling gives people permission to have fun and engage in impulsive shopping. Traveling provides time and puts people in new places to focus on shopping for themselves and their loved ones. If you are well-prepared for “shopping while cruising” experiences, you can return home with special mementos of a trip well taken as part of a life well lived with lots of fun and laughter.
The Cruise Shopping World
Shopping is a major source of profit in the cruise world, where onboard shopping captures millions of dollars in “recreational and entertainment spending.” If not closely regulated or reined in, such shopping can quickly ruin your cruise holiday as well as sully the reputation of the cruise line.
At the same time, local economies with onshore shops catering to cruise ship passengers depend a great deal on regular cruise ship visits and with shoppers stepping onshore. Skagway, Alaska, for example, a town of just 1,059 residents, gets 1.5 million cruise visitors each year, which translates into supporting 95% of Skagway’s economy by generating $160 million in revenue.
Cruisers basically encounter two different shopping environments – onboard and onshore – that offer different challenges. You need to understand how both operate and how best to deal with each.
Onboard Shopping Footprints and Experiences
Large cruise ships have increasingly expanded onboard shopping footprints and experiences by developing specialized boutiques, mini malls, pop-up retail events, and special sales. But cashless spending apps are the real onboard spending accelerators. Indeed, these clever apps are required to be used by all passengers in lieu of cash and credit cards; just swipe your key card and a record of your purchase will go to central accounting where your credit card is already on file. You’ll get an itemized bill at the end of your cruise that testifies to your onboard spending activity.
Ship shops are especially busy during sea days when passengers have free time on their hands. This is also the time (offshore) when casino gambling becomes active.
The major cruise lines offering significant onboard shopping opportunities include Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International – all owned by the world’s two largest cruise operators, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. Large ships operated by these and other cruise lines (Celebrity Eclipse, Odyssey of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Mardi Gras) typically include boutiques offering name brand clothes, handbags, souvenirs, sundries, jewelry, watches, and popular duty-free items, such as liquor, makeup, chocolates, and cigarettes.
Cruise shopping pacesetter Celebrity Cruises, for example, includes luxury and designer boutiques offering familiar jewelry, watches, clothing, and accessory brands such as Chopard, Longines, John Hardy, Hublot, Citizen, TAG Heuer, Victoria’s Secret, Hugo Boss, Trina Turk, Kate Spade, Ray Ban, Burberry, Fendi, Lacoste, Swatch, Nautica, Calvin Klein, Armani, Versace, D&G by Dolce and Gabbana. On several large cruise ships Michael Kors, Coach, Pandora, Bulgari, Breitling, Cartier, Omega, and Tiffany & Co. have their own stand-alone boutiques.
Princess Cruises includes “The Shops of Princess” program. It offers a five-year guarantee on all fine jewelry purchases and a lowest price guarantee on the same items purchased from shops onshore versus shops onboard.
Royal Caribbean International claims to have the biggest designer names and onboard exclusives at prices not found on land. They offer special sales as well as a price match guarantee. Working with Royal Media Partners, produce Port Shopping Guides to promote both onboard and onshore luxury brand retailers on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea fleets sailing in Europe, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, Central America, and Alaska.
Similar to casinos, entertainment, and spas, most onboard shopping is handled by concessionaires – not the cruise ship company. They are responsible for staffing the shop, procuring goods, delivering purchases, and handling complaints. These are perfect “buyer beware shopping environments” for impulsive shoppers. In fact, onboard shops and shopping experiences are designed to appeal to both upscale shoppers (unpredictable big buyers) and bargain hunters (predictable daily cash flow) in search of inexpensive fashion jewelry, clothing, and accessories. You’ll find all of these and more available in boutiques or arrayed on tables strategically placed along walkways that serve as shopping runways for special 1- or 2-hour pop-up sales. Check your daily planner for these events.
Based in Miami, the three largest companies operating shops on cruise ships are Starboard Cruise Services, Harding Retail, and Dufry Ltd.
Starboard Cruise Services, which is part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is the largest company with 300 employees at the Miami headquarters and 1,500 employees on several cruise ships. Starboard operates retail shops on these 10 cruise lines: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Norwegian Cruise line, Dream Cruises, SkySea Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Silversea, and Holland America Line. Starboard sees itself as a revolutionary pacesetter in onboard cruise retailing, branding itself thus: “Starboard Cruise Services is revolutionizing shopping on board cruise ships, creating a unique retail environment where cruise guests are inspired to indulge in a memory of their dream vacation. Retail is an entertaining shopping destination, full of discovery, storytelling and memories.”
Harding Retail operates shops on or has partnerships with P&O Cruises, Cunard, Regent, Oceania, Saga, Scenic, Fred Olsen, Azamara, Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, and Virgin Voyages.
Dufry Ltd. is now on eight cruise ships of Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Carnival as well as in several airports worldwide. It also operates World Duty Free and Colombian Emeralds.
When COVID-19 shut down the cruise industry in 2020-2021, it also closed the doors of these fast-growing cruise ship retail operators. Rest assured they will quickly be back in operation, since both onboard and onshore shopping are big businesses for cruise lines that have developed important shopping infrastructure through an aggressive network of partners.
Expensive jewelry is a major sale item. Many cruise shops boast 40% or more savings on their offerings, but unless you are an expert jeweler, how can you trust the quality of the jewelry? Better still, why would you buy expensive jewelry on a cruise ship from a salesperson whose primary purpose is to quickly turn over shop inventory?
Other concessionaires offer the ubiquitous and controversial onboard art auctions. While not real auctions, these huckster operations make exaggerated claims about the value of their sometimes worthless art. Serious art connoisseurs avoid these onboard galleries. In fact, cruise ships receive a disproportionate number of complaints from passengers who have returned home, have the art appraised, and discover the truth about these embarrassing overpriced purchases.
Some cruise lines have gotten the message and no longer allow art concessionaires to operate onboard. Reputation wise, it’s just not worth it to expose repeat cruisers to such shady operations (borderline scams) that appear to be sanctioned by the cruise line.
The best time to shop onboard is near the end of the cruise when shops run their best sales (50% discount is not unusual) to quickly dispose of excess inventory. No time is a good time to buy art onboard.
The best onboard shopping buys tend to be unique souvenirs, duty-free liquor (unique brand), and inexpensive fashion jewelry, watches, scarves, bow ties, backpacks, and handbags offered in pop-up sales. If you’re curious about the value of particular items that may seem overpriced, you can always Google the items or check comparable pricing on Amazon.com since you are likely to have wi-fi access onboard. However, assessing the value of expensive jewelry is very tricky unless you are an expert jeweler who happens to travel with the proper testing equipment. My advice: Treat high-end jewelry purchases similar to onboard art purchases: risky and problematic.
