The Lost Art of Haggling

Posted on Sep 25, 2011
I remember purchasing my first serious mountain bike when I was about 16. I'd earned a few hundred bucks working as a pump jockey at the local Esso and it was burning a hole in my pocket. I badly wanted to ditch my CCM and trade up to something race-worthy. I had been saving all fall, and after my Nana's remarkably reliable Christmas gift cash came in, I finally had enough money to start shopping around seriously.

Of course, being 16 and living way out in the country, I needed my Dad to drive me around to the bike stores. In the end, I was lucky he was there - my father is a master haggler.

We checked several stores, and I was initially quite discouraged by the prices I was finding on the bikes I was interested in. I was ready to give up and surrender myself to a few more months of saving when my Dad stepped in. He provided me with a few tips on how to get a deal on my bike and I later walked out with a Specialized Rockhopper for about $150 less than the sticker price.

In the years since then I've taken every opportunity to hone my haggling skills. I may yet be a young apprentice when compared to my father, and certainly an amateur when compared to my Nana, but I think I've gotten pretty good at it. After travelling to places like Cuba and Hong Kong, I can even haggle using hand gestures alone.

So, to ensure the proud tradition of haggling lives on, I've compiled this list of a few of my favorite techniques for getting a deal. Enjoy, my fellow frugal shoppers!

  • Be ready to walk away. If a salesperson realizes that you've made up your mind to purchase, you're paying full price.

  • Make sure you are talking to someone who has the authority to give you a discount. Hint: the 18 year old sales clerk at the Gap cannot do anything for you.

  • That said, many bottom-rung sales people are allowed to do price-matching. You'll need to present them with evidence of the better price that they can show to their boss... and often they can be encouraged to overlook equalizing factors like shipping charges etc.

  • At non-chain/mom&pop stores, offer to pay with cash for a better deal. This works especially well at places where they may not have to claim every single sale for taxes (services like repairs are a good example). Do not expect a receipt or warranty.

  • Play good cop / bad cop with your significant other. I always have my wife say things like "I'm not sure.", "I think we should keep shopping around.", "Maybe we should wait for a sale". After a few minutes of that she's starting to sound like a broken record and the salesperson has lost all hope. Then she wanders off into the rest of the store "to look around", and I turn to the salesperson and say something like: "Look man, I'm sick of shopping, I just want to go home, but she won't buy ANYTHING without getting a deal. If you can knock $50 off, I'm ready to swipe my card and get this over with." (Try reversing roles for a female salesperson).

  • When shopping around, ask each salesperson for their business card. Ask them to write down the best price they can do and the model name/number on the back. Go to the store where you expect you might find a deal last. Show the salesperson there your collection of business cards, this shows them that you mean business. Tell them you're a long time customer and that you'd love to go with them again, but they'll need to beat a competitors price.

  • Look for any flaw in an item. A scratch, a squeaky wheel, discoloration etc. Tell the salesperson that you "think you can live with it" but that you'd feel foolish to pay full price. Likewise, you can say that you were looking for something in (color they don't have), but you'd be willing to settle with the "ugly" one for a discount.

  • Ask the salesperson if they know when an item might go on sale, or if they know about any coupons/mail in rebates. Sales people will tell you this information if they're asked, but rarely volunteer it. Even if they know nothing for the item you're interested in, it demonstrates your frugality and willingness to wait for a deal.

  • Ask for extras. It's often much easier for a salesperson to throw in an accessory than it is to give a discount. This is because markups on small items tend to be much higher than on the big ticket items. For example, I bought a commuter bicycle for $600 a few years back, and they wouldn't knock $50 off the price, but they DID throw in a lock and front/rear lights ($60 value to me, but only cost the store around $20).

It also seems apparopriate to share a piece of related advice with you: Don't buy crappy things just because you can get a good deal. When shopping around, it's easy to get infatuated with getting a deal and forget that it is ultimately quality that counts. Also keep in mind that sometimes there's a reason why an item is cheap.

Good luck!

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Mike at Chance Cove, NL - photo by Angelina Friskney,