How to haggle

  • | by Rachel England

The Western world operates very much on a fixed-price culture: we look at the price tag and buy the product (or we don’t). No questions asked. This is partly due to an entrenched belief that ‘that’s just how it works’, and partly down to the fact that, despite the media spewing forth tales of crumbling civilisation and social values going down the pan, we Brits are still very polite and just don't like to cause a fuss.

But in these austere times, who wouldn’t like to get a bit more bang for their buck? Despite a traditional ethos that says otherwise, pretty much everything is up for negotiation. After all, salespeople are keen to nab a commission, flexibility is always built into price structures and ultimately, the longevity of retailers depends on them making sales. So banish the embarrassment and embrace the battle for a bargain.

There are no enemies

Despite our frivolous use of the word ‘battle’ there, there’s nothing to be gained from viewing your opponent as, well, an opponent. Haggling is often viewed as argumentative, but really there should be little or no friction involved. Think of the process as a relaxed negotiation, as you would with friends when deciding what film to watch, or where to eat. Good haggling, if accompanied with friendly banter, builds respect between both parties, meaning you’re more likely to get what you want.

Confidence is key

We Brits are rubbish at this sort of thing because we fear making a scene or upsetting someone. We pepper sentences with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and never say what we really mean (how many times have you had a disastrous haircut, only to tell the hairdresser, ‘Mmm, that’s great, thanks’ and then gone home to sob into a pillow?).

Appearing cool, calm and collected will make the other party think you’re resolute in your offer, or at least open to reasonable negotiation. A gibbering, flustered wreck is likely to be ignored. Don’t be the first to mention money
If possible, avoid being the first party to talk numbers.

Firstly, this gives an air of aloofness – maybe you want it, maybe you don’t. Secondly, there’s always the chance that you’ve wildly under or overestimated a decent opening offer. Perhaps the other party is envisaging closing the deal at £200.

If you wade in with an offer of £190, they won’t have to do much work to get themselves a result. Plus, if you let them put a figure on the table first, you can immediately decide whether or not to expend energy on pursuing the negotiation based on its proximity to your expectations.

Keep schtum

Often the biggest flaw in a haggler’s game-plan is their inability to keep their mouth shut. If you make an offer and the other party is reticent in replying, you might assume you’ve somehow caused offence and rush in with another offer in an attempt to fill the awkward silence, which is often what they’re waiting for. Hold fast! Biting your tongue shows you’re confident and authoritative in your offer. But, if you find yourself sat there in excruciating silence, say something like ‘How does that sound?’ or try inviting a counter-offer. That will at least open up dialogue and give you a benchmark to work from.

Be open to multiple outcomes

If you go into a haggling scenario with only one result in mind, you’re likely to be disappointed (just like envisaging your perfect holiday usually ends with frustration). Negotiations of all kinds should be fluid and evolve as both parties make their objectives known, so be prepared to accept an alternative ending; perhaps a freebie thrown in instead of a monetary discount. It’s better than going away empty-handed and shows willing, meaning the outcome may still be very attractive.

Prepare your game-plan

Many seasoned hagglers have on the spot successes, but for the best chance of bagging a bargain it pays to be prepared (and even have a few sneaky tricks up your sleeve).

Make sure you're speaking to the right people

There’s no use in busting out your finest haggling moves if you’re talking to a sales assistant who is genuinely unable to offer any kind of discount.

NOBODY DOES IT BARTER - a few more top tips for happy haggling

  • Play off the competition. This is a tried and tested method for getting a good deal. ‘Oh, it’s only £xx in [rival store]’ is likely to result in a price match at the very least. (You can always try this using an arbitrary figure and hope for the best, but many stores will ask for proof or even investigate the supposed offer themselves).
  • Consider the time of day you approach the situation. If you want a discount on electrical goods, 9am on a Saturday probably isn't your best bet. Late on a Sunday, though? Sales assistants are itching to bag a last-minute commission and get out the door, and will be more amenable to negotiations.
  • If you’re not especially bothered about particular specifications like item colour or optional extras, try a more sophisticated approach: identify which models that store does and doesn’t carry and use that information to negotiate a lower price. Make assistants aware that you really want that camera in neon pink and that settling for another colour is a big deal – one that will affect how much you're willing to pay for it.
  • Try your hand at good cop, bad cop. Take along a friend or partner, and have them create a fuss about the expense involved in the potential purchase, whilst you appear friendly and engaged. Take the sales assistant aside and say, ‘Look, I’m keen to make this purchase but my partner has agreed to this price and that’s the best I can do’. If you don’t know anyone with acting skills up to scratch, a fake phone call can work just as well.