Become an expert haggler in four easy steps

Miss Thrifty12 January 16, 2014

how to haggle

 The Times newspaper recently featured my top haggling tips, in a guide to expert haggling. I do love The Times, but it is behind a paywall. If you have Joined The Thrifties, the chances are that getting you to pay for news is like getting Mr T on a plane. So here is my quickfire guide on how to haggle like a pro.

I learned at the knee of a master haggler: my mum, otherwise known as The Hammer of the Shops. My mum was a market trader: she started out selling frocks on Petticoat Lane in London in the 1970s, then graduated to toys and later, antiques. She has always been totally fearless when it comes to negotiating, whether we have rocked up at a jumble sale or a department store.

When I was about 10, she took me to the big TopShop at Oxford Circus for the first time. I showed her a skirt I liked the look of, on the half-price rail.  It was a ruffled number in faux black ostrich skin. (What can I say? It was the 1980s.)  Quick as a flash she seized the hanger; the next thing I knew she had also seized a matching blazer, which was full price and quite expensive, and was  negotiating with the store manager to get 50% off both items. He spluttered with indignation and said no, but she wouldn’t give up. Eventually, after some minutes of back and forth, the store manager caved and said yes. At the time I found it all spectacularly embarrassing, but looking back I’m rather impressed.

What I have realised, over the years, is that you don’t need to have a God-given talent for negotiation to be a competent haggler. When we think of good haggling, we think of a scene like this one from the Coen Brother’s remake of True Grit.

In truth, you don’t need to be the most articulate or formidable person in the world to negotiate money off in shops and stores. Theatrical flair is not a pre-requisite: it’s a shop, not a stage. There are only two qualities you need in spades:




 Have both of those, and you’ll go far. Here are my four top tips for competent haggling:

1. Be brazen. British people have traditionally been terrible at haggling. This is partly because we are buttoned-up types who dislike drawing attention to ourselves. We especially dislike talking aloud about money. It is also because of the stigma attached to getting a bargain, in the pre-credit crunch days. The financial crisis means that stigma has been lost. Undoing the rest of those buttons, however, can prove to be a tougher task.

Unfortunately, if you are shy or coy, you’ll get nowhere. Expel your inner Brit! A flickering gaze because you are too self-conscious to meet the sales assistant’s eye, blushed cheeks, staring at your shoes or mumbling and bumbling like Hugh Grant in a Richard Curtis movie show that you just want to run away, and are mannerisms to be avoided. Unless the store and assistants are busy, it doesn’t matter if there are other shoppers around, so don’t hide until others are gone or wait “for the right moment.”  You are not a 16-year-old buying condoms. (Well, you might be…)

Come on love, you can do it. Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Clear your throat. Eye contact. Smile. Off you go. If haggling takes you out of your comfort zone, it’s only because you need more practice.

Shoppers who are new to haggling can be unsure about what to say first, to open negotiations. Here are a few tried and tested opening lines:

  • If I buy [NUMBER OF] items, what discount can you do?
  • I shop here regularly and saw this was on sale last week, but wasn’t able to make it here in time. Would you do a ‘latebird’ offer?
  • Ouch! Is that the best price you can do? I’m sure I saw this cheaper in [COMPETITOR STORE].
  • I’m rather taken with [PRODUCT], but my budget is only £X. Could you do it for £Y? That would really make my day.

2. Do your homework. In my post How to get money off at Currys & PC World EVERY TIME, I mentioned a MoneySavingExpert survey, which reported that shoppers trying to haggle in Currys or PC World had a success rate of 71%. The full survey is worth checking out, and you can find it here. It shows the haggling success rate for stores ranging from Zara (thumbs down) to Homebase (big thumbs up).

If you have a smartphone, always take it with you and look up retailers’ prices for any item you choose in-store. If the retailer is selling the product at a special “online price,” or if competitors are offering the same product for a lower price, you can brandish that phone with aplomb and make a good pitch for getting a discount on the product’s advertised price. Smartphones are hagglers’ secret weapons.

3. Know when to back down or change your plan of attack. If the assistant cannot or will not provide a discount, ask to see their manager. If no discount is forthcoming, despite your best attempts, switch tack. Ask what they can throw in, instead. This one has netted me goodies ranging from computer speakers to a dress!

4. Pounce on weakness or fatigue, like you are the velociraptor of bargain hunting. The sales assistant may well be feeling as uncomfortable as you. Sometimes the best option is to keep on going until they want to get rid of you. This, I think, is one of my mum’s secrets. The woman isn’t just a hammer. She’s a bludgeon!

 If you are a first-time haggler, do let me know how you get on. If you are an old hand, what have I missed? 😉

Image credit: Seattle Municipal Archives.

