True money stories from smart people: How to haggle... if it's not second nature

Published by Jasmine Birtles on 19 August 2016.
Last updated on 19 August 2016

I have five tips (see below) for the novice haggler, which I’ll trot out with confidence any time you like. But... and come closer because I’ll have to whisper this softly... I’m not really a natural haggler.

It’s not that I lack the bottle. I’m an inveterate blagger and expect freebies and discounts as a matter of course. It’s just that, well, I feel a bit sorry for the retailers.

Unlike my friend Cliff, who is such an enthusiastic haggler his wife has to walk away from him when at the cash till. Usually a mild-mannered reporter, when he wants to buy something, Cliff transforms into ‘Supershopper’, a man of steel, leaping over objections with a single bound. By the time he’s got his special deal, the assistant is limping back to the staffroom for a lie-down.


Money guru Alvin Hall, presenter of BBC2’s Your Money or Your Life from 1999 to 2003, is just as tenacious, although I suspect he gets his discounts with a little more charm than Cliff. But I do know that he won’t leave a shop until he’s had at least a freebie thrown in with a purchase, if not a major discount. Some people see it as a matter of principle.

Hamish is a former racing driver who makes it a point of honour that no purchase should be at the given price. With a posh voice and a sense of entitlement, he simply expects a discount. “I’d like to buy both of these,” he orders, “but it’s a lot of cash for the two... what sort of deal can you do for me?” He once got a packet of crisps half-price because he said it was squashed and had crushed the contents. Impressive.

Of course it doesn’t take a man to drive a hard bargain. Women have regularly fought for a good deal too, but more of my female friends than male feel like me: that high street stores are struggling as it is (those closed-down shops look upsettingly like missing teeth in the parade) and, at least with the small ones, we would rather support them than fleece them.

However, that’s not to say that I won’t get a bargain if I think I can nab one fair and square. 

One thing I am good at is spotting the assistants who are a safe bet for a discount.

To be fair it’s an easy spot. You wander into, let’s say, a shoe shop and, instead of the assistants ignoring you in favour of telling each other “you wouldn’t believe what he just texted me”, they are instantly there in front of you, bright-eyed and eager-to- please, cheerfully telling you that if you need any help... any help at all... you shouldn’t hesitate to ask.

Those are the ones you can play with. You can get 10% off by just looking at them because you know they work on commission. The challenge is to see just how much more you can get because while they’re on commission, they will do anything to get a sale.

And, so, to those haggling tips I promised:

  • Research prices on the internet first, so you know what you could get.
  • Smile, smile, smile whatever they say or do.
  • Find out (via Google search or blatantly asking) which shops have assistants on commission.
  • Speak to the person with authority (for example, the shop manager) to give you a discount.
  • Be like Alvin Hall, or Cliff or Hamish. Just don’t try to be me – it’s not worth it.


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