There is an art to purchasing items on Cozumel. Except for stores like pharmacies and convenience stores, all that is marketed in a store is susceptible to price negotiations.
The trick is knowing whatever you buy can be at several other stores, except some items like jewelry. So what should you do while shopping and you see something expensive you hope to buy? First, tell the store clerk you are going to make the purchase and ask what is the lowest price they will give you. Second, write the price down. This is your starting off point. Now, as you walk around, you can check this price against other vendors’ prices for the same item when you see it.
Once you have identified the cheapest price for the item you wish to buy, first make an offer. Make this offer less than the cheapest price they quoted you and start haggling there. Often you will pay half of the first price quoted to you if you use this system.
Most vendors you encounter are trustworthy. Their style of conducting business may appear to be unconventional, however, you are in Mexico. You may however encounter dishonest people who will attempt to sell you fake goods masquerading as legitimate items. These can be in the form of new items, relics, and artifacts.
An example is limestone carvings. The quality of the carving is unique with every carving. There are wonderful carvings and bad carvings. There are also casts, which are replicas of carvings. They can sell the cheap replicas for the same price as a real carving. The way you tell the difference between a cast and real limestone is that you can mark the limestone with your fingernail. Casts are harder and you cannot mark them.
When buying limestone carvings look for the artist. Some shops will have a carver working in the store. Talk to them and try to negotiate a transaction with them for one of their carvings. If you drive around the island, you may also encounter artisans working in their cabanas at the side of the road. They may have a large carving outside their cabana as a sign.
When buying jewelry or other pieces made of silver, look for the “.925” stamp. This is an alleged measure of the silver content of the article and is the standard.
Be leery of purchasing silver from a wandering salesman, even if a stamp is visible. This is because much of the silver-colored jewelry sold by wandering vendors is made from alpaca, lesser quality metal with heavy copper content.
Also, a vendor will say anything to make a sale. If the item in question is green and you ask if it is green jade then they will most likely say yes it is, even though it is green marble.
Some merchants also try selling fake Black Coral. Polished black jade can even pass for Black Coral if you do not know the difference. Black Coral is an endangered species, and it is illegal to bring it into the US or Canada.
If you do not want to get ripped off, know what you are doing while buying silver, gold, or precious stones. Remember, an established store is always your best bet.
ETHICS OF THE GAME
We have purchased items from stall vendors in towns only to be told by friends in the business that they overcharged us, even after haggling down the cost. It is difficult to know what the correct price for something is.
Haggling with vendors is fun and many vendors like to do it. I find it more fun to haggle down an item cost then surprise the vendor with a gracious tip making up the difference. This works great and makes everybody happy.