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."