Why it pays to haggle

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “Master the Art and Science of Haggling,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, August 2009.

Businesses that never would have considered negotiating with customers before the global economic crisis are now willing, even eager, to make a deal. Just like the prices of houses, cars, and other big-ticket items, the prices of furniture, electronics, wine, jewelry, and other “medium-ticket” goods are now frequently up for discussion. The ancient art of haggling-the back-and-forth dance of offers and concessions between buyer and seller – is making a comeback.

In some cultures, a long tradition of haggling in markets and bazaars flows naturally into brick-and-mortar stores. By contrast, in the United States and many other countries, haggling between buyers and sellers is an under-practiced art, typically employed only in negotiations for cars and real estate. As a consequence, many Westerners have an aversion to haggling, especially in contexts where negotiation is not the norm. You might routinely pass up opportunities to haggle because you’re afraid of offending the seller or because you feel inexperienced or uncomfortable. But you’re probably passing up chances to save money. A May 2009 Consumer Reports poll found that 66% of Americans had tried to negotiate discounts in the previous six months. Of these hagglers, 83% succeeded in getting lower hotel rates, 81% got better deals on clothing and cell phone service, 71% negotiated cheaper electronics and furniture, and 62% lowered their credit-card fees.

If the potential financial benefits aren’t enticing enough, look at haggling as a chance to improve your negotiation skills in a relatively low-risk context. The price cut you negotiate at a chain store for a washing machine could make you feel more confident in your next heavy-hitting workplace negotiation. (And you can haggle on your company’s behalf, of course, whether for lower rent, travel expenses, or office supplies.)

In addition, many sellers are hurting these days. When faced with a choice between haggling with you or losing you as a customer, many will gladly accept the challenge. Similarly, lenders and landlords may be willing to renegotiate existing contracts to keep good customers or tenants who are struggling financially due to layoffs and pay cuts.

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