How to Haggle in South Korea like a Local [2021]


This guide shows how to save hundreds of dollars shopping in South Korea.

It includes:

  • Getting discounts at traditional markets
  • Finding deals at department stores
  • Asking for free samples and gifts while being polite
  • And more!

I grew up haggling in South Korea.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

How to Haggle in South Korea like a Local

Korea is a shopper’s delight. You can find anything without breaking your bank.

More about Shopping Online in South Korea

There are deals in many places in Korea, even in department stores. This guide will explain how and what you can bargain for with a smile.

Find out the most common situations to ask for discounts or samples.

Lingua Asia_Gyeongju_Hwangridan-gil_2021

Background info on Haggling in South Korea

Haggling and bargaining has been a part of Korean culture. It was common for people to go to traditional markets and barter for goods. This culture still continues mostly at farmer’s or fish markets.

The Silent Generation (over 70) and Baby Boomer Generation (50-70) in Korea are really good at shopping and haggling in traditional markets, whereas Millennials tend to be shy or embarrassed. So, most young people choose to shop groceries online, although some enjoy haggling.

Some things are automatic. Like, whenever I buy cosmetics, I get free samples and can ask for a little more. You will also get free gifts or “service (on the house)” at places you go often such as cafes, restaurants and fish markets (when buying 회 (raw fish or sashimi)).

Like in other Asian countries, Koreans believe that the first customer sets the tone of the day. This is called “마수걸이 (mah-soo-geol-ee or the first sale of the day)”. This could be a good or bad thing depending on where you go. If you like the store and want to build a relationship, buy something with cash to give them good luck. They might reward you. If you just look around and buy nothing as a first customer, then you won’t win any favors. Don’t feel pressured though if you don’t like the store.

Essential Tips for Haggling in South Korea

Like with Korean business negotiations, haggling is guided by:

  • Noonchi (눈치) – intuition and emotional intelligence
  • Gibun (기분) – mood and feelings
  • Jeong (정) – unspoken bonds
  • Chaemyeon (체면) – face or reputation

If you have all four, you’ll get more benefits.

Here are the main things you can ask for:

  • Discounts
  • Free gifts
  • Coupons
  • Samples

Here are a few ways to increase your chances of success:

  • Call them “Unnie” (female to female), “Oppa” (female to male), “Nuna” (male to female) or “Hyung” (male to male) to make their day
  • Read the room – if the mood isn’t good, it might be a good idea to go elsewhere
  • Be modest – dressing down can help
  • Be ready to leave – if the shopkeeper is aggressive, then it’s best to take your business elsewhere
  • Have patience – take some time in a store you feel comfortable in
  • Build a relationship first – once you’re viewed as a regular (단골), it becomes a lot easier to ask for things
  • Show sympathy – Koreans can be very emotional, so showing sympathy will make them like you
  • Shop around – there is no shortage of stores in South Korea

My Experience Haggling in Korea

Traditional Market stall owners and street vendors come in a wide variety. Some drive a Mercedes Benz after work and some live in the house from the movie Parasite (The one underground, not the fancy one).

There are truly kind shopkeepers who will give you free things just because you’re nice, and there are those who will take advantage of your kindness. The good news is, there are many options so don’t just settle for the first place you visit.

At traditional markets, vendors with high-quality produce offer free samples in most cases. I remember this fruit truck Ajeossi who gets the freshest seasonal fruits directly from orchards, selling for a reasonable price. He always has customers lining up. This is one way to find a decent place in Korea, since you can’t check reviews.

At an electronic shop, I bought a new laptop for a bargain, just because I was being polite and smiley with a bit of hesitation. I ended up getting not only a discount, but also free gifts like a mouse, laptop bag, and even a bunch of software.

I’ve heard stories about my friends’ moms asking for discounts at department stores. My friends felt embarrassed, but they often got discounts. I didn’t believe it until I tried one day, and I got a huge discount (about 20%) on an expensive watch from Hyundai Department Store.

I usually call older female shopkeepers “emo” (auntie), but if I really want to build a relationship or get a big discount, I’ll call them “unnie” (older sister).

More about living in South Korea as an Expat

Read on to find out how to haggle in different types of places.

Useful Phrases for Haggling in South Korea

  • 조금만 깎아주세요 Jogeumman Ggakajuseyo (Any chance of a discount?)
  • 너무 비싸요 Neomu Bissayo (Too expensive)
  • 둘러보고 올게요 Doolleobogo Olkeyo (I’ll look around and come back)
  • 구경할게요 Googyeong Halkeyo (I’m just browsing)

Haggling at Traditional Markets in South Korea

Depending on the place, some traditional markets get a lot of tourists. If you feel that a place is too touristy, feel free to keep walking.

Traditional markets are always fair game to haggle in.

