How to Bargain

A Begginer's Guide

howtobargainBargaining, or haggling, is an acquired skill not possessed by everyone. Those who do possess it, often love it and enjoy every opportunity to use it to get a better deal. For those who don’t possess it, the whole world of bargaining is a mysterious, confusing, and intimidating one, filled with traps and pitfalls and people saying "no haggle". Bargaining and haggling may seem like, and actually sort of is, a secret club with a secret culture, language, code, and set of laws. Stepping into that world when you’re not familiar with its code is a daunting and awkward prospect. Mess things up and you may offend the person you’re trying to deal with, embarrass yourself, get taken advantage of or miss out on a smart bargain and a good haggle price. Never fear however, with a bit of education and practice you can soon be dickering, bartering, and negotiating with the best of them. 

The Concept of Bargaining

Bargaining is all about getting a good deal of course, but the concept needs to be understood at a deeper level in terms of what is really going on. The goal of bargaining is to negotiate an exchange whereas you obtain what you are wanting at the lowest price or terms that the other party will possibly agree to. The trick to being able to haggle successfully is to find out what the lowest possible price is for the person you are dealing with. Why is this a trick? It’s a trick because the other person will not simply come out and tell you their lowest possible price, or “bottom dollar”. Sure you can just come out and ask them and they may give you a figure but the true answer is only to be found in the process of bargaining.

How to Successfully Bargain For the Best Deal

The following tips are for the buyer. Understand that the seller is by default in the controlling position, since he is the one with the goods. Your goal as the buyer is to manipulate the situation, or even reveal the situation as it may actually exist, to be one where you are in the controlling position, having money to spend on an item that a seller is desperate to get rid of. If you want to haggle successfully as a seller on the other hand, then you also need to understand these same tips for the buyer and basically counter them  from the other side of the table.

1. Make sure you are in a bargaining situation.

garagesaleThere’s nothing quite as embarrassing as trying to haggle in a situation where haggling is not done. This will get you looks of disapproval and even disgust and may make you feel cheap. As for what is a bargaining situation, the most obvious and what is really under consideration in this article involves the garage sale, the yard sale, the flea market, the pawn shop, and any personal trade involving used items that takes place between people meeting up through Craigslist or a classified ad. Generally speaking, the larger retail stores do not  bargain, especially for smaller tag items.  Some major department stores have policies against bargaining and the floor salesman will rarely be authorized to do it. Usually the kind of bargaining to be found in a retail store will involve electronics and require the involvment of a manger. The car buying world of course involves a lot of bargaining but has it’s own rules peculiar to itself and won't really be dealt with in this article. Again we are more focused in this article on smaller, individual trades.

2. Determine how much you are willing to pay.

Regardless of the asking price, whenever you want to buy an item, decide, before you begin to bargain,  your top dollar, that is, how much you are willing to pay for it, then keep that figure a secret. The person you are trying to trade with will have the goal of figuring out what that number is but you should never, ever, come out and reveal it. Make him work for  it, and work hard, so hard that he will give up trying and agree to a lower price. Understand, at the same time, the same game will be taking place in reverse. The seller will have an absolute low price in mind that you will have to work hard to find out. 

3. Determine how willing you are to walk away.

To get a good deal through bargaining you have to at least appear willing to walk away at any time. You must never, ever let on that you simply must have the item being sold. If you do then the seller will be in the driver's seat and be able to insist on a higher (much higher)  price. Instead you need to appear hesitant about the item you are wanting,  giving an impression that you are only casually interested and that you can take it or leave it. You want to give the impression that you can only be sold the item if the seller is willing to make a really great deal, otherwise you have no use for it.

bargaining4. Talk the item down.

Don’t offer high praises for the item being sold. Pick on it a bit, noting it’s age, scratches, wear and tear, etc. You want to influence the seller to think that his or her product is inferior and that no one will want it. Of course that’s not always possible, depending on what he has to sell, but inasmuch as it is possible you want him to feel like you would be doing him a favor to take it off his hands.  

5. Hint about better deals around the corner.

Give the impression to the buyer, preferably without outright lying, that you are aware of others selling the same item or same sort of item and at a better price. This is the same tactic in reverse that a used car salesman employs when he speaks of other potential buyers waiting to buy the same car you are looking at. It gives a certain urgency to the deal, that you will miss out if you don’t accept the current offer and some other guy will snag the deal instead. Apply pressure when bargaining, never succumb to it.

6. Offer substantially less than your top dollar.

Whatever you offer to pay, the seller will try to force you up in price. This is understood by both parties so you want to make sure you have plenty of room to go up, but not too high. For example, if the item being sold has an asking price of $10, and you’re not willing to pay more than $7, don’t offer $7, or even $5 or $6. Instead offer maybe $3 or $4. Some hagglers will offer a ridiculously low price at first, like 50 cents. This can be offensive to the seller however and make him not take you seriously or even want to talk. Instead offer a low, but not an absurd amount. By offering a substantially lower price than you are willing to pay, your actual top dollar may sound a lot more reasonable in comparison. You want the seller to feel like your top dollar may have been $5 but that he was clever in getting you to go up to $7, when in reality that’s what you had in mind all along. Even better of course is if you are able to strike a deal lower than  your top dollar. Once again however, realize that all along the seller will be playing the same game with you in reverse, trying to make you feel like you’re getting the better of him when in reality you’re actually agreeing to pay more than he was willing to take. This is what can make the bargaining game so interesting, fun, yet daunting.

7. Show the money.

hagglingUnless you’re working on a deal that involves thousands of dollars, having the cash you are offering to pay, visibly in hand, can greatly motivate a seller. This takes your offer out of the hypothetical realm and into the realm of a visible, nearly done deal. If he’s asking $30 for example but you are offering $20, having a $20 bill in your hand, ready to be handed over, can sometimes just be too much for a seller to resist. Warning: Never, ever, have more than you are willing to pay in hand, as this will show the seller that you can readily pay more. Another tactic, again without outright lying, would be to indicate that the money you have in hand is all that you have on you so that it's clearly a take it or leave it deal.

And Now You’re Ready

However, there’s no substitute for experience. Even with all of these tips on bargaining understand that there can be a lot of variations on how things are done, based on the seller, the context, the item, and the culture. Always try to understand the turf you are on before you haggle. To be a good haggler you ultimately have to be good at reading people and the subtle and  even non-verbal hints they give. Also understand that some people who are selling just won’t be into bargaining at all. Respect that and don’t be a nuisance. In some situations, trying to bargain can seem really cheap, especially if the item itself is already a low cost item and the person you are dealing with is a friend or neighbor. Use some common sense and consideration for others, never trying to take advantage of someone, only trying to work out a good deal while avoiding being taken advantage of. Happy Bargain Hunting!