Alternative Onboard Shopping Opportunities
When all is said and done, some the best shopping deals are actually found onboard but in different departments. My favorites include:
- Shopping With the Chef: Several cruise lines promote one of the most interesting shopping experiences for passengers, that is, shopping with the chef in local food markets which may, in turn, be linked to an onboard cooking school or class. One of the best such Shopping With the Chef tours is sponsored by Seabourn (this one is free but quickly fills up). Oceania Cruises conducts Culinary Discover Tours to local food markets and restaurants. Viking Ocean Cruises sponsors tours to local food markets where participants in the “Cooking With the Chef” program shop for ingredients to use in The Kitchen Table cooking class. Passengers who join these tours get a real cultural experience: fish and meats in the wet market, fresh produce, and the chef and his assistants bargaining for everything as well as arranging payment and delivery to the ship. You’ll have renewed appreciation for the kitchen after joining such shopping tours.
- “Early Bird” shopping for future cruises: Most cruise ships have an onboard cruise desk (sales office) whose job is to incentivize and sell future cruises to current passengers. This desk provides a variety of incentives to book early, from discounts, reduced deposits, and no penalty cancellations to upgrades, onboard credits, and freebies (free drink packages, specialty dining packages, wi-fi packages, prepaid gratuities, kids sail free). Cruise lines claim the best deals on future cruises are through these early bird reservations – not through travel agents, cruise specialists, or the cruise line’s website. You literally need to be on the cruise in order to take advantage of these super specials.
- Raffles, games, contests, and promotions: Most cruise ships have ongoing specials that may include raffles, bingo games, special events, and promotions. Some cruise lines will raffle off cabin upgrades. If a suite is unsold, for example, it may get entered into a raffle where some lucky passenger wins an upgrade from a $2,000 cabin to a $10,000 suite. Popular bingo games (some offer cash and free cruises) and other games and challenges may be tied to attractive prizes. Shops and the art galleries may do special promotions where they offer free drinks and other incentives for attendance. Look for events that offer free spa treatments, massages, and personal trainers. Some cruise lines sponsor games (Newly Wed?) that can result in a gift certificate, free specialty dining for two, or a free bottle of Champagne. These include such activities as musical chairs, scavenger hunts, bean bag tosses, game shows, trivia, basketball, and karaoke. However, be careful how you spend your time chasing down games and contests to win prizes or get freebies. Many of these activities are time suckers that result in tasteless prizes and souvenirs, such as Carnival’s popular but tacky 24-Karat gold Ship On a Stick!
Onshore Shopping and Ethical Issues
Since cruise ships prefer that you confine your shopping to onboard shops, they have little incentive (other than commissions) to encourage you to wander off on your own to experience the local shopping culture. Nonetheless, many passengers enjoy exploring local shops. Here’s what you need to know about onshore shopping opportunities and experiences.
Many cruise ports are lined with shops that primarily cater to cruise ship passengers. These are seasoned retailers who are used to dealing with hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers who visit their shops. While many shops put out sale signs to appeal to cruise ship passengers, most are overpriced shops; many are owned by the same people, operating under different names, and many fix their prices with other stores. Shopping in such places often means paying 40% or more above retail.
Some of these shops may have special relationships with cruise staff or tour operators; the operators can review commissions if you visit their shop and identify who recommended that you visit. The same is true for tour guides who operate onshore excursions. Invariably 30-40 minutes of the tour involves a stop at a “recommended” shop or emporium where tourists are “managed” or “accounted” for commissions. In some slick operations, the tourist is asked to wear a colored or numbered sticker, which identifies them as being part of a particular tour group. While many are told the sticker entitles them to a special discount, in truth the sticker keeps track of who you “belong to” for commission payments.
In many cruise ports, the best quality shops are found several blocks away from the immediate cruise port area. To avoid mishaps, you’ll need to do research on the “best shops” before you arrive in port and then take taxis or public transportation to these places. Whatever you do, avoid taxi drivers and other tourist touts who want to take you to their recommended shops or offer you a “free shopping tour.” They often claim the shop is owned by a family member or a friend who will give special discounts and the cheapest prices in town, but both claims are lies. Those shops routinely give such touts 5-10%, and sometimes as much as 40%, commissions on everything you buy. If you mention a shop you know is good, they may tell you that it’s bad or it’s closed. Be persistent, visit it, and tell your driver and the shop owner that you are to be treated as a “no-commission” visitor.
Some cruise lines, such as Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean, have tried to organize onshore shopping for their passengers. They’re developed websites and apps that generate shopping maps and list recommended shops. Celebrity Cruises, for example, developed https://portshoppingspree.com which is no longer active. Royal Caribbean developed a port shopping program that includes a website (www.royalportfolio.com) and mobile app for their passengers. This program goes so far as to work directly with recommended local shops and requests users to register their purchases.
While ostensibly designed to help their passengers with onshore shopping experiences, this arrangement raises ethical issues about possible abuses and obvious conflicts of interest – the cruise line actually funnels passengers into “approved” shops that work with the cruise line. Accordingly, local shops and merchants are at the mercy of “professional shoppers” sanctioned by the cruise line. What a deal for the company that operates this program for the cruise line. They’re actually not doing you a favor since this is all about “self-interest rightly understood.”
I’m not comfortable recommending such an ethically-challenged shopping program operated by middlemen who monopolize the competition. My recommendation: Become an independent and savvy shopper by doing your own research on the best shops in port cities and then visit these places on your own. You’ll probably have a much more rewarding shopping experience. Better still, you’ll meet independent merchants who are not part of the sanctioned “cruise ship shopping program.”
Shopping Bermuda: Bargain Seekers Meet the “Fix”
While visiting Bermuda and researching onshore shopping for cruise passengers, I discovered an interesting pattern that’s repeated in other countries. 1Given the upmarket profile of Bermuda’s visitors, one would expect most shops to primarily offer expensive, imported name brand products. However, shops tend to cater to two markets simultaneously.
On the one hand, many visitors who fly into Bermuda and stay at expensive hotels and resorts and dine in local restaurants are relatively upscale travelers and discerning shoppers who expect quality. Accordingly, many shops offer expensive name brand and exclusive lines of imported jewelry, watches, crystal, china, perfumes, clothes, and gift items from Europe for this well-heeled group of visitors.
