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How to haggle to get the best bargains

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?

pennies young people

Credit: Khosro (foreground), Claudio Divizia (background) – Shutterstock

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 – that 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.

Fancy yourself a money-saving master? Check out our ultimate guide to saving money to see if you're missing any tricks!

What is haggling?

food market seller

Credit: Dennis Jarvis - Flickr

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 a little 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 know you have little disposable income. Even if pulling the 'poor student' card doesn't work, there's no harm in asking!

When and where is it ok to haggle?

joey friends confused

Credit: Warner Bros

You can haggle on pretty much anything you want, but you will find it works better in some environments rather than others.

There are no rules that state you categorically cannot haggle on particular items or in particular places, but 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 items 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 great 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?

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Credit: ITV Studios

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 increase tenfold if you show up right at the end of the day.

Haggling at the end a company's financial month or year should be your secret weapon. The end of the day on a Saturday (specifically the last Saturday of each month) 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 – summer hats and beachwear will be hagglable 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 phone insurance. Christmas is a quiet time for insurers as people are spending their cash elsewhere, but they still have targets to meet so they're way more likely to let you haggle prices down.

How to haggle and get the best price

We promise haggling 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!

These are our top tips for haggling and getting a discount:

  1. Come prepared and negotiate the price confidently

    ross friends stay motivated

    Credit: Warner Bros Television

    The key to successful haggling is confidence, and the best way to ensure you'll be convincing is if you come armed with research. In other words, know the market!

    Use price comparison websites or apps before you try haggling. This will give you an idea of how low a price you can barter for and allow you to play retailers off each other (even the high street ones).

    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 as they know they're competing with online sellers for your money!

We've got the best price comparison apps (plus lots more) in our top 15 best money-saving apps for students.
  1. Be friendly and build a rapport with the sales assistant

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    Credit: DreamWorks Pictures

    Avoid being rude or confrontational – remember that 'confidence' and 'arrogance' are not the same things (although often, admittedly, 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 but firm, cheeky and even a bit flirty if you can handle it – you do want them to like you, after all.

  2. Haggle with the right person

    april peep show sales assistant

    Credit: Objective Productions

    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 – just be 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 doesn't want to waste time listening to you haggle.

    Think before you approach them, as this decision could be the cruncher!

  3. Nevel reveal how much you're really willing to pay

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    Credit: Universal Pictures

    You should always have a maximum price in mind, but don't let the seller know what it is, otherwise there's no way they'll let you have it for any cheaper.

    Also, make sure you don't appear too keen. Telling a salesperson 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.

  4. Ask for a freebie (especially if you buy in bulk)

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    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 make your money go further. Offer to buy a few of the same 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!).

  5. Become a regular customer

    gossip girl blair shopping

    Credit: Warner Bros.

    As long as you keep on being charming 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 to increase your chances of a successful haggle.

    If the staff know you it'll make it 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 so often – a few pence here and there really does add up.

  6. Think about your language and tone

    peep show easy like a sonntag morgen

    Credit: Objective Productions

    Use language that'll help you secure a deal. Talk about how you're "thinking of" making a purchase but aren't quite sure.

    Don't feel like you have to fill the silences either. Awkward silences are good for mounting pressure and getting the sales assistant to give in!

    It's also worth thinking about body language. 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.

  7. Look for flaws in the product that could reduce the price

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    Look for small defects in items that don't really bother you but will lower the RRP: 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 as if it were brand spanking new.

    '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.

  8. Try the "I've got to check with" trick or walk away

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    Credit: Cash Money Records Inc

    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 around the block and when you get back, tell them you've got permission to spend slightly less than what they're offering.

    Don't be fooled into settling on a higher price either. The salesperson might come back saying that they can "only drop it so far", at which point they'll try and get you to settle at a price defined by their "manager" (sometimes this is the case, but not always!). Even if their manager has said they can't give it to you for any less than XYZ, make them go back and try again.

    And if that still doesn't work, don't be afraid to walk away. Chances are you'll be able to find your treasure at the right price elsewhere!

  9. Look out for already discounted and clearance items

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    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.

    If a price tag ends in 1, 7 or 8 (so £9.81, £180.08, etc.) it's either a discontinued or serious clearance item that they're likely desperate to get rid of.

    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.

  10. Ask for a warranty

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    Credit: Go Compare

    When it comes to electrical items, a great way to wangle a discount is to pretend you want a warranty with it.

    As salespeople 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!

  11. Haggle with customer services via online chats

    student with laptop

    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.

  12. Go to the shop with cash in hand

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    Credit: Paramount Pictures

    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.

    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.

These loyalty cards will get you the best reductions on your food shopping, eating out, beauty products and more!

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