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Emotional Barriers to Negotiating and Haggling

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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.

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 June 20, 2014 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.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sonny

You are dead right about the emotional issues involved in haggling but I think a bigger problem for me is what price to offer. Especially if something is “on sale” already, how much more can they take off? Maybe I should I just try by asking that question.

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avatar Craig

Since it is not a social norm in out culture opposed to other cultures it is more intimidating. If you do the research prior and have an idea of what you would be willing to pay for, you can get away with it. Most electronic stores won’t do this. But if you go somewhere where the employees work off commission you can get away with this.

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avatar KC

I think you are dead on about “image” being the problem with haggling. When I was poorer I would never have haggled. Now I’m much better off (through hard-work, saving , and buying at the best price possible) and I can pay full price for most things…but I don’t. I always try to bargain – even if its the line “If I pay cash could you give me a discount?” It’s amazing how often it works. I don’t care about my image now, because I do have the money, I know I have the money and I really could care less what anyone else thinks. If they don’t want to sell me the item I can walk away and buy it somewhere else. I wish I’d had this self-confidence when I was younger and poorer.

Sonny asked a good question – where do you start as an offer. Well it helps to do research and see if you can find out what the seller paid for the item. It also helps if you can talk to someone in the industry about what market price is. For instance when we bought our house last year a realtor friend told us the average markdown on homes was 17%. You don’t want to insult the person, but you want to get as much off as possible. I was buying a really nice home in a great location and knew I wouldn’t get 17% off, but we ended up getting about 12% off asking price.

Sometimes just a conversation with the salesperson can give you a clue. My dad and I were out this weekend looking at leather chairs. He found one he wanted but was going to offer about 30% less. But the more we talked to the salesman we realized this is a popular chair that sells well and can only be custom ordered. Now we feel like if we get 5% off it might be good. He’s going to try the “If I pay cash…” line and see if he can get the 5%.

But as a general rule of thumb, do your research and offer somewhere between 5% to 20% off. If you feel like you can get more once you do the research than by all means try to get 30-40 or even 50% off.

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avatar Erica Douglass

“Perhaps it was this one incident that set Circuit City on the path towards bankruptcy. ”

Ha! Clearly, Flexo, you with your evil negotiating ways, have singlehandedly driven an otherwise completely-solvent and debt-free company out of business! ;)

I always favor the “What’s the lowest price you can offer?” tactic. Agreed with the lack of yes/no questions. This works great at hotels, rental car companies, etc. They almost always throw in a discount.

I’m still kicking myself for not negotiating SOMETHING with the landlord on our new place. The problem is it’s a unique place in a small town without a lot of rental stock, and it had everything we wanted! Still…I could have done something, says my haggler side. :s

-Erica

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avatar Jason

Another tactic for more complicated transactions where you’re just quoted a final price is to ask for a breakdown of the charges. It’s a totally normal and reasonable request that won’t be rejected. The impression on strangers is more, “This guy is knowledgeable, and not willing to throw money away” than, “This guy’s cheap.” You may find that the price of something seems high, and feel compelled to negotiate. Also, sellers seem to be more easily persuaded to negotiate part of a transaction rather than the transaction as a whole.

Normally, I do all the service to my car. This past weekend I dropped the car off for some work because I prefered to spend Father’s Day with my family instead of under the car in the garage. Obviously, I wanted to pay as little as possible. When the shop called for authorization to perform the repairs, I asked for a breakdown of the work, including parts and labor. Everything sounded OK except the price of the front-end alignment. I thought their price was too high based on the amount of work involved. In this case, I ended up with 10% off the entire bill.

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avatar DD

I’m 1 for 1 in haggling.

When we were rehabbing our house we came upon a clearance range at Sears. It was already marked down due to a dent on one side, a saleman noticed us inspecting it, and came over and asked us if we were interested. I said, “I would be if it was $100 less.”
The guy instantly marked it down a $100.

Then we said, “O.K. then.”

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avatar nickel

DD: That was too easy. Maybe you should’ve asked for more! :-)

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avatar DD

Ha! Walking out we thought the same thing!

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avatar Matt

I had all the same hang-ups about haggling before I went to China. In Shanghai, all the emotional barries went away because there was nobody who knew me there, most people (except the shopkeeps) didn’t understand what I was saying, and haggling was more expected. Once I went through that “haggling boot camp”, I brought back a different frame of mind (and some sweet knockoff jackets).

My advice: If you’re hesitant to do it, force yourself to give it one try, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. If you don’t like it, never do it again. Chances are you’ll do it, like it, and be eager to try it again.

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avatar bluntmoney

I think you’re right about the emotional barrier in many cases. People are often afraid of being seen as cheap. I guess I’m not though, because I ask for discounts pretty often. Usually people have no problems giving them.

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avatar Mike Pastore

With the economic recession and all that has been happening today, it is okay to negotiate for a lower price of an item you want to purchase. Negotiating for a lower price is not bad at all as long you do it properly. Haggling may be cheap for some but it really depends on how you do it. You do not ask for an item for free; you just ask for a little consideration to slash the price down from its original price. Through this, you can buy other things that you basically need because you have saved some bucks from your previous purchasing.

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