HAGGLE LIKE A PRO & PAY LESS
A skillful haggler will almost always save money. We asked the experts to share their top tips.
A skillful haggler will almost always save money. We asked the experts to share their top tips.
AFTER 30 YEARS in Regensburg, Germany, Iranian rug merchant Hadi Rad almost feels like a German. The one thing he has never gotten used to, however, is that the people in his adopted country hardly ever haggle. “For Persians, haggling is a game”, he says. In Germany, on the other hand, older people in particular hardly ever discuss the price.
It simply isn’t something they’re accustomed to. When the German Discounts Act came into force in 1934, it prohibited discounts of more than 3 percent. The Act was abolished in 2001 and virtually all prices can now be freely negotiated. In practice, however, hardly anyone tries to do so.
Hadi Rad thinks this is a shame— haggling is fun. “If you come across as friendly and courteous, you have a far better chance of picking up a bargain—successful haggling can often be down to whether or not the other person likes you,” he says.
Here are our top ten tips for haggling like a pro.
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Gerhard Eirich, Managing Partner of Corporate Training, has been giving seminars on negotiating for 26 years. “All great deals begin with research”, he says. “If you have read up on the product spec, alternative models and market prices, then a sales-
man won’t be able to pull the wool over your eyes.” He also recommends doing a bit of reconnaissance on the shop itself. Is it busy? Are they making a lot of sales? If they aren’t, then you have a better chance at a discount.
When you’re chatting with a salesperson, try and find out what motivates them. Do they get a commission? If so, when is it paid? At the end of the month? As our expert Gerhard Eirich explains, “If that’s the case, I’ll go and shop there on the 30th. Perhaps our deal will be the one that gets the salesperson over the threshold for a higher commission rate.”
2. IF YOU WANT A BIGGER DISCOUNT, SPEND MORE
Hadi Rad’s cheapest rug costs 300 euros, while his most expensive one will set you back a cool 30,000. “The more someone spends, the more I can knock off the price,” he says. It’s no different for him as the owner of a business than it is for a salesperson working for a commission: “I need to sell!” So to negotiate a lower price, the best strategy is to buy more. Taking two rugs will boost your chances of getting a discount. And if you keep coming back, you may even get offered special prices for being a loyal customer.
3. PICK THE RIGHT MOMENT TO HAGGLE
Seminar leader Eirich usually goes shopping at the end of the week, just before the shops close. “It’s a salesperson’s last chance to clinch one more deal before the weekend,” he says. Trying to engage a sales assistant in conversation when the shop is very busy is unlikely to produce the desired result. “You won’t get very far if the next customer is already standing right behind you.”
The time of year is even more important than the time of day. When demand is low, prices are slashed. Almost every product has a time when it doesn’t sell as well: winter jackets in early spring, rubber dinghies in the autumn, or computers when a newer model is launched. Even rugs have their quiet times. “February generally isn’t so good”, says Hadi Rad. “And September, when everyone has just got back from their holidays.”
Time to put the theory to the test. I need a dustbuster. I’ve done my homework online and picked out the model I want. It has good suction, a long battery life and low power consumption and it features cyclonic technology and a dual filter system.
I enter the domestic appliances section of a department store. There are three sales assistants behind the counter and I’m the only customer. Looks promising.
“Hello. Would you mind helping me with the dustbusters?”
“Certainly, sir”, says one of the sales assistants and walks me over to the shelves. “Have you decided which one you want?”
“I like that one”, I say. I point to the price tag. It says 89.99 euros. “How much can you give me off the price?” She hesitates. “Nothing.” “Nothing?” “I can give you 5 percent—on your Payback card.”
I don’t have a Payback card. And I don’t want one.
“The competition is selling it for 20 euros less,” I say.
She shrugs. “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
“What if I buy two?”
To her credit, at least she smiles. I say goodbye politely and leave without a dustbuster and with the feeling that I still have a lot to learn.
4. FIND THE RIGHT PERSON TO HAGGLE WITH
“Sales assistants in large department stores don’t usually get a commission”, says Gerhard Eirich. In many cases, they also don’t have the authority to give you a discount. “If you want to negotiate a lower price, you may need to talk to someone higher up.” You have a better chance of success in small, independent stores where you will often be speaking directly with the owner.
Try and find a sales assistant who seems nice. “We like to do business with people who are on the same wavelength,” says Eirich. If you look around a small shop, it will often tell you a lot about the person you’re buying from. A family photo from a holiday in Italy. The pennant of their favorite football team. A golf club. Personal interests like this are a great way of starting up a conversation.
5. GET YOUR OWN BID IN FIRST
In Eirich’s expert opinion, asking how much they can give you off the price is not a good opening gambit. “In 80 percent of cases, the answer to this question will be disappointing,” he explains. It’s much better to get your own bid in. Eirich calls it the “driving seat” principle. “If you’re the one behind the wheel, you can steer the negotiation in the direction you want.”
