How to Haggle a Good Bargain - The Subtle Art of Haggling
The Art of Haggling
The art of haggling is enjoying a resurgence. For too long it has been the mainstay of the exotic eastern markets, been confined to the dusty corridors of a local flea market or perhaps a garage sale, or in the higher echelons of buying a luxury car.
Now everyone is waking up to the possibilities of a bargain, the sheer pleasure of getting the price knocked down so you could make a saving on your hard earned money, all through haggling.
Haggling is an art, and it is not for the faint hearted. It is not for those who hate to be snubbed, who wilt at smirks and caustic comments. It is not for those who think it is cheap and not worthy of good class and breeding. It is not for those looking to make a quick and speedy purchase and for those who are so much in love with something that they hate to walk away. It is a hard art for the western mind with overactive cringe glands.
However if you are made of sterner stuff, if you appreciate that parting with your hard earned money shouldn’t come too easily, if you can learn the nuances of negotiation, if you understand the laws of transaction and the market forces, you should haggle.
Join the Haggling Revolution
In fact everyone should haggle. The economic downturn and the recession have made people appreciate the value of stuff. Manufacturing and retailing has hit the doldrums and everyone wants to sell and clear the stock while people want a good bargain and savings. Not just when you are on holiday and buying some dodgy nicnac to bring home but everywhere and anywhere. Join the haggling revolution.
What is a Haggle?
To haggle is to negotiate a better deal on the price of an object, to dispute fair value and to ultimately agree on the price and terms. It is a synonym of bargaining and is a close cousin to negotiation.
How I learnt to Haggle
I learnt the subtle art of haggling when I grew up in India. My teacher was my mum, God rest her soul. She was a master haggler. She would haggle with everyone and everywhere and often I would stand behind her and cringe as an embarrassed kid. I thought it was crass and demeaning. But when she walked away with an extra 20% off, or with a free item that accompanied the main sale, the sense of triumph and well being she exuded was addictive.
I longed for a time when I’d have enough money that I would be able to buy my mom things at cost price, to feel rich enough to afford things at face value.
Looking back, I know her haggling wasn’t for fun or pride, but an absolute necessity in the tight economy of our household. Bringing up three children with a measly household income is not an easy job. When I grew up in India everything was negotiable. In fact you would never accept any price at the face value unless you are a naive westerner.
When I watched my mum I realised there were steps to haggling like a pro. There was never a cross word exchanged. There was mutual respect but a lot of drama and theatre. There were unsaid rules and lines were not crossed. There was an understanding between the seller and the buyer.
When I moved to UK I realised that Haggling wasn't in vogue. Most of my friendsfelt embarrassed even to question a price or ask for a discount. They felt it was something that 'foreigners' do. However, when they saw the deals I was getting and the money that was eventually being knocked off ( this includes my first house, My car, my TV, sound system, Holidays, Hotel deals etc) they started to get deeply interested in learning to haggle!
East vs West
There are differences to haggling in the East and the West. There was perhaps a time when haggling was an accepted method of commercial transaction in the west too. However, modernisation and mall culture have perhaps destroyed the concept.There is an illusion of 'fixed pricing' and 'discounting' that makes it perhaps difficult to haggle.
In the East it is not unheard for the seller to mark up the item several 100 times and the expectation is that the buyer would haggle down the price fiercely. It will be foolish to accept any object at the marked value .
With the advent of internet and with multitude of sales, the concept of discounts has spread to the west. We are now able to check the prices over the internet and compare various vendors. But the haggle remains an elusive behaviour to many of us as we are unaccustomed to the etiquette.
But it is time to bring the haggle to air-conditioned malls and stylish boutiques, to electronic stores and DIY retailers, to cars and crafts, to hotels and holidays.. In these recession hit times everyone needs to make a sale and there is no harm is saving a few bob.
'Nowadays people know the Price of everything and the Value of nothing'... Oscar Wilde
“Necessity never made a good bargain” .. Benjamin Franklin
“It's just as unpleasant to get more than you bargain for as to get less” ... George Bernard Shaw
'Bargain Like a Gypsy, but pay like a Gentleman' ... Hungarian Proverb
'Sometimes one pays more for the things one gets for nothing'... Albert Einstein
Russel Crowe as John Nash in ' A Beautiful Mind'
John Nash proposed that if everyone took into account others interests as well as their own in a game or a transaction, there could be a win win, to put it simplistically.
