Haggling, once considered the domain of the souk, is making a comeback in everyday life as a way to stave of the increasing cost of, well, everything. But the stereotypical British character makes haggling naturally challenging.
Experts on the subject suggest that Britons are too polite, we treat apparent authority with too much reverence, and we are far too easily embarrassed to embrace the battle for a bargain. Yet, it could save you thousands of pounds a year. And the products and services that you can get significant discounts on, simply by asking, may come as a surprise.
With the economic downturn in the US a step ahead of us, even bargaining with retail leviathan Home Depot is becoming increasingly widespread. And it is even being embraced by the stores themselves, with spokespeople saying that it is good customer service. In the UK, many predict that haggling will soon become an integral part of the way we live, spend and save.
Here we provide a beginner's guide to bargaining your way to lower spending and bucking the trend of soaring prices on everything from utility bills to flat-screen TVs.
If you are after discounts or upgrades on travel and accommodation, it all comes down to how much the company needs the business, says Bob Atkinson of Travelsupermarket.com. "Some travel agents, like Thomson and First Choice, have a flexible pricing approach," Atkinson says. "This means they will have to sell a certain number of holidays a week. If they have undersold that week, there may be a chance to get a discount on a package, and they will already be putting discounts in place to meet their quotas."
You can use the standard haggling tool of quoting a cheaper deal elsewhere and asking them to match it. Atkinson says that it all depends on how much time you are willing to invest. It is worth haggling, he says, on an expensive trip, such as a round-the-world trip that may cost you £2,000. Always ask if the quoted price is the best they can do.
Elsewhere, he suggests, haggling is more tricky. "You will never get a discount from an airline, but there is sometimes the possibility of an upgrade if the flight is overbooked." This is more likely if you are member of the relevant frequent-flyer programme, are travelling alone, and arrive early and well presented.
"If you are travelling for a special occasion – a honeymoon or a wedding anniversary – it is always worth mentioning in your travel notes," Atkinson says. "Most travel companies are sympathetic to these stories, as it is good PR."
At a hotel, you are more likely to get a discount or an upgrade if you walk in on the day and ask for the best price, though you take the risk of being out in the cold, Atkinson says. "It is all about how you ask. Don't be rude or get angry. Remember you are not automatically entitled to a discount or upgrade. But if you are polite and friendly, the worst they can say is no."
Utilities, broadband and phone
Haggling on mobile phone contracts can often get you a decent discount, according to Tim Wolfenden of Uswitch.com. "If you are coming to the end of a contract, it is worth suggesting that you are considering leaving, and being transferred to the 'retention team'," he says. "At that stage, you can suggest things like extra minutes or extra texts that would keep you with that provider."
For deals on utilities, home phone and broadband, ask what the best tariff is and what offers they have. "You may also be able to get the company to waive the connection fee, or send you free items like light bulbs from your utility company, or a wireless modem from your broadband provider," Wolfenden says.
Many specialist electronics stores, especially smaller, independent shops, will be manned by those who know their gadgets. Get into a discussion about the item, make a connection, then ask for the best price.
This will work better if you are buying more than one item, or, again, can cite a shop nearby or a reputable internet site that offers the same thing cheaper, with the same guarantees and warranties. Even if the vendor doesn't reduce the price, they should be able to throw in some free "add ons" like bags, headphones or guarantees. Alternatively, they may be able to upgrade the item, especially if it is a PC or laptop, so you could end up paying the same price for a better machine. The location of the shop may also play a part, particularly if its in an area with lots of similar retailers.
Clothes, furniture and household items
In larger stores, the best way to get a good deal is to give the retailer a reason to knock the price down. This can be the classic line about it being cheaper elsewhere – be ready to offer evidence. The item may be damaged, but repairable, particularly clothes. Or you could offer to take ex-display items off their hands. You could even cite student status, which, if accepted, will usually get you around 10 per cent off the original price. When buying more expensive clothes that need altering, try to get the alterations made for free.
Any shop that is closing down or moving location will be trying to shift stock, and could be a great hunting ground for a large discount. But be clear about whether a discount will make it difficult to return the item for a refund.
If you have set your sights on a large item, such as a kitchen, dining table, washing machine or three-piece suite, always ask for the best price, rather than accepting the advertised one. If the item needs installing, always ask for the installation and any warranties to be thrown in for free.
The golden rule of haggling is to decide exactly what you want and research what your item should cost before stepping into battle.
Paying the advertised price on cars loses the British motorist an average of £1,500, according to Sainsbury's bank.
"Everyone expects you to haggle for your car," says James Ruppert, a former car salesman who writes about the automobile industry. "Both private sellers and dealers build some flexibility into the price, and will often take several hundred pounds less than advertised."
Decide what you want to pay. For example, if your budget is £3,500, and the asking price is £3,995, start at £3,000. The seller might say £3,750 is the lowest, but you can suggest meeting halfway. "Never um and ah, hesitate, look embarrassed, or twitch," advises Ruppert. "Just ask for the best price politely and directly, then shut up. If the seller is desperate to sell, they will do all the babbling and talk themselves into the deal.
"Dealers appreciate the direct approach. Say you want to do a deal and need to buy a car that day. Don't be too eager to buy the particular car you are interested in. And always be prepared to walk away."
TOP TIPS FOR GETTING THE BEST DEAL
*Do your research.
*Be confident, polite and friendly. Remember the seller doesn't owe you a favour.
*Keep your cool, don't get angry or make a scene.
*Be prepared to walk away.
*Work out the price you want to pay and stick to it, but be realistic – the seller has to earn a living too, especially if the company is a one-man operation.
*Be prepared to be there a while, enjoy haggling as a positive way of interacting with other people, enjoy the psychological warfare, and, above all, keep your sense of humour.