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.