A beginner's guide to haggling - Give Me Back My Five Bucks
A beginner’s guide to haggling

A beginner’s guide to haggling

While it is the norm to negotiate when buying a home or a car, most of us either don’t bother to haggle down the price of smaller items, or are too embarrassed/shy to attempt it. In fact, I remember how intimidated I was the first time I tried. I was afraid they’d say no, and I was afraid of looking cheap. But after a few successful negotiations, I started to think of it as a lot of fun. And when we had the opportunity to shop in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul a few weeks ago, I put my haggling skills to work. :)

Over the past few years, I’ve haggled for lower prices almost anywhere – from flea markets, to bakeries, to clothing and department stores. Discounts will always be there for the taking – if you know what to do.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Pick the right time

It might be hard to keep a salesperson’s attention if you try to haggle during peak shopping hours. Try to stay away from crowds and do your shopping in the mornings or evenings.

Earlier this year, I went to a local flea market one afternoon in search of a bicycle. I found one for $75, so I politely asked if that was the best price he could offer me. Because there were plenty of shoppers at the market, he declined to go down in price by more than $10, so I walked away. Later that day, when the flea market was winding down and merchants were packing up, I saw the bicycle hadn’t sold. Instead of asking for a better price, I told him that I only had $50. He accepted my offer, and I rode away with a $25 savings.

In Istanbul, I found that I had the best luck at the end of the day. Shop keepers were tired and looking forward to closing up shop. Plus, if there a lot of people around, they are more reluctant to bargain with you in public because they don’t want other customers to know just how low they would go for a sale. I ended up buying multiple silk scarves for 75% off their initial asking price (which, p.s., is so ridiculously inflated to begin with), but Nic was the King of Haggling when he got the price of some really nice shirts down from €60 each to €15 for two.

They expect you to haggle

In fact, most merchants, shop keepers, and people holding garage sales usually mark up their prices in anticipation of eventually coming down in price. I mean, I’ve never paid asking price on something I’ve bought on Craigslist before, and I’ve also never sold anything at asking price either. When I sold concert tickets on Craigslist a few years ago, I marked up my asking price by $15 each, and I ended up selling them for about $5 more than what my true price was.

Act interested, but not too interested

Part of the game is to become friendly with the person selling what you want. Be relaxed, and ask questions about the item. Ask where it came from, what it’s made of, if it comes in other colours, etc. The key is to appear interested, but not too interested. Don’t let on that it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, and that you have to have it. You don’t even have to say the words, they can tell by the way you touch or look at the item.

I remember someone once telling me that as soon as you’ve handled the product, you get way more attached to it than if you keep it at a distance. So if I really like something, I’ll look at it, walk around (or even leave the store), then come back a while later after I’ve thought over the purchase, and how much I’m willing to pay for it.

Offer to pay in cash

Merchants have to pay a transaction fee whenever somebody makes a purchase with a credit card. Offer to pay for your purchase in cash – in exchange for a small discount equivalent to the transaction fee. This tactic worked well when shopping in tourist shops. In Greece, I was offered anywhere from 10% to 15% off on everything from fridge magnets to hand carved chess sets, as long as I paid in cash.

Point out the flaws

If there are flaws that can easily be fixed at home – like a shirt missing a button, or a small make-up smudge on the collar, pointing out the flaw to a sales clerk will usually result in a discount on the item. I’ve gotten anywhere from 5% to 15% off. Even if it’s something small as a bit of dirt on the bottom of a pair of shoes – a flaw is a flaw.

Most retailers will also offer discounts on floor models, demos, or returned items. Sometimes they’re put out with the regular stock, but identified with some sort of “return and inspected” sticker on it, but if you don’t see any on the floor, just ask a sales clerk if they have any in the back. Last year, I received a $120 discount on a video camera because I agreed to purchase one that had been previously returned, and a few years ago I was offered a $350 discount on a $1,200 laptop if I took the demo model.

Compare prices with other retailers

This seems pretty obvious, but make sure to comparison shop and research prices before haggling. If you can show a shop keeper or clerk that the same item is selling elsewhere for a lower price, they might match it. Comparison shopping works for everything from merchandise to internet and cable bills, to vacation packages.

Just ask

When it comes down to it, just being polite and asking for a bulk discount, or even a freebie thrown in can’t hurt. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but remember the worse thing they can say is no. And if they aren’t able to give you a discount, they might know if an upcoming sale that will give you the discount you’re looking for. Also, a smile on your face, and a sense of humour will go a long way.

Asking for discounts also works when you’re shopping online. A few years ago, I wanted to buy a watch I had seen in a department store. I went on eBay and found it for 30% off the retail price. Instead of bidding on a listing, I searched the completed auctions on eBay to find a listing that had ended recently but hadn’t sold (and also hadn’t been relisted). I then e-mailed the seller and offered to buy the watch from them directly through PayPal for 15% less than they had listed the watch on eBay. The seller agreed. I got what I wanted for an additional discount, and the seller didn’t have to bother with re-listing the item on eBay and having to pay eBay’s seller fees.

What has been your most successful haggling attempt?

About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, personal finance blogger, and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I'm a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner's Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I'm not working, you can usually find me running, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

8 comments

  1. Haggling is part of my blood. I hate paying full price unless it’s food. I’m know to splurge on food. I grew up going to garage sales, and because my parents didn’t speak english , I had to be the representative.

  2. I’m the opposite of SavvyFinancialLatina. I have a really hard time haggling. These are great tips to make it easier. I especially like the eBay completed auctions tip. That seems like a fantastic way to help a retailer unload product and score a sweet deal they didn’t think was going to happen.

  3. I don’t know if I’m just upright or of this is a cultural difference (I’m northern European) but I work in retail and detest when people try to haggle. In markets an garage sales, fine, but I have no authority to give people discounts, except of course for damaged goods like you also mention. But if people just ask for the hell of it, when nothing is wrong with the product it just puts me in an awkward position. I just have no authority or right to cut prices and sometimes people don’t seem to get that. Especially I dislike it when people seem to want to take advantage of me as young woman who people seem to expect can’t say no (this was especially true when I was a teenager).
    So that’s my weigh-in ;) but as I said, maybe sales staff have different rules in other places and if haggling is in the culture of course it’s fine.

  4. ebay provided protection when a seller doesn’t ship or isn’t truthful, so BE CAREFUL going directly to a seller!

  5. These are great tips and I know I DEFINITELY would need to work on my haggling skills. My mom is awesome at this and usually she does get the price down to some point. I’m not going to lie if I told you I was never embarrassed whenever she would try to haggle, but I guess if you don’t try, you won’t know.

  6. I hate haggling with a passion, but there are cases when it’s a good idea to do it and the sellers are not displeased when you do it. This is excellent advice, though. If I get to such a situation when I need to haggle, all these tips might help me get a better price.

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