How to haggle like a pro
Go to markets around the world and you'll find it hard to resist the excitement of haggling. So why do we find it so hard to haggle when we're at home?
As much as we all love the culture of online deals and will happily go to the most ridiculous lengths to blag a freebie, for some reason us Brits seem to cringe at the thought of haggling for a better deal on our purchases.
We've learned over the years – both from personal experience and from the success stories Save the Student readers have told us – you can save £100s on items like TVs and washing machines on the high street just by having some gumption and haggling with your seller using techniques like the ones in this article.
If you're up for learning, we're here to show you the haggle ropes! Don't forget to let us know how you get on with it too – we're always keen to hear about your haggle experiences.
What's on this page?
What is haggling?
You can save yourself a fortune by taking part in some clever (and polite!) haggling, and the first step is to get over the misconception that it's impolite or cheeky.
While some people might suggest it's somewhat embarrassing to barter down the price of a flatscreen TV, the law says that until money has changed hands in a shop, no contract on a price has been agreed.
This means that regardless of what's on the price tag, there's no fixed and final price until cash has been exchanged between seller and customer – you can choose to offer a different value than what's on the price tag and the seller can choose whether or not to accept it.
Remember that there's nothing stingy about it either – just ask! It's nothing personal; it's business. The worst that can happen is they'll say “Sorry, that's the best price I can do” and you get the item for the original price anyway.
As far as students are concerned, there's even more reason to try and bargain with sellers, as they'll know you have little disposable income. Even if pulling the poor student card doesn't work, there's certainly no harm in asking!
When and where is it acceptable to haggle?
To put it simply, you can haggle on pretty much anything you want, but you will find it works better in some environments than others.
There are no rules that state you categorically cannot haggle on particular items or in particular places, but it's true that you might need to use your judgement to decide whether it's appropriate or not on a case-by-case basis.
We've heard success stories on loads of high value items such as electronics or jewellery, as well as a wide range of services like phone contracts, internet services and insurance (these being the most flexible and easiest to haggle on).
But don't just think of the big things when haggling – you can also pick up bargains on smaller things like clothing, your morning coffee or even your taxi ride home!
While you might think the best place to haggle would be at an independent retailer or market (and it's true, you can get some banging deals in these situations as they have the authority to knock down prices themselves), don't forget about high street stores too.
There will be someone in the building who's got the authority to drop the price a bit for you and sort you out with a good deal. You might even find that high street stores are willing to drop their prices even further than independent retailers too, as they have a bigger profit margin than smaller retailers.
When's the best time to haggle?
The basic rule is that you should haggle on items whenever the demand for them is falling and sellers just want to get rid of the stock.
Always wait until the store is quiet – no one is going to waste time bartering with you if there are loads of other customers who are willing to pay full price hanging around.
The end of the day is always the best time to appear with your haggle hat on, particularly at markets as they're keen to shift any stock they have left over before packing up.
This could of course mean you miss out on items sold earlier in the day, but your chances of getting a great price at a market increases ten-fold if you show up right at the end of the day.
End of day on a Saturday, specifically the last Saturday of each month, should be marked with a gold star on every avid haggler's calendar, as this is when the people in charge will be trying to meet financial targets so are likely to lower prices in order to make a sale.
It's also worth thinking seasonally with your haggling too – summer hats and beachwear will be hagglable (yup, looks like we just invented a word!) in winter and Christmas goods will go for pennies in March, so think ahead (or behind, whichever you prefer).
Christmas is also the perfect time to start haggling for non-Christmassy things like buying a car or paying for life insurance. Christmas is a quiet time for insurers, but they still have targets to meet so they're way more likely to let you haggle prices down when the nation is focussing on spending their cash on Christmas pressies!
How to haggle like a pro
Now let's take a closer look at the art of haggling itself. We promise it isn't as scary as it might seem, and it's worth knowing that haggling is actually a lot more common than you probably think – some stores even have it written into their policy!
Sales people are used to having customers try to get a better price on their purchases, so they shouldn't be shocked if you chance your arm.
Here's our top tips for getting it right!
The key to successful haggling is confidence, and the best way to ensure you'll be convincing is if you come armed with research.
Use price comparison websites or apps to find out the market price before you try haggling so you can work out how low a price to barter for. You can also use evidence of your items being cheaper elsewhere by showing them the price comparison results and ask them to “price match”.
It's pretty rare that a price match request will be turned down in stores, particularly as brick-and-mortar shops feel threatened by the prices available online, so are likely to want to beat them.
Build a rapport
Avoid being rude or confrontational – remember that ‘confidence' and ‘arrogance' are not the same thing (although often, admittedly, sometimes the line can be a thin one!).
No one wants to strike a deal or do any favours for someone who comes across rude or intimidating – the key is to charm your seller so that they find it difficult to say “no”.
Research has found that British people are particularly bad at saying “no” as they consider it impolite, meaning the odds are on your side! Use this to your advantage.
Be friendly, cheeky and even a bit flirty if you can handle it – you do want them to like you, after all.
Ask the ‘right' person
There's no point in chatting to a sales assistant if they're in no position to be able to offer you a deal.
Get your hawk eyes out and hunt for someone who looks like they're in a position of authority – but careful not to go too senior. A Supervisor will have enough authority to lower prices in order to make a sale, but a Manager has more to worry about and probably isn't so fussed about wasting time listening to you haggle.
Think before you approach them, as this decision could be the cruncher!