How to become a Master Haggler
So let me take you through the steps of a good haggle. Most of us know the rules of Haggle in the Eastern markets, these rules for haggling in the west, in places where you wouldn't normally haggle.
Rule 1: Know the value
You need to know the value of what you are buying. It is easier to check the price variations on the internet and check the manufacturers recommended retail price. Don't forget that most products are sold heavily discounted to retailers and they have a profit margin. They also have sales figures to achieve and will always have a managers discretion. While on holiday it is hard to know the exact value of an object- but you can always check on government regulated shops for a comparison.
Rule 2: Haggle only if you are serious
Don't start the haggling process if you are not serious about buying the item. It is unfair to the vendor. Also a seller can spot a fake if you're insincere. No seller would want to talk to a time waster.
Rule 3: Show Interest but with caution
In the East the vendors will spot your interest and hike the prices, so it is important to be able to show interest in the item but don't be too overly enthusiastic and ooh and aah over it.
However, if you are haggling in the West then show interest, talk about how you do want the item but indicate you may be on a tight budget. Be like someone so tempted but had to hold back. Pretend you may get into trouble if you buy it but you cant really resist it. Ask the salespersons opinion on how it looks on you if it is fashion item and look longingly at it as they take it back.
Rule 4: Turn on your charm
Don't be a bully, don't insult or intimidate. Be nice, courteous, smile and talk pleasantly. Ask intelligent questions and let the seller talk about the item. Don't be a smart ass even if you know what it does. Let them 'sell' it. Let them do their job.
Rule 5: Dont be embarrassed
The Western retail market is based on customer embarrassment and willingness to pay marked price. Discard your cringe mode and be brave. After all it is your hard earned money you are parting with and you have every right to get the best value for it. If the seller is snobbish or irksome, explain you are there with an intention to buy but may choose an alternate shop if they aren't co-operating with the process.
Rule 6: Be tenacious
Some shops may straight away tell you they are not a discount shop and that they are not looking to haggle a price. Be tenacious, maybe the manager or someone higher up has more discretion than the shop assistant. Explain you are their to make a purchase but would appreciate a saving.
Rule 7: Get the cash out
It is usually a good tease ( in East or West) to get the cash out or wave you card as if you are ready to close the deal if they could agree on a price. There is a psychological attraction of the cash or a card that the seller can see. It shows you mean business. literally!
Rule 8: Have a story
If you are up for it, have a story ready. A birthday/wedding/anniversary gift that you do want in time but maybe short of some money, Make the story relevant to the item you want to purchase! Most sellers are susceptible to 'humane' stories and may be willing to be flexible. If you are booking hotel rooms / flight tickets the stories really help!
Rule 9: Loyalty and support
If it is an independent retailer indicate you prefer shopping in such smaller venues but say how the prices do vary if one goes to the bigger shops. Say you would rather spend your money there than else where but are tied by your budget. If you are a regular there say you have been a loyal customer.
Rule 10: Spot a flaw
Most items may have little , subtle flaws- they may be display item, may be slightly out of season or may have a scratch a pulled thread ( in the interest of integrity and honesty please don't CREATE one!) A haggler's eye should scrutinise and be ready to pounce on minor flaws to be used as a negotiating tool
Rule 11: Walk away
Don't spend too long hanging around if you are not making progress. Start walking away. If they want to bite they will come after you or shout you back. If not at least you can move on.
Rule 12: Seal the Deal
If the seller is willing and if the discount is attractive- then seal the deal. Thank them profusely and appreciate their time and energy and be gracious. Then walk away with your hard earned purchase!
The future of Haggling
There has been a renaissance in haggling culture as customers are getting wiser to the inflated pricing structures and the sheer greed of commercial manufacturers. However, haggling needs to be used sensibly and ethically.
It is unfair to haggle over a 50cent/pence margin in a third world market where the money would probably mean nothing to the western economy while it could mean a lot to the sellers family.
In the Western world, stores are waking up to the potential of haggling as it allows for people to pay varying prices while increasing the sales. with increasing threat from the internet most stores are willing to price match and shave overheads.
So try haggling if you haven't already done so. Be brave, Be persistent, Save money!
Are a Haggler?
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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2011
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