High Street Hacks: How to Become a Haggling Hero
The great French leader of old, Napoleon, once mischievously remarked that Britain was “a nation of shopkeepers” back in the late 18th century, as he inferred that a merchant society such as ours, with its love of commerce, was incapable of resisting France’s plans for domination of Europe – fortunately for us, history proved otherwise.
Over two centuries on, this love of commerce remains, but it might now be a little more accurate to re-write Napoleon’s iconic quote to instead read that we in Britain are “a nation of shoppers”. And we are – we can’t get enough of it. As a nation of shameless shopaholics, we Brits are fond of a bargain, but the dilemma is this: high street shopping can be an expensive gig, particularly when our pockets are still a little light after the financial crash. There is a greater need than ever before to chase a good deal before parting with our cash. So taking our obsession with bargain hunting into account, why is it that we have such a difficult and complicated relationship with haggling?
For the uninitiated, haggling is commonly defined as:
“The process of disputing, quibbling and bargaining over the price of a product until a mutually agreed price is set between buyer and seller.”
In theory, and practice for that matter, haggling is an almost peerless way of getting a discount and bagging all important money saving win. So why is it then that when the opportunity arises, we are so troubled by the thought of actually doing it?
The problem is that for all the benefits that haggling brings, and there are a great many, it remains an act which is entirely alien to us here in the UK. The very idea of bargaining in a contentious manner with a seller flies in the face of our social norms because, as a culture, we are horrified by the idea of rocking the boat and causing a fuss. Also, we have a deep-rooted fear of being seen to be ‘cheap’ publicly, of course.
In short, it is taboo – an activity to partake in when we are quibbling over the price of a faux-Persian rug in a hot, dusty bazaar, far, far away from good old Blighty. But here, on our own high streets, in our own backyard? Never – we would rather eat our own children. We may giggle nervously about the idea of it but when push comes to shove, we usually lose our nerve and fail to go ahead with it.
Why are we afraid to negotiate?
Haggling may feel frightfully un-British and it is does put us outside of our comfort zones but, in reality, it is neither rude nor cheap, and nor is it an act which is likely to lead to conflict. Haggling will, however, ensure a better deal for you, the customer, and with money still being tight, it is worthwhile for us tight-fisted shoppers to shelve our irrational and ingrained fear of haggling and get stuck in.
It can be done in everyday shopping situations and it is legal – in the eyes of the law, no contract has been struck until cash has been exchanged. A shop doesn’t have to take your money and, similarly, you do not have to accept the seller’s initial price. There is plenty of scope for a bit of back and forth between you and the seller to negotiate a price which suits both parties.
You win some, you lose some
But remember this – cheaper prices for you, the consumer, equals lower profit margins for the seller that you are haggling with, so don’t expect discounts to just fall at your feet. Also, in the same way that we as consumers are only just coming around to the idea of haggling, the same can be said for British shopkeepers, many of whom may raise an eyebrow when you start fishing for a bargain. But what is the worst they can say? A terse no and a cold stare is worth risking if you could potentially bag a big money saving.
With this in mind, you would do yourself a favour by remembering the first lesson that a salesman will ever learn – people buy from people. You can aid your chances of haggling success by building a rapport with the seller, along with conviction in seeking a bargain, charm, and confidence. Don’t under any circumstances try the strong-arm approach – leaning on somebody to get a better deal probably won’t work and it will certainly make you look like an idiot.
Some companies are more open to haggling than others
While negotiating a haggle is never going to have a 100% success rate, you can boost your chances of getting a win by picking your battles, and approaching a haggle with a little common sense. For example, haggling with the merchant at your local shop over the price of a can of coke and a box of cigarettes is unlikely to earn you a discount. Similarly, your chances of getting a more favourable deal on a round at your local are also slim.
On the other hand, if you have been a loyal customer with your insurance or mobile phone providers for a number of years, chances are you can haggle a better deal if you threaten to take your business elsewhere. It is common practice for companies to offer the best deals to new customers to entice them in, while their loyal, longstanding customers who tend not to shop around for the best deals will find themselves paying inflated prices. In fact, many companies in these sectors anticipate customers looking to negotiate and will set aside budget to account for this.
Haggling on the high street
It is also reasonably common for suppliers of electrical goods, such as TV’s, hi-fi units, PC’s, laptops, and fridges to offer a discount to customers who buy regularly from an outlet or who are placing a large order. The same goes for furniture suppliers.
Large retailers like BHS, M&S, or Comet for example are not going to throw cut-prices at you on a carpet of rose petals, but equally, they would rather offer a 5/10% discount, free installation, or free delivery if you are looking to spend £500 on an oven or fridge freezer – they don’t want you to leave the store with your money still in your pocket, after all. Largely speaking, display items, damaged goods, or products with spoiled packaging will give you ample room for haggling, as will items of high value. Haggling for a holiday or a car you want to buy falls perfectly within this bracket.
While haggling for small, low-cost items is probably doomed to failure, don’t be afraid to play haggle with the bigger buys.
Haggling with independent shops and private sellers
Jumble sales, markets, and private sellers offer much more in the way of haggling opportunity than their high-street counterparts, and with a bit of charm and a silver tongue you can get fantastic discounts. Again, there is no guarantee that the seller will move on price, but generally speaking, these types of sellers are more open to a spot of animated bargaining.
Once again, common sense is the key to haggling success. Retailers who have low profit margins on the goods that they sell, or who sell en mass to huge numbers of consumers are never going to come to a settlement with you over the price of your weekly shop – this is why it would be easier to squeeze blood out of a stone than get a cut-price deal in Tesco.
Another haggling faux-pas would be to attempt a haggle in a busy shop. Turning on the charm and pushing for a cheaper deal while the impatient queue behind you is growing would be an error – a stressed and flustered merchant will look unfavourably upon this and head negotiations before they have begun. And if you are thinking about asking for an enormous discount? Forget it – asking for a 50% discount is not going to happen, you will merely be written-off as a blag-artist.
Haggling can and will grant you fantastic savings, and most importantly of all it is fun and especially satisfying when you schmooze yourself a cut-price win. Don’t let the inevitable cringe moments deter you – it is all part of the experience and besides the pain of rejection is fleeting.
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