Haggling, also known as bargaining, is a form of negotiation two parties engage in when trying to come to an equitable agreement for the price of goods or services. In most parts of the world, haggling is a way of life. It’s not as popular here in the United States as it is in other countries, but that’s quickly changing. It may have taken us a bit longer to catch up to Europe and the rest of the world, but Americans are beginning to realize the advantages of negotiating for a lower price.
Haggling is a skill that takes time to develop. Some might even consider it an art form. However, once you have a firm grasp on how it works, you’ll discover how rewarding — and even enjoyable — haggling for a lower price can be.
The Art of Negotiation: Tips for Scoring the Best Deals & Prices
Ready to start saving? Follow these tips to become an excellent negotiator and get the best deals on your purchases.
Do Your Research
Half the work of successful negotiation happens before you ever step foot in the store. Do your homework ahead of time to set yourself up for success.
1. Know What You Want
Specificity is key to successful negotiation. Never go into a situation planning to browse around and choose what you want on the spot before negotiating a great deal. Figure out exactly what you want — down to the brand, model, color, size, and other specifics — before you even leave home.
Being sure of what you want helps you make informed decisions throughout the negotiation process. It also gives you an aura of confidence and knowledgeability that may influence the sales person to open with a lower price.
2. Know the Item’s Retail Value
Look up the price listing for your target item at a variety of stores to determine an accurate price range. Take note of whether it’s a bestseller or something that seems to be selling more slowly, and peruse buyer reviews in the comments sections of the product pages online.
Using this information, have a realistic target price range in mind. It’s reasonable to aim for a 10% to 30% price reduction, but looking for a 50% to 60% discount on an item is not likely to be well-received.
3. Shop Around
In addition to your online research, take the time to visit similar stores in the same areas and ask questions about your item. Hopefully, you can find a chatty salesperson who will give you vital information. For example, perhaps the item hasn’t been selling well lately, or there’s a glut of inventory on the product. Any amount of information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, can help in your negotiations.
4. Know the Best Time to Haggle
Figure out when a store is least likely to be busy. Consult Google Maps’ visit data for a location to see when the store is typically empty. You may even want to consider taking an unconventional lunch break one day and going when most people are at work.
Also, plan to negotiate at the right time of the year. If an item you seek is seasonal, look to buy it at the end of the season. Another great time for negotiation on most products is right after Christmas, when the holiday rush is over and stores have seen an increase in returns. Especially if you’re willing to take an open-box item, you have a higher chance of scoring a lower price.
5. Negotiate With the Right Person
You want to deal with someone who has a certain amount of authority. Managers, supervisors, or senior sales personnel usually have the power to offer you a deal, so don’t waste your time trying to haggle with a sales clerk. Do your research ahead of time to figure out who you should speak to.
6. Understand the Salesperson
Once you know who you’re going to be speaking with, try to find opportunities to observe them before you approach them yourself. This information can potentially help you judge how open they are to lowering the price and to what degree they will reduce it.
Make a separate visit to the store and observe how they behave at their job and how they react to other customers. If you’re able to catch another customer bargaining with them, that’s a golden opportunity to gain insight.
7. Consider the Venue
In most cases, the prices in large department stores are fixed, whereas smaller stores and family-owned shops are more conducive to haggling. The same principle applies to service industries. For example, you probably won’t be able to haggle with the man from the cable company, but self-employed contractors are more likely to be open to a bargain.
Sometimes, larger stores can be persuaded into a better deal, especially if their salespeople work on commission, in which case they usually have at least some leeway in adjusting the final price of an item. Large furniture stores and car dealerships are two examples of bigger retailers where deals are still possible.
Once you’ve done your research, prep a few things ahead of time to increase your likelihood of success.
8. Dress Strategically
Everyone wants to look good, but if you go looking for deals dressed like money is no object, the salesperson may be less inclined to lower the price. You might think they won’t notice, but experienced salespeople are trained to be extremely observant.
You want to look polished, but avoid expensive brand names and accessories. If you dress down while still appearing put together, this will leave them guessing as to what you can and can’t afford.
9. Bring a Friend
They say there’s safety in numbers, but when it comes to haggling, there’s strength in numbers as well. Bringing a friend along can put the salesperson at a subtle disadvantage that will make them more likely to agree to your terms.
If you’re alone, another trick that works similarly is calling a friend on your cell phone for advice while you’re in the store. Many times, the salesperson would rather come down slightly in price than risk losing the sale.
10. Bring Your Smartphone
You should have most of your primary research done already, but having the ability to verify claims on the fly can be essential to the bargaining process. If a salesperson claims their price is the lowest available, you may know that’s a lie, but the only way to verify it is to pull up a lower price on your phone.
11. Be Pleasant and Relaxed
Even if you do have to whip out your phone to catch a salesperson with an unverified claim, be prepared to do so without ever abandoning your pleasant, relaxed demeanor. If you’re nervous, edgy, or confrontational, the salesperson will pick up on this and be more likely to clam up without giving you a deal. If you have a hard time being charismatic while handling difficult or confrontational conversations, ask a friend to help you practice by roleplaying different scenarios.
