How to bargain


Top tips from marketing experts, and why bargaining is about more than just getting the cheapest price.

Bargain hunting


Unless we're on holiday in Bali, Australians traditionally shy away from the art of negotiating when buying goods and services.

But with the potential savings, plus the feel-good factor of bargaining your way to a better deal, it might be worth adding haggling to your list of shopping skills.

In this story:

Tips for slashing the selling price

We asked Professor Harmen Oppewal, a professor of marketing at Monash University, and Dr Robin Canniford, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Melbourne, to share their suggestions for successful bargaining. Here are their top tips:

  1. Before you start bargaining, research the market and see what competitors are offering so you have an idea about what you want, what a reasonable price would be and any reasons that might persuade a seller to offer you a special deal.
  2. Initiate bargaining by asking something like, "Is that your best price?".
  3. During the bargaining process, take a polite, positive approach where possible, offering a sound rationale for the seller to meet you at a happy medium.
  4. Body language and your facial expressions play a big part in communicating. Look interested enough for the seller to feel hopeful of making a sale so that it's worth putting in the effort to haggle, but not so eager they'll feel confident you'll buy regardless of any concessions on their part. Smile and be friendly, but be prepared to walk away if necessary.
  5. Look for opportune times to buy – the end of the day, or the month, or the financial year – when a salesperson might have an eye on their sales targets and be keen to strike a last-minute deal to up their tally.
  6. Think about the situation from the seller's perspective. What reasons might they have for wanting to offload the item you wish to buy? Perhaps that model is being discontinued, or has had bad press recently, or they're releasing a new version soon, making the older one harder to sell.
  7. Draw attention to unique features of the product that might make it unappealing to other buyers, but aren't a deal-breaker for you, such as an unpopular colour or a less attractive style.
  8. Remember that bargaining is more than a higher-or-lower wrestle over the price alone. What sort of extras would be relatively painless for the seller to offer instead of a discount? They might not be willing to budge on price, but might be willing to throw in free installation, delivery, carry cases or optional upgrades.
  9. Bundling several items into your purchase boosts your bargaining power. "What about if I buy two of them?" can be a persuasive argument when bargaining, but bear in mind that a seller might seek to claw back profit on the pricing of the other items.
  10. If you have a favoured seller, ask them to do the research for you if you don't want to put the effort in - get them to ring around their nearest competitors to find out what they are selling them at. A little research online beforehand will tell you whether they are offering you a good enough deal.
Ready to do your research? See the top 50 product reviews trending with CHOICE members right now.

What is bargaining?

According to Canniford, the bargaining process is more than just a back-and-forth over price, but a negotiation over the whole package. Buyers can ask for added features and customisations to the product, or services like installation and delivery. When talking price, you could point out to the seller factors such as it being a good time to sell before the goods expire, or the colour of the item potentially being less appealing to other buyers.  

Canniford says bargaining can be either aggressive or positive. Aggressive tactics involve pointing out reasons you may have for going elsewhere if you're not offered a discount or a better deal. Being aggressive might help you reach a good deal now, but could backfire by getting your bargaining companion offside and destroying any ongoing relationship.

Positive tactics, on the other hand, help preserve a business relationship by focusing on reasons why you like the seller and would be an ideal buyer for this particular item.

"Saying, 'I can go down the road' [is] a more aggressive tactic, but there are also tactics whereby you can build relationships," Canniford says. "'You know, I keep coming back here. Give me a deal. I want to keep working with you. I really like the fact that you're a small business and you employ local people.' There are positive and negative ways of building the relationship to get the sale."

Bargaining might be about getting a better deal, but do it right and it could be a fun experience as well.

"Be friendly, smile, know the market, be an expert, be prepared to walk away, take your time, build relationships and enjoy yourself," says Canniford. "It's about a process of agreement, at the end of the day. It's cordial."

Bargaining in Australia

The practice of negotiating a cheaper price for what you're buying, or getting some added benefits thrown in for free, has been less accepted here than in Europe, Britain and many Asian countries. The Aussie market has traditionally been on the end of a long supply chain, with a smaller population and a correspondingly small selection of goods. With little competition among sellers, there are fewer opportunities to haggle successfully, as it's often not possible to walk away from a negotiation and buy the same product elsewhere.

But an increasingly global economy and online shopping has brought us more information about the items we're buying and more choice of where to spend our money. The online world has also provided a platform for unhappy shoppers to let others know about poor customer service experiences in the form of reviews and social media comments – even more reason for retailers to accommodate reasonable requests to negotiate on a deal.

All this is great news for would-be hagglers. They can now compare prices and other sales conditions on the spot by simply pulling out their smartphone in-store or researching their intended purchase online before they shop, empowering them to negotiate a better deal.

When to haggle

So now that the time is ripe for bargaining, the question is, when is it acceptable to haggle in Australia?

Oppewal suggests that bigger ticket items such as white goods and cars offer the best chance to negotiate on price and customisable features, as do second-hand goods where the value of the item is up for debate. You can also try negotiating on services such as insurance and mortgages when entering into a contract or renewing. There wouldn't usually be a sign in a shop inviting customers to haggle, so it's up to you to politely and confidently initiate the conversation about whether a special deal can be done.

You wouldn't usually be able to haggle over the price of small, inexpensive items in supermarkets and similar stores unless the item is damaged. "It would probably not be taken seriously if you start bargaining about a product in a supermarket or in a bookstore, because many of these prices are unbeaten," says Oppewal. Other items you should hold off bargaining over include things such as a $10 T-shirt at Kmart or Target or a meal in a restaurant or cafe.

So that's the theory, but does it work in practice? According to these bargaining practitioners it certainly does. 

Louise

When Louise Wedgwood bought a new bed and mattress in-store at one of the big furniture chains, she decided to try bargaining, bargaining down the price and getting delivery thrown in for free.

"I think it never hurts to ask whether there's room to move on the price you're quoted, especially if it's a big company and not a small family business," she says. "I would always be polite and not greedy about it, but not afraid to ask the question in a business-like manner, because it's a business transaction after all."

Glen

Glen went shopping in a department store to buy a $600 heater. Despite there being hardly any other customers in the store, the sales staff ignored him for 20 minutes. Glen walked outside, immediately rang the store manager and described his disappointing customer service experience.

"She offered me a 10% discount, I bargained her to 20%," he says. Glen, who has impaired vision and uses a white cane, added a condition to the deal that the manager speak to her staff about disability awareness.

Alison

At the start of 2018, Alison Parker was looking to buy two new smartphones and saw retail chain Domayne were advertising a new Optus plan.

"After listening to the Domayne representative's sales pitch for over an hour, demanding to know why it was the best option, tossing up alternatives etc, I said I would sign up for two Optus plans (mobile phones included) if he threw in two mobile phone covers for free. He didn't bat an eyelid and gave me a choice of two different mobile phone covers, which retailed at over $80 each. It goes to show, you can only ask!"


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