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12 Responses to “Become an expert haggler in four easy steps

Great tips – I agree with doing your research! Once I came back from a trip to Morocco with a wooden camel I’d bought as a gift. I was proudly telling everyone how I had haggled with the stall owner to reduce the cost by half – then someone pointed out that I had still ended up paying £15, not exactly a bargain!!

January 16, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Niftynorah says:

Some of the most expensive things we buy require a house visit – double-glazing, solar panels etc.
I have to start by telling my husband NOT TO INTERFERE however embarrassed he gets and he certainly does get embarrassed.
When the rep comes and tells you the price LOOK SHOCKED and say you thought it was about half of that then when he says that he can supply for a reduced amount because they are doing a special in your area (oh yeah) gabble on about how much more expensive it is blah blah blah. He will then offer to ring his manager to see if he can get a special price – of course HE CAN it’s all part of the pitch, but don’t accept this offer, knock off about a quarter of the renewed price and tell him that you would certainly order it for ££££. He will then say this is impossible but he will ring his manager and TRY. At this point you say that you would pay ££££ and NO MORE. He will go out of the room and ring his manager again….and you will get your bargain.

January 17, 2014 at 12:53 am

Amandah says:

Oh, my favourite word in the dictionary & my vocabulary: Haggle.
Haggle, Haggle, Haggle. Oh and Bargain.
I do this with pretty much anything I know I can get a percentage off, even if it’s on sale already.
I’m currently saving up for a printer, the Epsom Expression XP-605 to be precise (after doing all my research on the Which! website a few months back for the best printer for my needs) and have found it for 2 brilliant prices on eBay. But, I want to go to Currys/ PC World and pick up a few other things, then I’ll hit the cash desk and my favourite phrase will leave my mouth: “So, what’s the best deal you can do for me?
I’m not one to back down easily, so I reckon I could very well walk out of there with The printer, USB cable, Ink set & a pk of printer paper with at least 2 of the cheaper items thrown in for free.
That is if they have said Printer in stock that is (it seems to appear & disappear when it feels like it on their website).
Even IF PC World don’t want to play ball, I’ll just pop over to one of the other 2 branches within the surrounding area I live in and try them.
IF still no joy then eBay will get my saved up dosh. But lets see what happens eh!

January 17, 2014 at 10:17 pm

LydiaGrace says:

Oooh, this made me wince. Haggling in TopShop is literally the stuff of nightmares for me, since I always feel that their staff must be specially trained in looking your outfit up and down then throwing you a filthy look as if to guilt you into either buying something or getting out of their beautiful shop.

Full respect goes to you brilliant haggling ladies out there! I hope that one day I’m brave enough (and I hope it’s soon, students can’t afford not to haggle really!)

January 17, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Alex says:

Good shout on the Coen Brother’s scene as an example, although I think True Grit is one of their only poor films 😛 but enough of my opinions!
The problem with us Brits is we don’t like to create a fuss. I know I don’t. I also worked in retail for a number of years and so I have some empathy for salesmen trying to get money out of me or lead me onto a bigger buy. It can prove to be a weakness at times, but I also know their sales techniques.

January 20, 2014 at 7:19 pm


Ah, this is excellent!!

Love the story of your mum haggling in TopShop, and HELLO, that ostrich feather skirt sounds beauuuttttiful!!

January 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

@The Frugal Flirter – Well, I suppose it depends how big the camel was! I know what you mean though: I did exactly the same in the past, but never again.

@NiftyNorah – Something tells me that you are pretty ruthless at pinning down a bargain…

@Amandah – Sounds like a great masterplan. You will have to let us know how you get on…

@LydiaGrace – Haggling is easier than you would think. I think it’s the same with a lot of habits: tough at first, but once you hit your stride it becomes something that you just “do”.

@Alex – The Coen Bros. don’t make a bad movie. TRUFAX. I am extreme though: I even enjoyed their Ladykillers remake.

@Wonderthrift – My mum hoards fashion, so we will still have it somewhere. I will dig it out and send it your way. 😉

January 22, 2014 at 1:47 am

Laura says:

I love this post! I do enjoy a good haggle but can sometimes be a bit nervous about the initial approach. Not anymore! I took myself and all the front I could muster down to Columbia Road flower market on Sunday, near closing time and managed to get a great discount on my flowers! I was really amazed to see the majority of people paying full price and not even attempting to haggle. From now on I’m definitely going to leave my bashful side at home when I hit the shops. Thank you for a great post! Laura xx

January 23, 2014 at 12:57 am

Sam A says:

@Amandah I know I’m coming to this crazy late! I’ve been googling about how to haggle and came across this thread. Amanda, do you still do it? If so would you mind me emailing for some tips? my email address is would love tohear how you got on with Currys all those months ago!

August 13, 2015 at 3:26 pm

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