Shopping like a local in Yerevan is a bold challenge for most travelers, but an interesting one nevertheless. From price bargaining to the language barrier – this post covers the main difficulties you may face and some tips for overcoming them. If you find this helpful, please share your thoughts and tips with me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. Let’s dive into this!
Challenges when shopping like a local
For foreigners the price is higher
Local shopping in Yerevan is a very challenging task because of many reasons. First, if you’re a foreigner and you don’t know the language you may come across an unpleasant situation when traders automatically shoot a higher price. This, of course happens only in markets where there is no fixed price mentioned for a product.
Tip N1 is to connect with your translator, fixer or guide if you have one, or just get acquainted with a local person and ask them to accompany you. Locals always know how to deal with such situations, they usually know the average market prices for most products in demand. In addition, local sellers don’t just shoot unreasonably high prices when there’s a local person around. Yes, if there is one thing we Armenians care more about than a good trade, it’s what our neighbors think about us. 🙂
If this tip is technically impossible, the second best option is to do preliminary research. Try to organize all your shopping thoughts and cravings, maybe make a list of necessary things you want to buy. Define for yourself what exactly you are looking for, then carefully look through all the info gathered here about shopping in Armenia. Where to buy souvenirs, how to shop in street markets, everything is covered. That’s the ultimate knowledge you need in order to be able to shop like a local in Yerevan.
Language barrier when bargaining
In food markets and souvenir shops where the sellers are mostly the artisans, bargaining can get you the best deal out there, even with minimal bargaining skills. The issue here is that with the language barrier you won’t be able to negotiate, convince and present your own counter offer.
If you’re alone and there’s no one to help you bargain, learn or save key expressions and phrases in your phone beforehand to be able to show or read out loud when needed. You can also use an offline translator app for this. I’ve compiled a separate article on how to get by in Armenia without knowing the language. All these tips here will elevate your bargaining skills.
Many of the market surroundings have their own currency conversion spots. However, at these spots the conversion rates differ very much from those of banks and other exchange points, that’s why most probably you will lose a lot if you exchange money at these spots.
The only way to shop and not lose additional money is exchanging earlier at special exchange points or banks. Always remember to exchange more than you think that you need, because eventually it’s better to have more of the local currency than finding something that you really like and not having enough local money for buying it. You really don’t want to end up in a situation when you have to count and combine different currencies to pay for your lavash at a local market. 🙂
Avoid elite and pricey supermarkets
There are several major and many midsize supermarket chains in Yerevan. Some are known by locals to be more of “elite” shopping sites, because of higher prices. The price difference in this case is just a positioning thing for the supermarket / shop. While the goods they sell are largely the same as at any local corner store, the price tag reflects the lifestyle and belonging to the upper socio-economic class. Let’s say, it’s a small pack of local cheese that typically costs 800 AMD in any store. The same pack of cheese by the same producer can cost around 1100-1200 AMD in such luxe, elite supermarket chains.
You see, each time you enter the beautifully constructed, designer interior, special style supermarket, remember that this visual satisfaction will come with a price tag. Above that, there is no added value to your shopping.
Support Local markets and small shops
Shopping like a local in Yerevan is essentially about shopping from small shops and local markets. Because that’s what locals do generally.
If ethical reasons and sustainability matter to you even just a little bit, try to shop from small stores and local markets as much as possible. Supporting a small business makes a lot more sense and will really have the added value as opposed to entering a fancy store and shopping from a huge chain belonging to a local oligarch.
It’s very likely that you enjoy shopping and prefer big, nice and clean supermarkets and maybe you are always ready to spend more to get the best shopping experience. That’s okay, but then don’t call it “shopping like a local”. Just remember that social justice is very shaky in Armenia and there is a huge income inequality. The gap is so huge that it’s really worth giving a second thought when it comes to supporting small businesses.
Malls. Should you visit one?
There are several really big malls in Yerevan. All of them are made so people get in and get “trapped”. Classical capitalism happening here too. Malls invite you to shop and keep you in through cinemas, gaming zones for kids with attractions, entertainment options for adults like carting, food courts with tons of options to eat unhealthy fast food. Nothing you, my western friends, won’t be familiar with. Nicely designed and constructed, malls are very much fun, no one argues. But there are definitely certain issues when it comes to malls:
Spending time and money
Let’s make one thing clear: you spend around 3 times less if you go to a specific place to buy a specific thing or a list of things you need.
Malls here in Armenia, just as anywhere else in the world, are meant to overwhelm buyers and make them spend more. And they succeed. Always. Apart from spending more money, you also spend your valuable time passing through stores and looking through items you don’t really need.
Unfortunately this comparatively new culture of malls in Armenia has created a very unhealthy approach of locals to time spending. On weekends, when people can have some family time, or take small trips to get out and relax from the tiring working week they prefer going to a mall, leaving their children to play in the game zones and just spend time in all that noise. So don’t be surprised if you see families just chilling out in a mall for several hours.
All malls are equal
If we leave out some main differences, all that’s in malls is approximately the same: same brands, same stores, same type of products displayed, same movies shown, etc.
And here is what can be different:
- The main supermarket inside malls: in one there is Carrefour, in another it’s Yerevan City Supermarket chain and so on.
- Some specific small stores that don’t have many branches in Yerevan: for instance, in one of the Yerevanian malls there is an organic skincare store that has only that one store in Yerevan. If it had other branches, they would be in all malls.
- Some entertainment activities: in one of the malls there is a zoo, in another one it’s possible to learn ice skating on a special plastic field and so on.
So if you’re planning to visit a mall for a specific thing, try to get more detailed info beforehand.
Sales and Clearance
Sad to admit, but big sales are not a common thing in Armenia. And mid-size (30-60%) sales happen usually during specific periods in a year – Xmas, Women’s month etc. During the recent years Black Friday has joined the list of other sale-seasons, but still big discounts are very rare.
March 8 to April 7 (women’s month) is a very active sale month, especially for household items. Yep… Unfortunately, gender matters are still very wild and careless here. And it’s still very common that ads picture a woman with a vacuum cleaner and advertise household items or kitchen appliance sales. The irony of this is that March 8 is the Women’s Rights Day and April 7 is the Day of Maternity and Beauty, and none of that relates to household chores and unpaid labor.
Another big sale season is around New Year. During this season products of all categories are typically discounted.
Valentine’s day and other 1-2 day sales are usually limited to a specific category related to that event or holiday.
And as to clearances, these happen only when a store / brand terminates its operation and never because of a season end.
To sum this up, if you see “up to 70% off” on a store window, be sure that there will be an average 20-30% discount on many items and maybe 70% off just one product. And yes, technically that’s still “up to 70% off”. So sale hunting or thrifting is not something to heavily rely on when it comes to Armenia. However, if the price tag is the main thing you consider when shopping, there is a dedicated post about how to cheap-shop in Yerevan. Read that through and don’t forget to share your shopping experience with me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. Spend wisely and enjoy shopping!
Featured image credits: Shaun Dunphy on Wikimedia (CC)