It is in any consumer’s best interest to try to get the lowest price on all purchases, yet haggling, negotiating, or bargaining, at least in my culture, is not a social norm. Other than in specific situations such as buying a car that is not a “non-negotiable” brand like Saturn or Scion, haggling is uncommon. A few months ago, Smithee presented an article summarizing several tips for haggling.
If you look around the internet, you can find even more tips, sure to help readers on the path to getting what they want to buy at a price they want to pay. But most people won’t even get to the point where they can use these tips due to a number of emotional barriers.
The impressions of strangers. As haggling is not a “normal” social activity, someone who considers haggling might refrain for doing so for the fear of being seen as “abnormal.” Most retailers operate in public, so it is more than likely other people will be able to observe your purchases. Once you ask a salesperson in a retail electronics store, “What is the best price you can offer?” you might get stares from strangers.
What could they be thinking? She can’t afford to shop here. He is cheap. She thinks she deserves special treatment. He doesn’t know how to manage his money.
The opinions of strangers are irrelevant. It is simply in your best interest to buy what you want for the best price possible. The best way to bypass this barrier is to ignore everyone other than the salesperson, the sales manager, and yourself. As far as you are concerned, no one else is in the room.
Your self-image. One thing that might be preventing you from starting the dance of number-offering is the idea that the strangers might be right: you are cheap. If the item to be purchased is something you can legitimately afford, why bother haggling at all? People buy things they can’t afford every day without negotiating the price. Perhaps you think they should be the people haggling while those who can afford the purchase should be happy to pay full price.
The only reason your self-image is at stake is today’s culture. But if you would feel inadequate for trying to pay less than other people, take yourself out of the picture. Approach the negotiating as if you were speaking on someone else’s behalf or consider the purchase a business transaction where it is your reponsibility to your shareholders to achieve the best price.
Fear of rejection. This is the powerful force that stops awkward teenage boys from asking pretty young girls on dates. The word “no” is one of the most displeasing sounds to the human ear and brain, and people will try to avoid hearing it at all costs. The avoidance means that many important questions never get asked.
A great way to haggle without having to hear no is to ask the right questions. The right questions would never result in a yes or no answer. For example, try, “Considering this is a discontinued product and you’re making room for the new model, what is the lowest price I could pay for it?” rather than, “Can you do any better than that?”. And even if your line of questioning doesn’t result in any savings, at least you tried.
My haggling experience
My best haggling experience was about two years ago when I helped my girlfriend purchase a new television. We found a discontinued model of a standard-definition LCD television. We shopped around, and found the best prices and availability at the now bankrupt Circuit City. The store had two models left, one with a scratch on the side, one without. She didn’t want the scratched model, so negotiation would be a little more difficult.
We had the advantage, however, because we knew the store received the models a long time ago and would be interested in unloading them. The initial salesperson was not authorized to adjust the price, so we involved a manager early in the discussion. We asked to take away the television priced over $300, an already-discounted clearance price, for $200.
At this point, we were starting to attract a little attention. I don’t think strangers were judging us as cheap; they seemed to be curious about whether our negotiation would succeed. $100 off a clearance price was an aggressive discount, but the manager didn’t say no. He went behind the scenes and returned with a price sheet indicating the cost of each television to the store, and I assumed that the document was legitimate. The manager said he would let me have the television for 10% over the store’s cost, so we walked away with the television after paying $220 for a television originally priced more than twice that amount.
Perhaps it was this one incident that set Circuit City on the path towards bankruptcy.
Once you have overcome the emotional barriers to haggling, you will be ready to apply the tips and suggestions like these:
Updated November 17, 2011 and originally published June 22, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.