On the other hand, Bermuda receives thousands of less affluent cruise ship passengers each week during the April to October cruise season. While some of these visitors are big spenders, others tend to shop for bargains, including inexpensive jewelry, art, souvenirs, T-shirts, and other gift items. They aren’t disappointed, since many shops near the cruise ship docks are jam-packed with a wide assortment of goods that appeal to all types of shoppers. In fact, one of the basic rules of shopping in Bermuda is this:
Shops closest to the cruise ships tend to offer less expensive products and advertise sales on selected goods; shops farther away from the cruise ships, as well as those in hotels and resorts, offer better quality goods and few sales.
Therefore, if you are looking for bargains and sales and you’re not too concerned about quality, hang around the shops that cater to the cruise ship passengers. But if you’re seeking quality products, venture a block or two beyond the central cruise ship shopping area as well as head for the shops found in major hotels and resorts. Here, you’ll notice a considerable difference in the quality and cost of goods. A few top shops manage to successfully cater to both shopping audiences.
Whatever your shopping preferences, you should find some excellent shopping opportunities in Bermuda. While prices may at times seem high, they probably aren’t compared to similar items at full retail price back home. Some shops claim 20% to 40% savings on jewelry, watches, perfumes, and clothing compared to retail prices in the United States. However, you should be suspicious of such claims, since many of the same items can be purchased at similar, if not better, discounts in the United States. For example, I found the same Polo Ralph Lauren shirt I purchased on sale for $19 at a department store in Virginia a week before visiting Bermuda selling for the full retail price of $75 at A.S. Cooper & Sons in Hamilton. In fact, many stores tend to sell merchandise at full retail price but put some items on sale at a 20% to 30% discount – just enough to pique your interest and make you believe you’re getting a good deal.
There are certain things you need to know about the local shopping culture and scene that will help you become a smart and savvy shopper:
- Shopping hours vary, depending on cruise ship schedules and shopping areas. Many stores have extended hours when cruise ships are in town, including Sunday hours.
- Look for special evening shopping. During the cruise ship season, the port hosts “Harbour Night” in the area adjacent to the cruise passenger terminal. The street becomes a pedestrian-only zone filled with arts and crafts vendors, food stalls, and live music. Many shops in this area stay open until 9pm.
- Don’t expect to encounter much price competition, nor should you waste time doing comparative shopping. While you might assume there is competition among shops, in reality such competition is not reflected in the prices of the same or similar goods. In fact, there is no advantage in comparing prices of hotel shops to shops in town. One reason for the “same prices” is that many of the shops in the hotels and resorts are owned by the same shops in town. Consequently, prices tend to be “fixed”. Savvy shoppers do their comparative shopping back home before they arrive in port to see if indeed they are getting price advantages when shopping in such places.
- Be leery of claims that prices are lower in port than in the United States. Such claims may be true if you usually pay full retail back home. However, savvy shoppers in the U.S. look for sales, shop at discount warehouses and factory outlets, and shop online where they can save 10% to 70% off of retail prices. Many tourists enjoy shopping because they often (1) have free “shopping time” when traveling, (2) engage in impulsive activities they might not otherwise do back home, (3) like the selections and colors (often tropical), (4) find something unique, (5) need gift and souvenir items for friends and relatives, and (6) don’t know if they will find the same item back home. Indeed, shopping becomes a fun activity where they can meet merchants and artisans, acquire unique items and interesting stories, and bring home souvenirs, gifts, and special items for their friends, relatives, homes and wardrobes. Whether they got “good deals” in the process is another question altogether.
- Shop prices and product quality tend to be high. Despite the fact that Bermuda is a popular shopping center, don’t expect to find many bargains. The cost of doing business in Bermuda tends to be very high, including duties, rents, and labor costs. The shopping focus in Bermuda is on quality items, many of British and European origin, that cost even more in North America. Look for Irish linens, Scottish woolens, Shetland and cashmere sweaters, British and French clothing and accessories, Wedgwood and Royal Copenhagen fine tableware, unique Swiss timepieces, and top quality china and crystal. When shopping in Bermuda, Americans should think Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Tiffany’s rather than Walmart, Costco, Kay Jewelers, and a middle-class shopping mall.
- You will find a few bargains in Bermuda. Most good buys are found on locally produced items, such as jewelry, art, perfume, liquor, and cedar products, and any low-duty imported items, such as liquor, watches, china, crystal, linens, and other items not produced in your country of origin for which you may pay little or no duty when you return home. Several places claim Americans can save up to 40% on some imported goods, such as French perfumes, English bone china, crystal, porcelain, Swiss watches, Danish silver and jewelry, Irish linens, Scottish tweeds, Italian silks, and cashmere sweaters, because of special relationships shops have with producers and wholesalers in the United Kingdom and Europe. However, that depends on where you shop back home and whether or not your pay full retail prices for such items. At the same time, items such as Irish tablecloths may have little appeal to Americans who generally do not use tablecloths. Since there is such a large markup on jewelry in North America, it’s difficult to speculate whether local jewelry purchases are a bargain. You need to know jewelry, especially different quality stones and craftsmanship, before you can determine whether you’re getting a good deal. Jewelry is one of those unique items that people tend to fall in love with and thus may pay the asking price, less a negotiated discount if they can bargain.
- Look for sales, but be careful. Jewelry stores near cruise ship terminals often put up sale signs primarily for cruise ship passengers. Department stores also place sale signs – 25-50% – on different tables. However, be careful and don’t assume what you pick up is part of the sale grouping. Many sale signs in department stores are confusing. Be sure to carefully check prices before making a purchase, and watch how items get rung up at the register. Did you really get the sale price? An item you thought was on sale may not be because of how stores handle their signage. Some locals claim this is an old department store trick!
- Look for 10% discount coupons. Several of the free flyers and brochures for tourists include special 10% discount coupons. Look carefully through the free literature before you go shopping, to see if stores have such coupons. You can always ask a store if they have any special coupons or discounts, just in case you missed their advertising literature.
