Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 24 November 2008

How to behave in a recession: haggling

I am the world's most unsuccessful haggler. I just want to hand over my money and get out of there. I have never asked for a better price (or an airline upgrade, for that matter) and got one. With the exception of the rug bazaar in Isfahan, Iran, where if you offered to pay the asking price they would make you a higher offer out of habit.

And so I am delighted to see this piece in which the author suffers a series of failures:

Nearby, John Lewis is full of customers in anoraks staring at rails of anoraks, but still I scent blood. It was reported last week that the store's sales are down 9.7% on last year. In the rug department, a man detaches himself from a silent group of salesmen. I express interest in a beautiful, pale pink rug with a big flower on it. It is £500. Will he take an offer? I heard sales were down; in fact, the sales in this particular store were down 9.1% last week. "We are not a concession store," the man replies. "We do not accept offers. The price is the price." I feel as if they will talk about me in rugs when I am gone. And, for the first time ever, I feel sad in John Lewis.

Selfridges is stuffed full of shoppers too. They are everywhere, like materialistic bacteria, grabbing handbags, stroking shoes. I ask for 25% off bags in Dior and Gucci. "No. Never. No," the women say. The lovely bags are whisked away, as if the grubby discount seeker will soil their perfection. So I corner Peppe in the Vivienne Westwood concession. "If I see anything I like," I say politely, gesturing at all the Westwoods, "would you be able to knock anything off? Maybe 20%?" "No," he says. 10%? "No." 5%? "No." It isn't acceptable to bargain in the UK," he says. "Try Italy."

"Haggling is just another form of negotiating," says clinical psychologist Cecelia d'Felice. "If you go in with the feeling that this is a difficult negotiation that will cause you embarrassment and loss of face if you fail, you will feel rejected if you do fail." And so? "Don't take a firm position, such as 'I want 20% off'," she says, "because they will immediately assume a firm position to combat it and you will be in conflict." And conflict, she says, breeds shame.

"Follow your interests instead," she suggests. "See it as a chat. 'Isn't this a nice dress? Has it been in long? I can't afford it. What a shame.'" She pauses. "Establish a narrative and build a relationship with them. Then you will have common ground you can cover." The British are, apparently, lousy negotiators. "We are so trained not to lose face and our society is so geared up to everything being right or wrong that we don't understand that it is fun to play games. And women in our society are supposed to give everything away in our role as nurturers. We are looked down on if we ask for more."



Charles Lambert said...

My partner refuses to take me to flea markets with him, on the grounds that I side with the seller and actually push the prices up. I suspect he's right.

Anne (in Reno) said...

I used to work in a retail store in the U.S. and people would always come in and ask if I could give them deals or discounts. I think very few clerks in smaller stores are actually able to do that (I didn't actually know HOW to). Bigger stores that have more sales and discounts regularly might be a different story, though.

Duchesse said...

I often ask if there's an upcoming sale planned,adding,"I live here". Occasionally the response is, "No, but I can do x% on that."

And don;t forget the other side of the coin, salespeople who use transparently manipulative tactics like "That's the last one I have. and they are flying out of the store."

greying pixie said...

My Italian mother brought me up to always ask for a discount if paying in cash. Of course you need to know when and when not to ask, eg. size of shop, if you are speaking with the manager, owner, etc. It's amazing what the power of real money can do!

I guess we now live in the age of plastic, so we have forgotten the art of barter. But I think it was a way of life for generations.

metscan said...

Yes G.Pixie, my hb uses the same tactics too. He asks what is the real price if he will pay cash. He usually gets what he is buying with a discount. I have always thought that acting his way is somewhat shameful,but the times I have offered cash,it works for me too. I recommend!

Mae Travels said...

I have a friend whose first foreign words to learn for any country she travels to are "Is that your best price?"

This question has worked for her in amazing places. (I've tried it occasionally and it worked for me, and I'm no haggler.) Whether the answer is "our prices are exactly as marked" or "we can do better" nobody loses face -- you can still buy it without feeling defeated, and the sales clerks don't seem to lose face either.

There was an experiment in Paris some years ago in which they learned that you can bargain in completely unexpected places, if you dress to the level of the shop.

George S said...

My father's Hungarian way at 70+ was to go up to the girl on the cold meat counter at the supermarket and say, "How beautiful you are looking today. You're not going to charge me £X.Y for that slice of ham, are you?"

It helps if you have a markedly foreign accent.

Elaine said...

The only time I successfully negotiated a discount was the time I wasn't actually trying. It was a leather jacket that was so far out of my price range that I had no business even thinking about it. I made multiple visits to the store and would take a desultory look at all the merchandise but mostly I'd look at the coat.The owner finally offered me a discount, either out of pity or because she was tired of looking at me looking at the coat. It was still out of my price range but I felt like I had to buy it anyway so I lived on cornflakes and water for months. I never went back into the store after that because I was so embarrassed.

So I suppose you try staring longingly and sighing loudly when the owner is nearby but I doubt it will work if you're shopping for a mattress or car battery.

Marti said...

In a larger store or chain you need to talk to the right person. I recently bought a leather jacket for my son as a gift. When I got it home I noticed that the zipper pull was missing. I could fix it but I wanted to see what I could do. First I called the store to see if there was another one. I was left on hold. Then I went back to the store to check the stock personally. There were none in his size. The clerk said that all he could do was take it back.

Next I went to the office and asked for the manager. I explained the problem, told him about the phone call and asked him if there was anything that he could do for me. He offered me 10% (which was more than the repair would have cost). Moral: If you don't ask you don't get, but be reasonable and be polite.

Deja Pseu said...

Having worked many years ago as a low-level sales clerk in a department store, it was my experience that no one below a floor manager had the authority to deviate from marked prices. So it could be that the sales associate you're trying to haggle with really can't negotiate. Ask for a department manager.

desertwind said...

I think Elaine is right on. It's only when you're "not really trying" that it seems to work.

I can haggle when I'm in a playful mood and it's for something I want but don't really need.

Of course, necessity when I was a starving vagabond bumming around the UK and Europe in the 25 years ago had me haggling over food. It's amazing how much a young (and cute!) girl can get away with.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sales associate in for a chain retailer and we are never allowed to give people discounts, and were someone to ask me for my floor manager during the very busy holiday season just so they could try to save 10 or 5%, I would probably laugh at them (at least in my head).