Shopping in India: What to Buy and How to Buy

Enter any of the bazaars in India and you will be greeted by an array of handicrafts, jewelry, art, textiles, cloths, spices that dazzle your senses. You get a feeling that you’ve transcended into a century that has long gone by. You find these items in both street markets and state emporiums. You’ll be amazed to find traditional items and also a fusion of traditional items with a hint of Western influence.

It would be a gross understatement to say that you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to buy in this shopper’s paradise. However, there are certain things that will come to you as a shock. The bustling markets with hundreds of people thronging it and the shopkeepers pleading with you at the top of their voice to simply give them a try can easily astound you. For a tourist visiting India, the entire experience can be quite a rush. We help you with tips on what to buy and how to make your experience a joyous one.


How to Shop in India?

Know Where to Shop

For your shopping in India, you can explore the markets, bazaars, emporiums, street vendors, and even malls. For those who love bargaining and have never tried it, yet want to, nothing compares to the chaos on the market streets. The state-owned emporiums tend to be marginally more expensive than streets and shops but are ideal for those of you who are averse to bargaining. Some State Emporiums bring you artifacts at a fixed price. Let’s explore shopping in India in a bit more detail, beginning with buying on the streets.

Don’t Get Carried Away; Check Impulsive Buying

The shimmer and glitter of the markets will cast its spell on you, but as you explore the markets further, you’ll see that the same items are sold elsewhere too. So, it is vital that you don’t buy the first thing that you lay your eyes on. Check out the prices first and compare it among other vendors. Quality should be one of your concerns, so examine the quality of the products closely. You don’t want something that will not last you more than a week.

What if you fall in love with an item? There’s no doubt, you’ll fall in love with a lot of items during your shopping escapade in India, but that doesn’t mean you fall prey to your impulse. You’ll find other shops selling exactly the same thing. If you don’t, you can always come back to the store.

Shopkeepers will not be offended by Haggling and Bargaining

Haggling and bargaining are part of the “fun” shopping in India, so if you’re worried whether you are going to end up offending the seller, put your worries to rest. That’s how business is done in India. Set your own budget and don’t go beyond it. Never shy away from simply walking away if the price seems a little too steep. The chances are the shopkeeper will call you back with a revised price. Ideally, you should offer one-third of the asking price and settle for no more than half of it (Bargaining varies from shop to shop). Stay calm, shopping in India takes time.

Chances are You’ll Find it in New Delhi

It’s likely that you’ll start and end your tour in Delhi. So, if you’re left with a regret that you did not buy something that you fell in love with, the likelihood is high that you’ll find it in New Delhi. This move will also save you the pain of carrying what you bought throughout the tour. You’ll find state emporiums near Connaught Place that sell most of the artifacts you find throughout India. Of course, there are going to be a few things that you’ll not find in these emporiums. So, the best thing to do is explore these as you enter Delhi and revisit them just before your tour ends after visiting various places in India. This will give you a fair idea whether to buy something regionally or in the emporiums.

Know the Regional Specialties

India is huge and everything differs from region to region, including the way people dress and design jewellery. Even the fabrics, artistry, and regional produce differ. For instance, Darjeeling is famous for tea, Rajasthan is famous for textiles and silver & precious stones ornaments and Mysore is famous for sandalwood products. These regional specialties are best bought in their place of origin. For instance, if you choose to buy silver ornaments in Rajasthan, you have the choice of buying it directly from an artisan. This means, you can give your inputs and design a piece of jewel that’s completely unique, while retaining its cultural essence.

Colorful glass bangles are always on the top of the shopping list of a married Indian woman

Getting Drivers and Guides to Help You Shop ?

Tourists who have been to India will tell you to steer away from shops recommended by drivers and guides. The reason behind this is simple – they usually get a small commission through the shopkeeper, which comes out of your pocket. Come to think of it, this is a practice followed all over the world, and India isn’t unique in this respect. On the other hand, you are likely to be taken to a reliable shop that brings you quality items at reasonable rates. The important thing is to buy an item that lasts. After all, it’s these souvenirs that are going to remind you of your adventures in India.