- The retail business in Bermuda is very incestuous and less than fully competitive. The word in Bermuda commercial circles is “consolidation”; many shops and department stores have undergone a great deal of consolidation during the past 20 years. Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to find small independent mom-and-pop shops these days. Most shops are owned by large companies that have numerous branches. Such companies often use different names to distinguish one shop from another and thus give the false impression of competition. For example, the famous Trimingham’s Department Store finally purchased their only real competition – H.A. & E. Smith, Ltd. – in 2004. Together they are now known as Trimingham’s and Smiths. Crisson’s jewelry and watch stores now have 10 branches throughout Bermuda. A.S. Cooper, E.R. Aubrey, The English Sports Shop, and Carole Holding also have several branch shops, including The Bermuda Shop at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. Calypso also owns Voilá and United Colors of Benetton. Even the Dockyard Glassworks at the Royal Naval Dockyard calls itself Dockside Glass in St. George. The names may be different, but the ownership is the same. Such consolidation is clearly one of the reasons why there is little or no price competition in Bermuda
- Cruise ship passengers tend to be steered toward particular “recommended” shops. Like elsewhere in cruise ship ports, in Bermuda some cruise ship personnel have special deals with shops, earning a fee or commission on passenger spending. Recommended shops are not necessarily the best shops; their prices are often inflated in order to pay commissions. If you arrive by cruise ship and onboard personnel recommend particular shops, be careful in following their recommendations for “good deals.” Chances are these people have a conflict of interest – they may make more money from onshore shopping commissions than onboard from their ship duties! Savvy shoppers use their own judgment in finding the best shops. Be suspicious of anyone who claims to be a shopping expert — chances are they will get 10-20% commissions on everything you purchase.
- Look for attractive locally produced items. Many shops offer items produced by local manufacturers and artists. A few quality jewelry shops design an exclusive line of their own jewelry. Several local artists produce attractive paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Look for cedar wood products, including works of master carvers. Many artists and craftspeople produce a wide range of arts and crafts. You’ll also find a few surprising Bermudiana and gift shops. Also look for locally produced liquors as well as many antiques and collectibles.
- Art lovers should be prepared to travel around the island for their shopping treasures and make appointments. Similar to other countries, Bermuda’s art scene tends to be dispersed throughout the island, with galleries and studios in Hamilton, the Royal Naval Dockyard, and private home studios. You are well advised to call ahead for appointments in the case of private studios, which often keep irregular “artist/island hours.”
- Merchants prefer cash but most will accept credit cards. Since credit card commissions tend to be high, with American Express being the most costly to handle, many merchants prefer dealing with cash. However, most places will accept credit cards, preferably Visa or MasterCard.
- Prices are generally fixed. Wherever you shop, you are expected to pay the marked price. Most shops do not bargain, and many shops periodically run sales. However, there are a few exceptions to this pricing rule that can lead to bargains. If you buy several items, purchase large quantities, or consider a high-ticket item, such as jewelry, art, or antiques, you can ask for a discount, which you may or may not receive. In the case of china and crystal, you may want to inquire about old or discontinued collections or editions or any items that may be on consignment. Some shops, such as Coopers, may have last season’s Wedgwood holiday collection still in stock and thus will offer a good discount on such items – but only if you ask. The general rule is to ask for a discount if you feel a price is too high. The worst thing that can happen is to be told “no.” I have no problem being rejected for such price trimming efforts.
Shopping Dubai: Grandiose Desert Mall Retailing
When it comes to shopping, big doesn’t necessarily mean the best or most appealing for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which includes two major Middle East cruise ports – Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Above all, it means lots of once inhospitable desert square footage being transformed into massive air-conditioned shopping malls that also function as food and entertainment centers for local residents in search of things to see and do in their spare time. For visiting cruise ship passengers, this place is promoted as a shopper’s paradise.
Especially for tourists, Dubai continues to pioneer the notion of an upscale shopping resort, building much of their tourist infrastructure around shopping, dining, and entertainment. Big money tends to hang out in the shopping centers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, creating in-your-face desert retailing by today’s new class of very wealthy Bedouins who spend billions building all kinds of crazy stuff.
As might be expected from new money chasing big dreams that mingle with money managers, roving expatriates, expensive consultants, shady international characters, and soldiers of fortune, this place has a glitzy Las Vegas- and Disneyland-style to it. Indeed, for those who value quality and good taste, Dubai’s attempt to construct the biggest and grandest often results in less than what meets the eye. Like their Saudi counterparts, Dubai showcases the confluence of power, grandiosity, money, and gullibility of people who think they’re playing in the big leagues of New York and London or leading a new economy from this unlikely desert oasis on the Persian (“Arabian”) Gulf. Impressive, but not quite paradise for seasoned shoppers.
Much of what gets built here doesn’t make immediate economic sense, but it does make statements about money management and power for those who have decided to park their wealth in real estate. At least for now, many dreams have come true as the UAE continues to embark on some of the world’s most ambitious development projects tied to hospitality, tourism, real estate, trade, and investment.
Call it shopping, but buyers from shopping-rich countries (North America and parts of Asia) may discover this is not the shopping mecca they expected it would be. When you hear about tax-free and bargain shopping in the UAE, always remember that real estate is the number one business in Dubai. When you go retail shopping in the desert, you encounter some very expensive real estate and high overhead costs, which get passed on to visitors at five-star hotels and shopping malls.
Be careful what you wish for when shopping in Dubai. Don’t believe you are getting good shopping deals just because advertisements, sale signs, and press articles claim it is so. In fact, Dubai has a habit of “saying it is so,” which confuses reality for many first-time visitors who are not accustomed to the local art of bravado. One’s perceptions of shopping and value of the sales vary depending on where one comes from.
Keeping these caveats in mind, you’ll most likely discover that shopping in Dubai is an incredible experience, even for those who say they usually hate shopping. Here’s what I found on the ground about shopping in the UAE:
- The most appealing shopping for many visitors is centered on Dubai. While Abu Dhabi and Sharjah offer some shopping opportunities, they pale in comparison to Dubai. Shopping in those cities primarily focuses on the needs of local residents rather than tourists. Keep your credit cards focused on the shops and shopping malls of Dubai.
- Shopping is very spread out and thus requires a good transportation strategy. The easiest way to get around Dubai is by inexpensive taxi. You also can hire a car with driver or rent a self-drive car to get around from one shopping area to another. Going from one shopping mall or souk to another may take from 15 to 45 minutes by car, depending on the traffic.
- Shopping hours tend to be very shopper- and family entertainment-friendly. Most shops in shopping malls are open 12 hours a day, from 10am to 10pm. However, many street shops and shops in souks, which defer to more traditional Middle Eastern work and family routines, close from 1pm to 4pm each day. During the annual shopping festival and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, shopping hours of some malls are extended to midnight and 1am, proving once again that shopping is an all-day form of entertainment.
- While you’ll find lots of shopping in the UAE, you may or may not buy much. Unless you come from a heavily taxed country that offers a paucity of goods or a culture that emphasizes gold and jewelry, the simple truth is that many visitors can probably find the same products back home at comparable or even better prices – only the resort setting would be missing. Wealthy Russians, Middle Easterners, and Africans especially like to shop in the UAE, because they can buy products here that are not available back home, or they get good buys on things that may be heavily taxed in their home country.
