Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Art of the Haggle

So here's a scene you don't see too much anymore: brightly lit grocery store, customer with a cart full of items, shopkeeper running the items through the scanner when the customer says, "Five dollars a pound for those cantaloupes is pretty expensive. Would you take three?"

Gone are the days when you could dicker with the shopkeep when buying ponchos.

Why don't we see that anymore? Because it doesn't work it huge supermarkets. You can't haggle your way down with a cash register clerk. You can't even do it with the manager at the chain store supermarkets. It would be, in a word: ridiculous. Not only would it never work, it would embarrass everyone around you, particularly loved ones.

However, there are still an entire world of situations in the modern world where you can haggle. And sometimes you just have to go looking for them. Great opportunities for this exist at farmer's markets, antique stores, thrift stores, garage sales, offers and really any small business where the owner of the business is the person you're talking to. Non-chain service stores such as repair shops, contractors, and design/art studios are perfect examples of this. 

There are two basic strategies involved in the art of the haggle:

"Its Not Personal; It's Business." For this mindset you have to believe that you aren't taking advantage of this person, you're simply getting the best price both of you can afford to give. They want your business, and you don't want to pay more than you have to. To this end, you can comparison shop, ask for better prices using competitor's advertisements and offers, and interact with these businesses as if you were getting bids on a construction contract, for example. Act as if the entire operation is a business transaction, not a personal one, and this can be very successful. However, this is not the best tactic with extremely personal sellers, such as artists and garage salers.

"Quick and Painless." For the more personal business transaction (think, buying a knicknack at a garage sale or a spur of the moment purchase) follow a few guidelines. If the price is $35 and you want to pay $20, offer $15 and be prepared for them to lower the price to $25. Counteroffer $20 or pay the $25 if you feel it is a fair price. The key to this type of tactic lies in the details. Have your cash ready so that you don't need change, as this just increases awkward downtime during the transaction. Don't be afraid to note something that might be wrong with the item or another reason to justify lowering the price. ("Do you have the missing kickstand for this bike anywhere? No? Oh, well would you take $20 for it then?") 

2/3rds of the time, this will probably work, and the truth is that people would rather be offered deals that they have the power to say no to then never sell their item. So be fearless and confident. And never try to haggle if it makes you feel bad (in a developing country, from your relatives, etc.)

Try it - it can't hurt!



  1. I love this post..
    I haggle over pretty much anything.
    Just ask my old man.. I even got money off my engagement ring.
    One thing I would say though is that although you can't haggle in supermarkets.. you CAN still get discounts.
    Here in Canada supermarket competition is SO fierce that most of them do 'Price matching'.
    They promise to match the ADVERTISED price of any competitors products... what they don't tell you is that YOU have to ask.
    Some of them like Walmart promote the fact that they do it.. but many others do it quietly, so you can check with your favourite supermarket to see if they do it too... I bet they do.
    Every Friday when the free papers come full of flyers, I check out EVERYONE's flyer for advertised deals on things I buy... Supermarkets, pharmacies, even ones from stores I never frequent, because after all I'm not going there anyway.. if they have a flyer check it!
    Keep those flyers and any coupons you cut to take shopping with you.. always remembering to keep the page with the dates that the deals are valid for on it.
    At the checkout tell the assistant you are price matching, show her the flyers and you'll get those things at the flyer price.
    The deals in those flyers can be fantastic sometimes.. since they are 'lost leaders' just designed to get you into the store.
    They are especially good if they're on non perishable goods like loo rolls and shampoo or coke, because you can use the cheap price to buy those things in bulk.
    I regularly save 25 to 30% off my total shopping bill using this method... I mean EVERY week.
    Once I got my husband's razor blades at $16 with a Walmart flyer instead of the $24.99 that my local supermarket charges.

    One tip I would give on negotiating the price of things in antique stores, craft markets, garage sales and the like..
    Rather than making a low offer, instead ask
    'what's your best price for this ??'
    If you're lucky.. they might actually suggest a lower amount than you were planning to offer.
    [This happened to me just this summer when I bought a painting at an art show.]
    If they say more than you want to pay.. you can still go back but NOW you're counter offering.
    It puts you in control.. and psycologically your price and their price are already closer together.
    It's just a suggestion.. but I promise it works.

    Very good tip about not haggling if it makes you feel uncomfortable btw.. because if you feel bad you'll do it badly, and then what's the point.
    Jo xx

  2. Jo, this is such a fine comment.

    Really, more of a post of its own. Basically, we're running a co-authored blog here.

    One really random money saving tip: has your husband ever considered shaving with a straight razor? I just switched for the fun of it really, and it has proved to be so affordable! You can get 100 high-quality blades for $8 on amazon. 3 shaves per blade! And shaving soap is only a dollar or two...

    I can't recommend it highly enough. Closer shave, classic appeal... maybe I'll write a post about it.

  3. I know.. sorry, I got a bit carried away.
    Not sure about how happy he'd be having a straight razor in the house. He's already nervous that I know where we keep the Axe. ;o)
    Seriously though.. I'll suggest it.
    Jo xx