12. Set a Budget and Stick to It
Have a budget in mind when you leave the house, and once you leave the house, don’t alter it no matter how much terms may shift during the negotiation process.
If the salesperson makes an offer that’s above your budget but sounds too good to resist, ask if you can come back the following day after running the numbers against the rest of your expenses. If they say no, that’s a sign the deal may actually be a trick in disguise and you’re better off turning it down.
Use These Strategies
As you’re in the process of bargaining with a salesperson, these are some strategies and tricks you can use to lower the price.
13. Ask for a Deal on Multiple Items
You may not be able to get a salesperson to come down on the price of an individual item, but if you’re interested in more than one purchase, you may be able to get a lower price by bundling them. Often, the opportunity to sell two or more things can incentivize a salesperson to lower the individual prices of each item slightly.
Just be sure you’ve done your math and are certain you’re getting a good deal. There’s no point in getting a discount on item A if you’re going to overpay for item B.
14. Point Out Defects
This is one of the few negotiation tactics that can also work in large department stores where bargaining usually isn’t on the table. If a piece of clothing has a tear and you know you could mend it on your own, bring it to the cashier and ask if they’re willing to give you the clearance price (since that’s likely where the item will end up otherwise anyway).
This can also work if you’re willing to accept a refurbished or store model item instead of a sealed product. If the store is nearing the end of its run on a product, they may be willing to sell the store model at a lower price since it will have some wear and tear from being on display.
15. Show Disinterest
Never show the salesperson how much you want the item. Don’t let any facial expressions give away your true feelings or intentions for the purchase. Remember, you’re up against someone who does this day in and day out. If you show the slightest bit of enthusiasm for the purchase you’re about to make, the salesperson will pick up on this.
16. Be Assertive
Be assertive without being rude or aggressive — a sense of pleasant, self-assured confidence will go a long way. Maintain eye contact, avoid any potential nervous tics, and don’t be afraid to show you’ve done your research. The more authority you project, the more seriously a salesperson will take you.
17. Be Willing to Walk Away
When you reach an impasse in the negotiation, you have to consider walking away. Unless it’s a truly unique item, most likely you will find it or something similar elsewhere.
Thank the salesperson, walk away, and don’t look back. When it becomes clear you’re really leaving, they may stop you and offer an even lower price rather than risk losing the deal.
Don’t try to fake this — salespeople are exceptionally good at calling this bluff.
18. Show Hesitation
People who’ve already decided they want something don’t hesitate. If you hesitate while bargaining, you’re signalling to the salesperson that you’ll walk away if the deal isn’t good enough. Pausing to contemplate demonstrates to the salesperson that you need to be convinced, motivating them to find ways to incentivize you to buy.
19. Be Comfortable With Silence
When the salesperson goes into a well-practiced sales pitch, staying quiet is a good way to shake their confidence. When you don’t talk, they have no idea what’s going through your mind. Lacking any information about you forces them to consider the initial bargaining price carefully. More often than not, they will set the initial price low to avoid scaring you off.
20. Make Them Set the Price
One of the first things a salesperson will try to gauge is how much you’re willing to spend on the item in question. They may even try to get you to start with an opening bid. This is unwise and should be avoided at all costs.
Along with this, never tell a salesperson your budget. Once they know what you’re willing to spend, they’ll make sure you spend it — even if they would have been willing to set a lower price.
Avoid Haggling Faux Pas
The tips above cover strategies you should add to your negotiation approach. There are also some common negotiation mistakes you should be sure to avoid.
21. Don’t Rush
Rushing automatically places you at a disadvantage because it lets the salesperson know where you stand. If you rush over to an item when you enter a store, it tips them off that you want it very much. If you rush the process of negotiating, it tells them you’re likely willing to settle for less of a discount in order to save time. Slow, relaxed movement and conversation gives you the most leverage to bargain with.
22. Don’t Be Arrogant or Condescending
In a lively session of haggling, tempers can sometimes flare. Always keep your cool, and avoid becoming offended and offending the salesperson. You want to make clear that you’re knowledgeable and have done your homework, but you should avoid talking down to the salesperson or acting like a know-it-all. Maintaining a calm, confident, and pleasant demeanor will set you up for success.
23. Don’t Take Things Personally
If your negotiation attempt doesn’t go well, that’s OK. Negotiation is a skill that requires practice — you’re bound to get it wrong the first few times around. That’s why it’s so important to be willing to walk away and try again at a different store or with a different item.
Additionally, if things do get heated while you’re haggling, try not to take anything personally. If you slip up and lose your cool, then cut your losses, thank the salesperson, and end the interaction. Learning to manage your emotions takes time, and with practice, you’ll be a pro negotiator in no time.
It’s up to you how hard you want to haggle. Some people get so good at negotiation they almost consider it a sport, while others take a more casual approach. The key is remembering you have nothing to lose — unless you insult the seller or cause a scene, no salesperson is ever going to refuse to sell you an item just because you tried to negotiate the price first.
So give it a shot! You might be surprised at what kind of things you can negotiate, from standard retail items to medical bills to credit card fees and beyond. You might get to keep a few extra bucks, or you could score a steeply discounted sale. You never know unless you try!