- Shopping in the UAE is convenient and viewed as a form of entertainment. Many visitors like to shop in the UAE because of convenience; shopping is abundant everywhere you go, and it’s often under one air-conditioned roof, accented with food courts, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment and recreation centers. Shopping in and of itself is entertaining, giving both locals and visitors something to do during the heat of the day as well as until 10pm or later with their families. Mall shopping is a local and more culturally acceptable entertainment alternative to highly Westernized hotel-based nightlife centered around bars, pubs, nightclubs, music, dancing, alcohol, and sex. In fact, during the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, shopping and entertainment are formally linked; numerous entertainment events take place in the midst of all the shopping. When families “go out” at night, they frequently decide to focus on activities in shopping malls. Not surprisingly, many visitors get caught up in the UAE’s shopping frenzy simply because shopping is so convenient. It’s also a great way to kill time in airports. Whether shopping in the UAE is a good deal is another question altogether.
- Shopping is often over-rated and redundant – less than what meets the eye. After visiting three or four major shopping centers (for starters, try Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Festival City Mall, and Ibn Battuta Mall), it begins to look the same and can become boring. Indeed, you may be underwhelmed in a place that would lead you to think that shopping is an overwhelming experience. Similar shops, often under the same ownership, using different names, and offering the same products, are found everywhere you go. Shopping mall fatigue may soon set in. Welcome to the land of redundant shopping. After a while, you may long for good old fashioned online shopping from your computer and smart phone.
- Most everything is imported and declared duty-free. As an entrepôt and tax-free trading center, the UAE produces very little of interest to visitors. Most everything found in the souks and shopping malls is produced abroad and shipped or flown in from other countries. Therefore, prices of goods reflect the costs of international shipping, local handling, and shop rents, which are considerable.
- The UAE offers an over-abundance of expensive European designer goods, which are easily found elsewhere in the world. Even during sale periods, deep discounts may not appeal to you. For example, a men’s US$800 shirt reduced to US$400 during the shopping festival has little appeal to visitors who would never think of buying a $400 shirt. But you can save $400 on a shirt, which is definitely a huge savings. The same is true for the US$2,000 handbag that goes on sale for US$1,200. You really have to be part of the very expensive designer-brand shopping culture to fully appreciate much of what passes for shopping in the UAE. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for good value and bargains, you’re probably shopping in the wrong place. Those US$10 shirts, US$20 knock-off watches, and US$30 jackets are best found in the bargain basement markets of Delhi, Bangkok, Saigon, Shanghai, and Hong Kong rather than in the shopping malls of Dubai. You might try the shops at the Karama Centre (Kuwait Street) for such bargain shopping, including some ostensibly counterfeit merchandise without the obvious fake labels.
- Unique arts and antiques are primarily produced by local or commuting expatriates, imported from neighboring Oman, or presented in hotel lobbies as part of international art road shows. Only a couple of shops in Dubai and a few galleries in Sharjah are worth visiting for authentic arts and antiques. The rest tend to be souvenir shops with lots of imported stuff from India and Pakistan. However, the UAE art scene dramatically changed with the construction of world-class art museums (Guggenheim and Louvre for starters) in Abu Dhabi as the country attempts to become a global center (ostensibly competing with New York City and London) for serious art. Shops and auction houses (Christie’s) offering quality international art, primarily paintings and sculpture, are increasingly present here.
- Locally produced handicrafts are not particularly well designed nor appealing to visitors who have difficulty knowing what to do with them! From color, design, and utilitarian perspectives, locally produced handicrafts are generally disappointing. For a sampling of these, visit the handicraft center of the Women’s Union in Abu Dhabi. However difficult to make, these products cannot compete with better designed and less expensive imported handicrafts or designer goods.
- Dubai is one of the world’s major gold trading centers. Visit the large Gold Souk in Deira, which offers lots of traditional 22k gold jewelry, and you’ll see why. This area especially appeals to visitors from the Middle East and Asia who appreciate bright shiny gold jewelry crafted in traditional designs. Most of the shops here also offer varying qualities of jewelry made with diamonds, precious stones, 18k gold, and silver. The newer Gold and Diamond Park (Sheikh Zayad Road, Al Quoz), which is a modern version of the traditional Gold Souk, also showcases many jewelry stores. The really good pieces, which are very expensive and produced by exclusive jewelry houses in Europe and America, are found in a few shops of top hotels (Burj Al Arab in Dubai and Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi) and in Dubai’s major shopping malls.
- The most fun shopping for many visitors is found in the traditional souks of Old Dubai – spice, gold, textile, food, and covered – and the arts and crafts sections of the Blue Souk in Sharjah. While these exotic places may not offer much to the visitor beyond a few souvenirs, they are usually more interesting than the air-conditioned shopping malls. The souks are definitely cultural experiences where you can practice your bargaining skills and meet local merchants from Iran, India, and elsewhere. Especially around the gold, covered, and spice souks in Dubai, you’ll even encounter a few roving touts who attempt to hawk knock-off watches and poor-quality designer goods. Visit the spice market to buy crystals of frankincense and myrrh. These spices are even packaged along with a small incense burner to make interesting gifts for folks back home.
- Be sure to check out airport shopping both upon arrival and departure. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer extensive duty-free airport shopping. Consequently, you may want to arrive at the airport an hour or two early in order to browse the shops. Don’t forget to explore this shopping scene upon arrival. Since this is a tax-free destination, you can shop the airport duty-free shops upon arrival and departure. In fact, over 20 percent of all airport duty-free revenue is generated from inbound passengers.
- Expect to be pestered on the streets of Deira (Dubai) by young South Asian men peddling knock-off watches and designer handbags at inflated prices. While the UAE has a reputation for being a tout-free country, you will encounter the ubiquitous Third World tout in and around the souks of Deira. These are the only people who pester shoppers in the UAE. While you may want to visit the tiny back lanes and upstairs hideouts (usually a small room jam-packed with products) to see their counterfeit goods, don’t waste your money. These products suffer from two great shopping evils – overpriced (before bargaining) and dreadful quality. If you decide to risk buying from these touts, don’t pay more than 30 percent of the initial asking prices. US$80-100 for a knock-off watch is simply ridiculous: US$20-30 should be the street price.
