Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'You have to lose your ego if you want to be good at bartering'

In The Red
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The Independent Online

The other day, I witnessed something odd. I was in a music shop on London's popular Denmark Street (browsing, not buying; sadly, I possess all the musical talents of a primitive mollusc). Over in one corner, there was a strange dialogue taking place. One man, check-shirted and clutching a guitar, was bargaining – nay bartering – with the shop attendant. What's more, he was succeeding.

It went something like this:

Guitar man: How much is that one?

Shop guy: £500.

GM: £500 (cue much cheek puffing and heavy exhalation)? That's too much.

SG: That's its price.

GM: Is that your best price? Do you have anything better to offer?

SG: We'll do it for £490.

GM: Is that your manager's best price?

And so on until, in the end, he had whittled off £50 as well as wrangling a free case and several other technical accoutrements. This guy was a genius! Why couldn't I do that? I watched awestruck as he sauntered out, clutching his cut-price purchase alongside his still quite healthy-looking wallet.

I'd read that people had been bartering on the high street – since the credit crunch hit, there have been all sorts of statistics claiming that we're only too happy to haggle – but this was the first time that I'd actually seen it in action. Naturally, I thought, I should try to do the same.

So far (and not too surprisingly) my attempts have been rather less successful. In M&S, I tried haggling over a packet of chocolate-coated raisins, only to be met with stony refusal from staff and a symphony of tutting from fellow customers.

Getting a discount in Topshop was just as hard (note to bargain hunters: it seems that big-name chains are far less likely to give you a special price than independent retailers) though my local hairdressers were more accommodating (I got £3 knocked off, on the grounds that I didn't want much done anyway).

A few days later, and I'm struggling to keep motivated. Not only have I not got very far, but I'm finding the whole process increasingly humiliating. Venturing into a faceless supermarket on the other side of town is one thing. But when, mid-haggle, I run into a friend who not only asks me if I'm OK but, pointedly, if I need "any help with ... anything", I start to feel rather sheepish.

Funnily enough, since that incident, I haven't had the guts to start again. What can I say? This time, my ego got the better of me.

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