Don’t Bargain at Fixed Price Shops

Spotting a fixed price shop is not hard. These shops clearly display this fact and also mention the prices. These prices are your point of reference with other stores that don’t sport a fixed price. Prepacked items like bottled water, cosmetics, branded items, packed food and electronics (camera batteries, digital cards) are sold at fixed prices. These prices are inclusive of taxes, so the price tag tells you exactly how much you need to shell out for them. Unless the shop advertises a discount, it is rare that a shopkeeper sells below the printed “maximum selling price or MRP.”

Mastering the Art of Bargaining

As we mentioned earlier, bargaining is a part of doing business in India – a trait that most Indians incorporate at a very young age. What seem like heated discussions around you in the market are nothing but people bargaining. If you are averse to bargaining, you’ll simply have to shell out a premium price for every little thing that you buy. Watch how people bargain around you and learn from it; it’s not going to be tough. Here are a few tips for you.

Bargaining is not arguing or being rude: Rising your voice, being unpleasant or using the wrong language is not bargaining. You might end up offending the shopkeeper who might simply ask you to leave. Using the words “please” a couple of times in a pleasant manner will cause a change of hearts and you will likely get what you are looking for at a price that you want.

Beginning the discussion: Begin by asking the price. The shopkeeper knows that there is already a price tag on it. Your inquiry despite the price tag being present is an indication that you are looking for a bargain. He might counter-question you asking how much you are willing to pay for it. Based on your research, quote a price for the item and make this price a base for negotiation.

Don’t Fall into the Guilt Trap: If the shopkeeper offers you refreshments the moment you set foot in the shop, politely refuse, even if he is insistent. Accepting such hospitality might impede you from moving away if you don’t like what is being sold there. The shopkeeper might actually be trying to guilt you into shopping. However, keep in mind that not all instances are the same. If you are in a saree showroom with literally hundreds of sarees on display, feel free to accept refreshments. The chances are high that you will find what you are looking for in such shops.

Personal stories need not move you: If the vendor says he has mouths to fill and that business is low, understand that he is trying to guilt you into paying more. The fact that you are bringing him revenue by buying from him is good enough. Falling prey for such pleads will simply encourage the vendor to use it as an unethical tool for price negotiation with other tourists like you.

Laying the cash upfront ups your bargaining capacity: If you already have a price in mind based on your research of a particular product, simply present the cash up front and tell the seller you’re not going to pay more. The chances are the deal will be struck quickly.

Don’t sound overexcited about the item: Your enthusiasm to buy something that you’ve fallen in love with is an indication that you are vulnerable to pay a high price. So veil your excitement.

Walk away if you feel the price is grossly unfair: If the shopkeeper is not showing signs of going down on price, politely say thank you and move away. The shopkeeper, most likely, will come out and call you back for a negotiation. This strategy works especially well when the same product is being sold by other shops in the vicinity.

Buy with the cash in your pocket: don’t rush to the nearest ATM if you don’t have enough cash. Don’t even ask the shopkeeper where the nearest ATM is. By doing this, you’d simply be revealing that you have deep pockets. Simply shop with the amount you have in your purse and if you have huge amounts of cash on you, don’t make it obvious.

If you are using plastic money, mention it beforehand: If you are using plastic money, don’t pay any amount above the product price. Credit cards are widely accepted in shops and emporiums in India. The credit card companies or banks in India charge the sellers 2-3% as transaction charges. While shopping in private or state emporiums, please keep in mind that these charges are included in the product price. So don’t pay any extra amount over and above the agreed price of the product. If shopkeeper insists on 2-3% extra at the time of payment, simply tell him or her that you are not going to pay any extra amount over and above the agreed price.

Set a max price that you’re willing to shell out: Have an upper limit of what you are willing to pay and stick to it. This makes bargaining easy. Failing this, you will empty your pockets before you realize it.

Be reasonable with what you offer: quoting unreasonably low prices will simply put off the seller and end any possible discussions. So, be reasonable and know that what you’re buying has a value even though it is less than what the seller is asking.

Shop early in the day or late in the evening: Indian shopkeepers have a belief that the first customer of the day should not go empty handed. This is considered a bad omen for the day’s business. So, the shopkeeper will be willing to go down considerably on the price as long as he has some margin on the product. You might also get a bargain at the end of the day as the shopkeeper will be looking to close the deal quickly and shut up shop.