- Despite its duty-free reputation and annual shopping festival with advertised 30% to 70% discounts, you may or may not save much money on shopping in the UAE. Savings depend on your country of origin. Americans, for example, are the world’s most spoiled shoppers, since they come from a highly competitive retail and wholesale environment (think Walmart, Costco, Amazon.com) that stresses discounts, sales, and the lowest prices, including the concept of “loss leader”. Not surprisingly, so-called bargain duty-free shopping in the UAE is not a bargain for many Americans, who may pay 10% more in the UAE than for comparable goods back home. But if you come from Russia, Africa, and parts of Europe and Asia, shopping here may look very good, at 10%-30% below retail!
- Most shops take major credit cards. The exceptions are small shops in souks that prefer cash. Some shops may try to add on a 3 to 5 percent commission to cover their credit card processing charges. Cash is still the preferred method of transaction.
- Don’t be afraid to bargain. Bargain whenever and wherever you can, even in a shopping mall where shops ostensibly don’t allow bargaining and put up sales or “fixed prices” signs to keep away bargainers. Savvy shoppers aren’t deterred by such wishful retail thinking. Shop owners and some sales personnel may be authorized to give instant discounts, but only if you ask if they can do better on the price. This is especially effective if you indicate interest in purchasing several items. On the other hand, bargaining is a way of life in souks, where you can expect to get 10% to 50% discounts, depending on the merchant and your ability to bargain. Go for it!
- The best time to shop in Dubai is reputedly during the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, which usually takes place for 32 days during January and February. This festival is advertised as a “world-class shopping and family entertainment” extravaganza. During this festival many shops advertise 30% to 70% discounts on select items as well as many giveaways of cash, luxury cars, and gold bars. However, winning a luxury car may require buying raffle tickets for US$200 to US$300 each; this is something you can also do online. Since this also is a busy time of the year for international sporting events, hotels tend to be full and thus charge full rack rate. In other words, everything except shopping may cost you top dollar during this so-called bargain period. At the same time, only certain items tend to be put on sale. When it relates to clothes, shoes, and fashion accessories, many items that go on sale are from the previous season’s merchandise. Some shops are known to inflate their suggested retail prices so that their so-called big discounts are not really as big as advertised. This January/February shopping event is complemented by a late June through August celebration. Dubai Summer Surprises is an attempt in the heat of the summer to keep the international spotlight on Dubai’s shopping. Even the holy month of Ramadan, which varies each year with the lunar calendar, is a shopping festival month (Dubai the City That Cares), when shopping malls stay open until 1am.
Price Uncertainty and the Art of Bargaining
Are you paying too much when you shop beyond your borders? Are you reluctant to ask for discounts and haggle over prices? Does the thought of having to bargain turn you off? Are you an American, Australian, or Brit who feels like a fish out of water when shopping in Third World markets and shops? If your cruise ship stops in the popular port cities of Istanbul and Bangkok, which boast the massive Grand Bazaar (Istanbul) and Chatuchak Market (Bangkok), are you prepared to bargain about prices? On the other hand, do you get carried away with “the chase” of bargaining? You think you are good at besting the locals – and end up buying things you really don’t need nor seriously want? Do you think a 20% to 40% discount is a good or bad deal when bargaining?
American Shopping Culture
In many respects, bargaining is a cultural phenomenon. For example, except for haggling over the price of big ticket items such as a house or car, most Americans are used to paying fixed prices. Whatever the sign or label says is what they expect to pay, plus sales tax. Americans also tend to use credit cards. Exposed to excessive amounts of bargain- and brand-oriented magazine, newspaper, catalog, and Internet advertising, Americans tend to trust prices, merchants, and the quality of merchandise.
Americans also have shopping options should their shopping experience be less than satisfactory: return and exchange privileges. If they encounter problems, they expect customer service to return or exchange merchandise. If that doesn’t work to resolve issues, they can contact a variety of government and private organizations, including their credit card company, that provide various forms and levels of consumer protection against misrepresentation and fraud.
Savvy shoppers in such a well-structured and legalistic buying and selling culture look for advertised specials and discounts and do a great deal of comparative shopping both online and offline. Their idea of a “good deal” is to find the lowest advertised price for the brand name item they want. When they shift from street-level and mall-centered shopping to online shopping, the “good deal” often includes free shipping, one- to three-day delivery, no sales tax, and buying through auctions.
Overall, Americans are great shoppers; as a group they spend more than any other national group (the Chinese are now close behind) and are the most treasured shoppers. While Americans are relatively satisfied with their own shopping culture, the same cannot be said when they travel abroad and try to shop with the same cultural mindset.
Not-So-Savvy International Shoppers
Now, put Americans in shops and markets of other countries. Not surprisingly, in many places they may look and feel like a fish out of water. Indeed, despite the American commercialization of shopping in other countries, with the arrival of such big box retailers as Walmart, Costco, and Home Depot, the rest of the world tends to shop by a different drummer. Big retailers, shopping malls, fixed prices, advertised sales, exchanges, returns, customer service, and consumer protection may not be as prevalent in other countries as back home.
In fact, bargaining, cash-and-carry, final sales, and scams characterize much of shopping throughout the world. The so-called savvy American shopper often becomes shopping fodder in other places of the world.
Indeed, many Americans return home complaining about being ripped-off or otherwise taken advantage of by shrewd merchants in some far-off place whose name, phone numbers, and email address escapes them. In lieu of consumer protection, they may try to resolve their shopping mistakes (usually centering on gems, jewelry, carpets, furniture, arts, antiques, and tailoring purchases and shipping services) by contacting the country’s tourist organization or embassy in the hopes of getting help, which usually never comes.
Sizing Up Different Types of Shoppers
Welcome to the real world of shopping where you’re pretty much on your own. Developing good shopping skills, especially bargaining, along with smart instincts will go a long way to making you a happy shopper wherever you travel.
When faced with uncertain pricing situations, where no price signs or labels are apparent or a merchant asks them what they would like to pay, many Americans simply walk away or they pay the quoted price without questioning price alternatives.
Savvy merchants in many parts of the world often “size up” their potential customers by cultural stereotyping, which is often a fairly accurate assessment of the shopping strengths and weaknesses of the people they are dealing with. For example, many merchants in Asia understand the comparative, fixed-price, window-shopping (“leave me alone as I look around”) mentality of Americans who are reluctant to haggle over prices. Thus, they often quote Americans a 10% or 20% discount off of a comparatively good first price in anticipation that such shoppers may turn around and leave rather than bargain for a 40% to 50% discount. Many merchants deal with prickly American shoppers by being nice and making them feel they are getting a good bargain without asking for it.
On the other hand, if the shopper is Japanese or Italian, the merchant may automatically inflate their prices by 50% and then offer this ostensibly savvy shopper a 60% discount, knowing full well that such nationals expect to get a really good deal.