There are certain questions you should know the answer to before you start: “What do I want? How much am I prepared to spend? What things are non-negotiable?”
6. BE REALISTIC IN WHAT YOU ASK FOR
Just how much you can beat someone
down depends on the nature of their business. As a rule, however, demanding an outrageously low price is unlikely to work. If you offer 800 euros for a rug priced at 2,500, Hadi Rad will say thanks but no thanks and bid you good day. “I can stretch to 10 or even 15 percent”, he says, “but no more than that. My prices are very competitive to start with.”
One psychological ploy suggested by seminar leader Eirich is to avoid round numbers. Instead of asking for 10 per cent or 200 euros off, ask for 11.3 percent or 215 euros. “That makes the other person think wow, this guy has really done his sums”, says Eirich. This is a well-known ruse in the retail industry. “You never find round numbers on price lists. It makes it look as if the price is always the result of a very precise calculation. Of course, this often isn’t the case at all.”
7. BE NICE ABOUT WHATEVER IT IS YOU’RE BUYING
Jörg Jordan is a second-hand car dealer specializing in low-mileage cars. The vehicles on sale at his Hamburg premises are bought from private sellers throughout Germany.
He says that many of his competitors make disparaging remarks about cars they want to buy in order to try and bring the price down. He himself takes a very different tack—he says nice things about them. For example: “Wow, it’s still in really good condition! Fifteen years old and only 60,000 kilometers?” “It flatters the seller and makes them more receptive to your bid.” According to Jordan, this tactic even works with him when he himself is selling. Sellers don’t like it when people start finding fault.
8. SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Jordan sometimes uses a haggling technique that few people have in their armory: saying nothing. “It can be quite effective if you remain silent for a bit”, he explains. Seminar leader Eirich agrees. “When the other guy suggests a price, try not to say anything for a couple of minutes.” A lot of people will offer a further reduction after as little as 20 seconds because most of us aren’t comfortable with silence.
I decide to give it another go. I’m determined to succeed this time. Just before closing time, I enter the CityFlohmarkt, a second-hand shop in Regensburg. I’m looking for used picture frames. But I soon discover an old Torpedo typewriter.
“It was made in 1926,” says the man in the shop, “it was a very popular model with news reporters.” Apparently, he once did a course on office machinery. So the news reporter’s typewriter is my way in. As I tell him about my old Mercedes Prima, my eyes come to rest on an antique wooden frame.
“Ten euros,” says the man. I say nothing. Ten seconds go by. Then 20.
“Unless you’d like more than one.” He fishes out some more frames until I
see another one I like.
“15 for the pair of them”, he says. “Twelve”, I reply.
“You drive a hard bargain”, he sighs. He has to go and ask his boss. I follow him into another room where an elderly gentleman is sitting in an armchair. It turns out to be his father. “Have you noticed how cold it is in here?”, asks the old man. “We’ve got the heating turned off. That’s how low our margins are.” He examines the frames. “These are good frames”, he says. “Twelve euros?” He peers at me over his reading glasses, looking me up and down. Then he grins. “Okay, then.”
9. ASK FOR EXTRAS
When seminar leader Eirich decides it’s time to buy a new car, he doesn’t just haggle for a discount. He also asks if he can get an extended warranty, a money-off voucher for its first service, a free set of winter tires, and so on. “If several things are up for grabs, you can get down to some serious negotiating,” he says. It’s often easier to get free extras than a discount because they don’t cost the seller as much.
This has a particularly good chance of succeeding if you’re buying services. Hotels will often give you an upgrade if you request one. And even retailers will frequently provide you with extra services at no extra charge. All you have to do is ask. “I’ll deliver your rug to your home address if you wish,” says Hadi Rad. “And if you have a rug that needs washing, I can do that for you, too.”
10. GET FULL VALUE FOR ANY FAULTS
If you spot a fault, you have a strong case for a sizable discount. If Jörg Jordan notices that the air conditioning unit is faulty on a car he wants to buy, he’ll expect to pay 300 euros less for it. If Gerhard Eirich steps out of his hotel shower first thing in the morning to discover that there’s no bath towel, he knows his breakfast will be on the house.
A mark on a jacket, a scratch on a screen—even small defects can translate into big discounts. You have a right to be sold undamaged goods. If they are not in perfect condition, ask for money off.
I ordered a floor cushion on the Internet. When I open the package, it’s not what I was expecting. When you sit on it you almost sink right down to the floor. I get in touch with the shop in the UK that sold me the cushion through a German distributor. I politely inform the shop that the cushion is too soft and that I’d like to return it and end my message courteously: “My apologies and kind regards.”
Sales assistant Nick replies the next day. The shipping costs are so high that it isn’t worth sending the product back. “I’ll refund your payment within 24 hours.”
So not only do I get my money back, I can keep the cushion, too. A 100 percent discount—beat that!
ILLUSTRATION BY JAN BAZING