Here are some of the more popular ones:

Seoul

  • Gwangjang Market
  • Tongjin Market
  • Namdaemoon Market
  • Dongdaemun Market
  • Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market
  • Garak Market

Busan

Busan Bupyeong (Kkangtong) Market

Incheon

Incheon Sinpo International Market

Suwon

Suwon Paldalmum Market

Daegu

Daegu Seomun Market

Gangneung

Gangneung Jungang Market

Chuncheon

Chuncheon Romantic Market

Jeonju

Jeonju Nambu Traditional Market

Gyeongju

Gyeongju Jungjang Market

Tongyeong

Tongyeong Seoho Market & Jungang Market

Jeju

Jeju Dongmun Traditional Market

Tips for Haggling at Traditional Local Markets in Korea

  • Dress down – Avoid wearing a Chanel tweed dress or carrying a Gucci purse and asking for discount.
  • Don’t low ball – They’ll be offended and not give you any discount.
  • Don’t buy at the first place – Hidden gems are usually in the back streets.
  • Don’t answer the question, “how much do you want to pay?” – They don’t ask this usually, but it’s a rookie mistake to answer.
  • Carry yourself respectfully – Don’t talk down to anyone.
  • Shop around – There’s always another store carrying the same items.
  • Don’t feel obligated or guilted into buying – Koreans are very good at this.

How to Haggle at Traditional Local Markets in Korea

  1. Say “Annyeonghaseyo” when you enter a store.
  2. Be polite, but firm. Refer to ajumma as “이모 (emo or aunt)”, “언니 (unnie or older sister – if you’re a girl)” or “누나 (noona or older sister- if you’re a guy)” to really score points.
  3. When they ask if you’re looking for something (“찾으시는 거 있으세요?”), you can answer and they’ll find it. If not, simply say “둘러보려구요 (doolleoboryeoguyo or I’m just browsing)”.
  4. Hesitate when you find something you like. Act like you’re thinking about it.
  5. Ask how much it is, “얼마예요? (eol-ma-ye-yo?)”
  6. If the price is too high, say “너무 비싸요 (neomu bissayo)” or “조금만 깎아주세요 (jogeumman ggakajuseyo)”.
  7. Ask for more free gifts when you buy something “서비스 없어용 (service eop-seo-yong)?” with aegyo. They’ll be surprised and it’s worth a try.

Haggling at Electronics Markets in South Korea

Electronics in Korea are surprisingly expensive, even for domestic brands like Samsung and LG. You can still find bargains if you know how to ask.

Here are the larger Electronics Markets in Korea. There are smaller ones in most cities where the same tactics will work.

Seoul

Busan

Tips for Haggling at Electronics Markets in South Korea

  • Look online to get an idea of how much something should cost
  • Remember the model name you want to buy
  • Bring a friend who knows a lot about computer specs or the product you’re looking for
  • Go to the same place if you feel comfortable with the owner/worker and they give you fair prices
  • Always remember to ask for free gifts like a mouse, laptop bag, etc. They have a lot of accessories laying around.

How to Haggle at Electronics Markets in South Korea

  1. Say “Annyeonghaseyo” when you enter a store.
  2. Be polite, but firm. Refer to ajeossi as “사장님 (sajangnim or owner)”, “오빠 (oppa or older brother – if you’re a girl)” or “형 (hyung or older brother – if you’re a guy)” to brighten the mood.
  3. When they ask if you’re looking for something (“찾으시는 거 있으세요?”), you can answer and they’ll find it. If not, simply say “둘러보려구요 (doolleoboryeoguyo or I’m just browsing)”.
  4. Hesitate when you find something you like. Act like you’re thinking about it.
  5. Ask how much it is, “얼마예요? (eol-ma-ye-yo?)”
  6. If the price is too high, say “너무 비싸요 (neomu bissayo)” or “조금만 깎아주세요 (jogeumman ggakajuseyo)”. You can also ask “네고 되나요? (nego doenayo or can I get a discount)” or “현금가는 얼마예요? (hyungeumganeun eolma yeyo or how much is it if I pay in cash)”.

“Haggling” at Department Stores in South Korea

Lingua Asia_The Hyundai_2021
The Hyundai, the biggest department store in Seoul, South Korea

Even at a department store buying luxurious items, you can get a discount if you ask nicely, such as “I’d like to pay in cash. How much would it be? (현금으로 계산하면 혹시 얼마일까요?)”

Believe it or not, you can get deals at department stores on expensive items like designer bags and watches.

More about Duty Free Shopping in South Korea

Tips for Haggling at Department Stores in South Korea

  • Go shopping when department stores are not too crowded on weekdays
  • Talk to a manager if possible (They might give you an employee discount)
  • Ask politely and quietly
  • Feel free to look around

FAQ

Which language should I speak while haggling in Korea?

English with a few key Korean phrases sprinkled in, unless you’re fluent in Korean.

When is the best time to ask for a discount in Korea?

After you’ve chosen a few items.

Who should I haggle with in a traditional market store?

It will most likely be the person who was helping you.

What should I avoid while haggling in Korea?

These are some common mistakes when negotiating in Korea:

  • Being rude
  • Talking down
  • Being too nice
  • Being too direct
  • Criticizing the items or the store

Where can I haggle in Korea?

The following places are great for haggling in Korea:

  • Yongsan Electronics Market
  • Dongdaemun Market
  • Namdaemun Market
  • Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market

Did we miss anything?

Haggling in South Korea can be a fun way to save money.

Let us know your haggling tips in the comments below! 

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