Many savvy international shoppers who regularly bargain have a simple rule of thumb when buying: offer 40% or 50% off the first asking price in anticipation of finally settling for a 20% to 40% discount. That works fine in many situations. However, this so-called savvy shopper may not be so savvy after all, especially when it comes to purchasing jewelry and art. In many parts of China, for example, I’ve been surprised to learn that 90% discounts are not unreasonable. Apply that old 40% or 50% haggling rule and you may still not get a good deal, especially if you failed to do some serious local comparative shopping.
Shopping Skills and Instincts That Work
’ve shopped the world, from fancy Parisian boutiques to muddy markets in Bolivia. In the process, I’ve acquired some terrific treasures to grace my home and wardrobe. I’ve also helped thousands of others navigate the minefields of shopping in unfamiliar places. After making a few of our own shopping mistakes – especially relating to prices, bargaining, shipping, and scams – I discovered some useful “rules” for navigating markets and shops around the world. One thing I quickly learned is this:
There are different shopping rules around the world. You better understand those rules before you do some serious shopping or you may be disappointed with your shopping experience.
12 Bargaining Rules for Everyday Cruising
You want to achieve two goals when haggling over prices:
1. Establish the value of an item.
2. Get the best possible price.
The following bargaining rules work well in most negotiable shopping situations, including so-called fixed-price department stores offering high-ticket items such as jewelry.
1. Do your research before initiating the process.
Compare the prices among various shops, starting with the fixed-priced items in department stores and online (start with Amazon.com). Spot-check price ranges among shops in and around your cruise ship and hotels.
2. Determine the exact item you want.
Select the particular item you want and then focus your bargaining around that one item without expressing excessive interest and commitment. Even though you may be excited by the item and want it very badly, once the merchant knows you’re committed to buying it, you weaken your bargaining position. Express a passing interest; indicate through eye contact with other items in the shop that you are not necessarily committed to the one item. As you ask about other items, you should get some sense concerning the willingness of the merchant to discount prices.
3. Set a ceiling price you’re willing to pay – and buy now.
Before engaging in serious negotiations, set in your mind the maximum amount you are willing to pay, which may be 20% more than you figured the item should sell for based on your research. However, if you find something you love that is really unique, be prepared to pay more if you can afford it. In many situations you will find unique items not available anywhere else. Consider buying now since the item may be gone when you return. Bargain as hard as you can and then pay what you have to – even though it may seem painful – for the privilege of owning a unique item. Above all, do not pass up an item you really love just because the bargaining process does not fall in your favor. It’s very easy to be “penny wise but pound foolish” because the bargaining process is such an ego-involved activity. You may return home forever regretting that you didn’t buy a lovely item just because you were too cheap to “give” on the last $5 of haggling.
4. Play the role of an intelligent buyer in search of good quality and value.
If you approach sellers by just “being yourself” – open, honest, somewhat naïve, and with your own unique personality – you may be quickly walked over by a seasoned seller. Once you enter a shop, think of yourself as an actor walking on stage to play the lead role as a shrewd buyer, bargainer, and trader. At the same time, you may encounter a very individualistic shopkeeper who unpredictably decides to give you a special gift or invite you to dinner just because he or she likes you.
5. Establish good will and a personal relationship.
A shrewd buyer also is charming, polite, personal, and friendly. You should have a sense of humor, smile, and be light-hearted during the bargaining process. But be careful about eye contact, which can be threatening to some people. Keep it to a minimum. In the end, both the buyer and seller should come out as winners. This cannot be done if you approach the buyer in very serious and harsh terms. You should start by exchanging pleasantries concerning the weather, your trip, the city, or the nice items in the shop. After exchanging business cards or determining your status, the shopkeeper will know what roles should be played in the coming transaction.
6. Let the seller make the first offer.
If the merchant starts by asking you “How much do you want to pay?,” always avoid answering this rather dangerous set-up question. Remember the old poker rule: He who reveals his hand first is likely to lose in the end. Immediately turn the question around: “How much are you asking?” Many merchants try to get you to pay as much as you are willing and able to pay – not what the item is worth or what he or she is willing to take. Never reveal your ability or willingness to pay a certain price. Keep the seller guessing. Always get the merchant to initiate the bargaining process. In so doing, the merchant much take the defensive as you shift to the offensive.
If he knows you are with a cruise ship, he also knows he only gets one shot at you – you’re here today but gone tonight or tomorrow. The seller understands the urgency of now.
7. Take your time, being deliberately slow in order to get the merchant to invest his or her time in you.
The more you indicate that you are impatient and in a hurry, the more you are likely to pay. When negotiating a price, time is usually in your favor. Many shopkeepers also see time as a positive force in the bargaining process. Some try to keep you in their shop by serving you tea, coffee, soft drinks, or liquor while negotiating the price. Be careful; this friendly little ritual may soften you somewhat on the bargaining process as you begin establishing a more personal relationship with the merchant. The longer you stay in control prolonging the negotiation, the better the price should be. Although some merchants may deserve it, never insult them. Merchants need to “keep face” as much as you do in the process of giving and getting the very best price.
8. Use odd numbers in offering the merchant at least 40% less than what he or she initially offers.
Avoid stating round numbers, such as $200, $350, or $800. Instead, offer $192, $328, or $764. Such numbers impress upon others that you may be a seasoned haggler who knows value and expects to do well in this negotiation. Your offer will probably be 15% less than the value you determined for the item. For example, if the merchant asks $250, offer $147, knowing the final price should probably be $187. The merchant will probably counter with only a 10% discount — $225. As this point you will need to go back and forth with another two or three offers and counter-offers.
9. Appear a little disappointed and then take your time again.
Never appear upset or angry with the seller. Keep your cool at all times by slowly sitting down and carefully examining the item. Shake your head a little and say “Gee, that’s too bad. That’s much more than I had planned to spend. I like it, but I really can’t go that high.” Appear to be a sympathetic listener as the seller attempts to explain why he or she cannot budge more on the price. Make sure you do not accuse the merchant of being a thief. Use a little charm, if you can, for the way you conduct the bargaining process will affect the final price. This should be a civil negotiation in which you nicely bring the price down, the seller “saves face,” and everyone goes away feeling good about the deal.
10. Counter with a new offer at a 35% discount.
Punch several keys on your calculator, which indicates you are doing some serious thinking. Then say something like “This is really the best I can do. It’s a lovely item, but $175 is really all I can pay.” At this point the merchant will probably counter with a 20% discount — $200.