Observe the neighboring shops as you bargain: the chances are that a neighboring shopkeeper is eyeing you as you bargain. Look around for such shop-owners; they already know you are a hard nut to crack and will likely give you a good deal.

Look around before you buy: like we mentioned earlier, look around to check out whether other shops sell the same item. Buying something the moment you lay your eyes on them is a bad idea. Take time to understand the real price first by looking around.

Shopping India

How to deal with Street Hawkers and what to Buy from Them?

You will find a lot of men, women and even children selling small artifacts at famous tourist attractions (especially in North India). Some of them might constantly follow you and beg you to buy from them. If you are not interested, the rule of thumb is, simply walk away without responding. A polite no or a smile can be perceived to be a signal of interest and they might further follow you, pleading to buy from them.

Tip: There’s no doubt that street hawkers are quite annoying sometimes and must be dealt with firmly. However, it’s not a bad idea to take a passing glance at what they sell. Although the souvenirs that they sell are hardly unique, they can be quite cheap. A miniature monument, post cards, key-chain, camel bone items, soapstone coasters, camel leather items, and peacock items can be bought at throw-away prices. But don’t forget to bargain!

What to Buy in India?

You could be buying a souvenir as a showpiece or something that you use every day. Whatever the case, you must not end up buying something that isn’t actually unique to India. Also, you should not be buying something that doesn’t belong to the region. For instance, you don’t want to end up buying tea leaves in Rajasthan which is the specialty of Nilgiris and Darjeeling. Then there are other items that are available throughout the country, albeit in different textures and designs; here we are referring to textiles and traditional jewellery. Let’s explore some of the unique must-haves!

The Unique Indian Jewellery

You can tell that jewellery is Indian just by the look of it, but telling which part of India it belongs to can be quite a challenge. Gold is the favorite metal in almost all of India with the exception of Rajasthan where silver is more popular. The domestic flare for gold is what makes India the largest importer of this precious metal in the world. You will find these jewels studded with semi precious stones like emerald, turquoise, amethyst, amber, sapphire and ruby. Jaipur in Rajasthan is the major tourist attraction in North India and at the same time also the biggest center in India for cutting and polishing of precious and semi-precious stones!

If you’re being offered “expensive” jewellery at a fraction of its cost, simply dismiss it; it’s a fake. Such jewellery is nothing but finely cut glass. However, if you are not really looking for value in the item and are simply going for the look, you need not worry about the genuineness. Imitation jewellery is easily available in the market. The point is that you must know that you are buying imitation jewellery and are not buying it thinking that it’s genuine.

Tip: Authentic gold jewellery is usually hallmarked. When purchasing any silver or gold jewellery; precious or semi-precious stones; loose precious stones or stones embedded in jewellery, ensure that you get a valid certificate mentioning the carat and weight along with the name of the shop.

It’s Choices Galore when it comes to Textiles in India

Sarees: If you are a woman, then a saree is a must buy. The most vibrant ones are made of silk, while you also get ones made of cotton. Enter an exclusive saree showroom and you’ll be amazed by the choice that numbers in thousands. The most expensive ones are inlaid with fine gold strings while there are others which are studded with glass, beads and stones.

Handloom: This is another choice which looks simplistically elegant on both men and women. These are hand woven or block printed fabrics and by purchasing these, you would be contributing to the small and home industries and the local economy. You can buy kurtas (ladies tops), bed-sheet, and even decorative wall hangings to adorn your walls.

Pashmina and other shawls: Pashmina is a kind of cashmere that is made from the hairs of Pashmina goats that are found near the Himalayas. The traditional design and the smooth texture of these shawls make it an ideal piece that can be worn with almost anything. You can also choose among other shawls made of wool, silk and cotton.

Tailoring for a custom fit: Tailoring is fairly inexpensive and often offered free of cost (depending on the size of your purchase). This is especially true when buying textile in Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur. Once the tailor takes your measurements, the attire is quickly prepared overnight and handed over to you the very next day before your check-out. However, there are a few important points to be noted in this context. Do not forget to take the visiting card of the shop before leaving it. In case the delivery of your custom-designed clothe is delayed, bring it to the knowledge of your driver, guide or Vacation India advisor so that we can help you out.

