A password will be e-mailed to you.

Retail Reflections: Haggling, the high street, and Sigmund Freud

Likeable Type

Alan Monahan writes: It has never occurred to me to enter a shop and ask for a discount. I have concluded that there must be something in my psyche that stops me from doing it.

But while I am not prepared to haggle in-store over, say, a lampshade, I’m perfectly happy to try to negotiate a reduction when buying a car at a showroom or a piece of silver at an antique fair, where the unwritten rule is that 10 per cent is automatically knocked off the asking price before the real bargaining begins.

I once believed that my aversion – could it be embarrassment? – to trying to strike the best-possible deal on bricks-and-mortar premises was shared by other people, but I’m now beginning to feel that I may be the exception.

A retailer once told me that it was a common occurrence for customers to try to haggle with him in the gift shop he owned in Greenwich. He said that even when it came to low-priced products, people would issue ultimatums such as, ‘Bring the price down and I’ll pay you cash’ or ‘I’m walking out if you don’t knock off a quid’. But he always stuck to his guns and would only accept what was on the ticket and not a penny less.

At the time – some 20 years ago – I thought he was prone to exaggeration and that such customers may have been a figment of his imagination. But now I’m beginning to believe that his experience heralded the birth of a whole new trend – and the Haggling Index from TopCashback.co.uk appears to prove that this is the case.

Its report shows that consumers are finding it easier to haggle on the high street, with 45 per cent saying that this is best done in person rather than over the phone, internet or by email.

As a result, consumers are saving, on average, £477 each year – a £20 increase compared to last year, according to the cashback shopping site.

Adam Bullock, its UK director, believes it’s ‘great’ that shoppers are being bolder and more fearless with their haggling attempts, but says the report reveals that ‘only 56 per cent are actively putting their skills to use’.

And – here’s the bit that doesn’t sit comfortably with me – Mr Bullock adds: ‘A sale at a lower price is still a sale for retailers. And with brands finding it harder to attract shoppers to the high street, and therefore must offer better deals, haggling is becoming much easier. Shoppers need to be brave and try their luck with haggling – the worst that could happen is a retailer says no.’

Based on a survey of 2,210 UK adults, TopCashback even lists the retailers with whom you can successfully haggle. Like me, you may be surprised at some of the big names in the top 10, which is headed by Carphone Warehouse, followed by John Lewis, Tesco, Debenhams, DFS, Sainsbury’s, Asda, TKMaxx, Boots and Marks & Spencer.

The cashback shopping site even gives its top haggling tips, which opens with advice to be armed with the prices and deals on offer from other retailers. ‘That way, you can play rival brands off against each other and get better deals while they fight it out for your business.’

It also cautions that ‘being aloof and stating the price you want to pay will rarely get results’, while building a rapport and telling a story – ‘you want the item but can’t afford it or your partner is not as invested’ – will help a salesperson warm to you and show you’re prepared to negotiate. I not only find that rather creepy, but think it’s a ploy I might spot if someone tried it on me!

Other tips are to shop at quieter times – during the week instead of a busy Saturday – and to find out when a retailer’s financial year ends. ‘When a retailer is less busy or below sales target, they need to drive sales, even at a lower price.’

Apparently, 65% of people have been successful in securing a discount after speaking to a service agent on a web chat box, so TopCashback suggests simply asking a few questions about the product you’re looking to buy before finding out if there are any discounts or better deals on offer.

And here’s their final cheeky thought: ‘If you’ve tried your best to get a lower price but the retailer isn’t budging, it’s not the end of the road. While salespeople may not have the ability to give you a monetary discount, they may be able to chuck something in for free like a camera bag, laptop case or free calls on a phone contract. They could even give you a voucher to use on your next purchase.’

If you’ve read this with your retailer hat on, I do hope that it has been useful in helping you to determine whether you would want to do business with the sort of people who might follow some of the tips given above.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out why I would be unhappy to take such advice, even though I relish the twice-yearly challenge of trying to keep down the cost of my Sky TV package!

I’m sure that Sigmund Freud would have known the answer. I can only guess that it might be something to do with trying to save the high street.