11. Be patient, persistent, and take your time again by carefully examining the item.
Respond by saying “That’s a little better, but it’s still too much. I want to look around a little more. Also, I need to get back to my ship soon.” Then start to get up and look toward the door. At this point the merchant has invested some time in this exchange, and he or she is getting close to a possible sale. The merchant will either let you walk out the door or try to stop you with another counter-offer. Again, once you’re headed off to your ship, you’re gone forever. But most likely the merchant will try to stop you, especially if there is still some bargaining room. The merchant is likely to say, “You don’t want to waste your time looking elsewhere. I’ll give you the best price anywhere – just for you. Okay, $190. That’s my final price.”
12. Be creative for the final negotiation by including “extras”.
You could try for $180, but chances are $190 will be the final price with this merchant. Yet, there may still be some room for negotiating “extras.” At this point, get up and walk around the shop and examine other items; try to appear as if you are losing interest in the item you were bargaining for. While walking around, identify a $25 item you like which might make a nice gift for a friend or relative, which you could possibly include in the final deal. Wander back to the $190 item and look as if your interest is waning, and perhaps you need to leave. Then start to probe the possibility of including extras while agreeing on the $190: “Okay, I might go $190, but only if you include this with it.” The “this” is the $25 item you eyed. You also might negotiate with your credit card. Chances are the merchant is expecting cash on the $190 discounted price and will add a 2% to 6% “commission” if you want to use your credit card. In this case, you might respond to the $190 by saying, “Okay, I’ll go with the $190, but only if I can use my credit card.” You may get your way, your bank will float you a loan in the meantime, and your credit card company may help you resolve the problem in case you later learn your purchase was misrepresented. Finally, you may want to negotiate packing and delivery processes. If it is a fragile item, insist that it be packed well so you can take it with you on the ship or airplane or have it shipped. If your purchase is large, insist that the shop deliver it to your ship, hotel, or shipper. If the shop is shipping it by air or sea, try to get them to agree to absorb some of the freight and insurance costs.
This very slow, civil, methodical, and sometimes charming approach to bargaining works well in most cases and in many countries around the world. However, merchants do differ in how they respond to situations, and many of them are unpredictable, depending on whether or not they like you. In some cases, your timing may be right: the merchant is in need of cash flow that day and thus he or she is willing to give you the price you want, with little or no bargaining. Others will not give more than a 10% or 20% discount unless you are a friend of a friend who is then eligible for the special “family discount.” And others are not good business people, are unpredictable, lack motivation, or are just moody; they refuse to budge on their prices even though your offer is fair compared to the going prices in other shops. In these situations, it is best to leave the shop and find one which is more receptive to the traditional haggling process.
100 Best Cruise Ports for Shopping
If you love to shop onshore when cruising, consider visiting the following cruise ports which have reputations for being the best for shopping within their regions:
• New York City
• Port Canaveral
• Key West
• New Orleans
• San Diego
• Los Angeles
• San Francisco
• Los Cabos
• St. Thomas
• Dominican Republic
• Grand Cayman
• Puerto Rico
• St. Barts
• St. Maarten/St. Martin
• St. Kitts
• Milan (from Genoa)
• St. Petersburg
• Hong Kong
• Taipei (Keelung)
• Hoi An
• Ho Chi Minh City
• Kuala Lumpur
• Istanbul (also in the Med)
• Abu Dhabi
• Buenos Aires
• Port Said
• Cape Town
• Port Elizabeth
Final Shopping Tips for Success
Elsewhere I’ve recommended what to pack in preparation for a cruise shopping adventure. My recommendations primarily relate to money matters and luggage but also include shipping, navigating unfamiliar places, and dealing with Customs:
- Cash: Take $500 to $1,000 in cash if you’re planning to use your credit card and ATM card. Since cash is king in many shopping situations, you may want to double this amount of cash. Secure your cash by using your cabin safe until you need it for onshore shopping.
- Credit cards: Take two credit cards; one should include travel insurance, such as United MileagePlus (Visa), Chase Sapphire (Visa), MasterCard, or Platinum American Express. Preferred credit cards abroad are Visa and MasterCard. AMEX is not welcomed in many shops because of their high merchant charges. Be sure to let your credit card company know where and when you will be traveling so they won’t automatically put a hold on your credit card for what may appear to be suspicious buying activity abroad. Also, check to make sure you have sufficient credit limits to do some serious shopping.
- Personal checks: take two which you may need for purchasing high-ticket items from places that will not take credit cards (many merchants welcome personal checks; they often launder them through relatives living abroad, an easy way to move cash abroad) or they will add 5%+ to prices for processing high-commission credit cards. You may want to use the other check for paying customs duties when returning home.
- Half-Full” luggage rule: The number one packing rule I’ve followed over the years is to travel with one suitcase half full. The empty side is reserved for bubble wrap, Ziplock bags, packing tape, and quick consumables (items that will be gone by the end of a cruise, such as snacks and a bottle of wine); the space will eventually transport your STBAST (Soon To Be Acquired Shopping Treasures). After all, carrying home a suitcase full of dirty laundry and the 80% of unused items is a lot less attractive and fun than going home with some wonderful new clothes, accessories, art, and gift items acquired on a memorable journey. If you’re a smart packer, chances are you’re also a happy traveler with stories about how you filled that half-full suitcase.
- Buying large items: Many international travelers avoid buying attractive items that they cannot pack in their suitcase or hand-carry home. That’s too bad, because they leave a lot behind that is relatively easy to get home. Packing should not deter you from shopping for things you love. Most shops and merchants can arrange international shipping through the regular postal service or through UPS, FedEx, DHL, or other carrier. Even very large items, such as furniture, can be easily arranged through international air or sea shippers. While the cost of shipping can be high, it might also be lower than you expected, especially if your shipment gets consolidated with other shipments. You won’t know unless you ask.
- Help from your ship: Check with your cruise ship to see if they provide shipping assistance with large items. Some ships may have space available to store items that may not fit into your cabin.
- Remember your duty-free allowance: If you are a U.S. citizen, you can re-enter the U.S. with $800 worth of goods free of U.S. taxes every 30 days. This exemption goes up to $1,600 if the goods come from an insular possession, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Any additional amount, up to $1,000, in goods will be dutiable at a flat rate (3%). For more details on duty-free rules for returning U.S. citizens, see U.S. Customs Duty Information.
- Acquire useful apps: If you are planning to do onshore shopping on your own, you are well advised to download the following apps to help you navigate port cities:
• Maps/directions City Mapper & Google Maps
• Ground transportation Uber
• WiFi hotspots WiFi Finder
• Foreign languages Duolingo, Google Translate, TripLingo