Shopping India
Ladies in a Saree Shop

Indian Handicrafts and Art

The choice before you when it comes to handicrafts and art can be dizzying. These items are region-specific and intricately hand-designed using traditional tools. Needless to say, no two items will, therefore, be exactly alike. This also means that a lot of labor goes into creating these. So, know the value of the item before you set out for a hard-bargain and pay them what they deserve.

Indian Varieties of Tea

Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiris (Thekkady and Munnar) are famous for their tea plantations. If you are visiting these places, don’t miss out on purchasing some fresh tea leaves. You’ll love the flavors.

Incense and Natural Perfumes

Indian’s are almost obsessed with scented items with a lot of religious rituals demanding their presence. You’ll love the incense sticks made of sandalwood in Mysore. Try attar or natural perfumes that are extracted out of barks, spices and flowers.

Ayurvedic Wonders

Ayurveda is the ancient science of medicine and healthy living in India. Today, you find several branded Ayurvedic natural products and home remedies that are devoid of any chemicals or side effects. Try a simple face wash or soap or any Ayurvedic toothpaste, you’ll love the after-feel. Some famous brands for Ayurvedic products are Himalaya, Patanjali, Nirogam!

Try the Unique Indian Shoes

You’re sure to find shoes to your liking from the traditional shoe makers of India. If you have a penchant for footwear, you’ll love the choices. The traditional juttis made of leather are embroidered and fixed with stones, beads and glasses for the unique Indian look. They’ll go extremely well with your collection.

Shopping India
Block Printing in Jaipur

Traditional Indian Spices

Indian spices have been famous throughout the world since time immemorial. They give Indian food the unique flavor and the mouth-watering smell. Visit any grocer and you’ll be flooded with choices. Just remember that not all spices are branded and prepacked. The seller will simply weigh and pack them for you. If you are skeptical of the quality, simply ask for a sample and smell the product. If it gives a distinct aroma, it’s good enough.

Nothing can Adorn Your Living Room like an Indian Carpet

You’ll find that beautiful and bright colored carpets are all around you as you set out for shopping. Carpets can be quite expensive and come in various sizes. Of course, the bigger ones are most expensive. The material and the number of knots also count. Carpets can be made of cotton and even silk. However, this does not mean that you settle for a price that the seller quotes. There’s going to be plenty of room for bargain. Also, carpets tend to be bulky and you don’t want to carry it around. So, the best option is to simply get it delivered to your home in your country by using FedEx or DHL. Please clarify whether the seller charges extra for shipping. Normally, when it comes to heavy products, shipping charges are included in the price but ensure that you clarify this fact at the time of payment.

Take Indian Snacks Back Home to Relish the Flavours Again

If you’ve fallen in love with some of the sweets or snacks that are specific to India, you should take some back home. There are different brands throughout India that sell packed traditional snacks and sweets that last for a couple of months. There are some snacks that you can fry once you take them back home. Consider Rasgullas, gulab jamoons, Sandesh, Pedha, papad, chutney, spiced pickles, and Indian cookies. If you are constrained by space, veer towards dry varieties.

Shopping India
An artisan busy at doing inlay work in hard white marble, Agra

Mingle with the Artisans in Smaller Towns for Unique Custom Souvenirs

You’ll surely visit smaller towns and villages that are flush with artisans during your India exploration. This is the time to mingle with them so that you can request them for a piece of custom jewellery or pottery. You could sit with them and design what you like in conjunction with their ideas. Nothing will remind you more of India than such souvenirs.

Don’t Buy Souvenirs for the Sake of It

Take interest in what you buy. A T-shirt with a print that says “I love India” is hardly a souvenir. Take time to explore what the markets and emporiums have to offer you. Also, the shopkeeper might simply try to sell you what he fancies. You don’t have to oblige. Buy according to your tastes and sensibilities so that you don’t regret your purchase later.

Discounts Aren’t Everything

Shopping in India could be your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t run behind discounts. Rather look for quality, so that your souvenir reminds you of India fondly once you are home. What use is a cheap piece of jewellery if it’s not going to last till your journey to the airport.

The Final Word

Shopping is not a hurried affair in India, so take a seat and browse items until you find something that you fall in love with. Take help from your guide, driver or our representative to make this unique endeavor an enjoyable one. Just venture into the markets with an open mind, zero skepticism and a will to make the most of your shopping adventure.

Happy Shopping!

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