Markets have a clear stratus with shops housed in multistory buildings taking the top tier of importance. These shops cater more to the middle class and upper middle class of shoppers. They tend to have A/C, guards, and are brightly lit. While many claim to have fixed prices, this really depends on your negotiating skills.
Next come the single level shops with open fronts. These shops still cater to the middle class, but also sell to those in the working class as well. These shops will sell everything from jewelry to clothing to cooking tools to tea; often all in the same block by the same family. You can bargain a bit more in these shops, and as a foreigner, you’ll have to. While the locals all know the going rate of the goods for sale, the lack of signage means the shop owners can try their luck at making a few extra rupees.
Depending on the market, the next level of vendor are those with fixed location sidewalk shops. These vendors typically have to pay a small fee to set up in the location and are (supposedly) regulated. These stalls tend to have seasonal offerings, so cotton tops in spring and summer, then sweaters and jeans in winter. The set up seems similar to farmer’s or artist markets in the US. This is where some of the best bargaining can happen. As the overhead is less, and the items seasonal, they want to move the product as quickly as possible for the best price. This is where naming a price, then walking away when turned down is the best tactic. You can always return if you really like something and don’t see another further down the row.
The bottom of the totem pole in regards to market vendors are the transient sidewalk vendors. These working class vendors tend to have a sheet with their products, or a basket, and are quickly mobile. They tend to be the largest harassers in the market by following people with their wares. They tend to sell little knick-knacks and edibles.
All of these types of vendors can be found in various ratios at most markets. Some markets have themes, so in Delhi if you are looking for clothing, you’d head to Sarojini, or if you were looking for all the different food items in one place you’d go to INA instead. Each area also has their little market with a bank, a restaurant or two (or at least snack stall), some produce, and a general shop selling who knows what.
One of the interesting parts of travel through India is to look through at least one market. While you can choose to shop at only government sponsored shops (such as the handicraft emporiums) or malls, it’s worth the experience to try your hand at bargaining in a local market. Only by hearing the chorus of vendors shouting their wares, the smells of the food, the people, the flowers, and the traffic pushing by, and by feeling the heat of the day as you work your way through the crowds will you be able to say you’ve experienced shopping in India.