Never state your budget
You should always have a maximum price in mind, but don't let the seller know what that is, otherwise there's no way they'll let you have it for any lower than your max.
Also, make sure you don't appear to keen. Telling a sales person you're “absolutely in love” with an item is only going to make them feel confident that they'll make the sale regardless of whether they give you a discount or not. Remember – play it cool, ok? At the point of sale ask
I’d like to buy this, but it’s quite a bit more than I'd expected to pay.
Wait for their response rather than forcing the negotiation yourself. Always ask for more of a discount than you’d be happy with, as you're more likely to end up with a compromise somewhere in the middle that's closer to what you were after.
For example, if you're looking to get 10% off, ask for 15%. It’s the whole “meet me in the middle” psychology.
Think in terms of value rather than price
Remember that haggling isn't just about lowering prices, it's also about getting more bang for your buck. For example, a seller might be hesitant about cutting prices (or might not even have the authority to do so), but that doesn't mean they won't be happy to upgrade your purchase by throwing in a lil something for free, so make sure you go in with a plan B.
If you're buying a new computer, ask them to throw in some free insurance or accessories to upgrade your spending. It doesn't hurt to ask, and sellers will often see this as a compromise.
Buying in bulk is also a great way to get more value out of your spending. Offer to buy a few of the one product for a discounted price, then either sell them on online or dish them out to family and friends (at a suitable price so the haggle was worth the hassle, of course!).
Become a regular
As long as you keep your charm up (see point two for more on this!) and don't make a point of haggling every single time you walk through the door (otherwise, you might notice staff dispersing at the sight of you!), being a frequent customer can be a great way of increasing your chances of haggle success.
If the sellers know you it will make it way more difficult for them to say “no”, so use your friendly charm to make them feel confident that giving you a discount will work in their favour – if they turn you down they risk losing a loyal customer, and they know this.
This also works when it comes to smaller daily expenses like your lunches or morning coffees. If you go to the same place every day, ask for a double shot of espresso for free since you're in every day – a few pence here and there really does add up.
Think about your language
Try and use language that will help you secure a deal. Talk about how you're “thinking of” making a purchase but aren't quite sure. If you're clearly in love with an item, they know you'll pay the market price regardless, so be cautious of this.
It's also worth thinking about body language as well as the verbal stuff. According to research, the best way to play the body language game is to mimic the body language of the seller – if they lean forward confidently, you do the same, but if they back off and seem distant, don't intimidate them by trying to lean in further.
Most importantly – try to keep eye contact! This is the most engaging thing you can do and works wonders at building trust.
Look for weaknesses
Look for small defects in items, that don't really bother you but will mean that the item isn't of the same standard as other items (display or ex-display items are best for this as they tend to have at least a little wear and tear).
This is likely to make it pretty easy for a seller to offer you a discount, as technically it shouldn't be sold at the same price.
‘Flaws' could be anything from a small dent or scratch on an electrical item or a slight stain on clothing. You'll still be able to get a refund if something else goes wrong, because you haven't made the purchase with that exact flaw in mind.
If you're concerned about this, ask a staff member to write on your receipt exactly what the discount was for and have them sign it as proof.
Try the “I've got to check” trick
A nifty trick to help you save a little extra is to say you have to call your flatmate or your other half to check how much you're “allowed” to spend as it's a joint purchase.
Go for a walk round the block and when you get back, tell them you've got permission to spend slightly less than what they're offering. This option is a winner as, like them, you're saying you'd like to offer them more but it's not in your power. Play them at their own game!
Look out for weird price tags
The easiest items to haggle on are those that are already discounted.
In addition to items that are in sales sections or have discount stickers on them, the final digit on a price tag reveals a whole lot more about a product's status than you perhaps realise.
If a price tag ends in 1, 7 or 8 (so £9.81, £180.08, etc.) it's either a discontinued item or serious clearance that they're likely to be desperate to get rid of (even if it's not made explicitly clear that it's on sale).
Therefore, zoom in on any items with these sorts of prices and get your haggle on! There's way more flexibility with offering discounts on clearance items so these price tags are gold.
Ask for a warranty
When it comes to electrical items, a great way to wangle a discount is to pretend you want a warranty with it.
As sales people have targets to meet with how many warranties they sell, they're likely to offer you a better price if you plan to pay to take a warranty with it.
The best part is, you're allowed to cancel your warranty up to 45 days after purchasing, so you're not committed to sticking with the warranty after you've got your discount. Cheeky!
Become a keyboard haggler
This is a particularly good tip for anyone who finds haggling awkward! We all have a tendency to push boundaries a bit more when behind the safety of a computer or smartphone screen, right?
When shopping online, have a look for a live chat window and strike up a conversation with your online customer service rep. If this isn't available, ping customer service an email.
Use phrases like “I want to buy this but my budget can't stretch to £x. Do you know when it will be in the sale?” or “I used a 20% off code but it didn't work”.
More often than not, you'll find that whoever is on the other end of the chat will be happy to offer you a new code or discount. They know how close you are to making that purchase, so a small online discount is nothing to them if it means securing that sale and keeping you happy.
Pay in cash
We know this point doesn't fit so well in a world where all payments are going digital, but if you're serious about haggling we recommend turning up with cash in your pocket.
There's something in the psychology of a seller seeing hard cash in front of them that makes it more likely they'll buckle – it's instant cash in the till and they'll be able to save on credit card fees.
Have you got any tips we've haven't mentioned? We'd love to know – and make sure to tell us how you get on with your haggling!