If you Don’t Ask, you Don’t Get – a Guide to Haggling

Oct 28

We’re a little bit afraid of haggling in this country – most of us find it all a bit awkward and think it’s rude. Which is a shame really, because that’s exactly how the big retailers want you to feel. The truth is that you don’t have to be a smooth-talking salesman to be able to do it, and it’s not just market stalls and independent retailers that are willing to give out discounts. Research from Money Saving Expert has shown that famous retailers like B&Q, Asda and Debenhams are in fact prepared to negotiate prices.

Here are 10 top haggling tips from the pros:

1. Do your homework!

So you’ve decided what you want to buy. Before you even step foot in the store, do your research first. Go online and find out what other retailers are charging for the product you want. Ask friends and family if they’ve ever bought anything similar, and if so how much they paid. You need to know exactly what you want and how much you want to pay for it.

2. Play it cool, but be nice

Being aggressive and demanding isn’t going to get you anywhere – the shop assistant is going to feel a lot more generous if you are friendly and can work-up a good rapport with them. It is possible to strike the right balance between being firm about what you want, whilst still being friendly and polite.

Also, don’t give the game away! Your freezer may have just packed-in and your ice cream may be melting as we speak, but don’t tell that to the shop assistant. If they know that you’re absolutely desperate for a new freezer, you’ve lost a lot of your bargaining power. Why should they give you a discount now? –  they know you’re going to buy it anyway. So play it cool (pardon the pun!).

3. Don’t be afraid of the silence

Some people are terrible at this. Make an offer, then keep your mouth closed until they respond. There may be a long pause – that’s fine, don’t give in. Tell them how much you want to pay, then don’t say another word until they either agree or make a counter-offer. Then, and only then, may you open your mouth and make your next move. If you just can’t fight the urge to fill the awkward silence, try practicing with a friend or family member beforehand.

4. Speak to the boss

In certain stores, the regular sales assistants don’t have the authority to give out discounts. If this is the case, politely ask if you can speak to their supervisor or manager instead.

5. Ask them to throw something in for free (great for first-time hagglers)

If it’s your first attempt at haggling and you feel too cheeky asking for money off, then this is an easy starting point. Ask for a free cable to go with your new TV, a free cover to go with your new phone, a free pair of shoes to go with your new suit – you get the idea. If it means they get to make a sale, what’s the harm in throwing in a small, inexpensive item?

Sometimes sales assistants will claim that they’re not allowed to give discounts – asking for a little freebie instead is a great tactic for getting around this.

6. Think about what’s in it for them?

Why should the shop assistant give you a discount? Maybe it’s the middle of winter and the shop has a load of barbecues they can’t get rid of. Perhaps it’s July and they’ve got a bunch of winter coats they can’t shift. Or maybe there’s just one item left preventing them from filling the shelf with new stock. If you can do them a favour by taking these difficult-to-sell items off their hands, it puts you in the position of power and you could secure a big discount.

7. Buy in bulk

This is another good one for people who don’t like simply asking for money-off. Ask if they’re willing to give you a few pounds off for buying in bulk. If you a have a friend who was also planning on buying the same item, then go in and buy together.

8. Look for damaged or flawed items

A table with a couple of scratches, a pair of jeans with a mark on them, or a toy in a damaged box – these are all items that are difficult to sell, which equals discounts for you. Ex-display items are great for this. Even if the item has already been reduced, it can’t hurt to ask for an extra little discount anyway. If you buy a faulty item, remember that you still have the right to return it if something else goes wrong.

9. Look for items that are already reduced

If the store have reduced an item – say for example they’ve knocked 20% off a wardrobe – this indicates that they are eager to get rid of it. They’ve already given up on the idea of selling it for full price, which makes it ripe for haggling. Right at the end of a sale is a brilliant time to do this (see point number 6).

10. Know your limits

Have your ‘walk away’ price in mind, and don’t be afraid to say no thanks and leave if you can’t get the price you wanted (see point 1). After all it’s their loss, not yours!

As you may have noticed there’s a recession going on, meaning that shops are more hungry for sales than ever, and selling a product to you at a discounted rate is better than no sale at all. We also live in the communication age, meaning that we have more choice than ever and a greater ability to compare prices. So go out and give these tips a try, and good luck!


Sam Burgon writes about personal finance for Gladstone Brookes Money Club.