When there’s no fixed price and you’ve got to negotiate, what’s the best way of going about it? David Whitley explains his own blundering haggling techniques.


For someone who has grown up in green and drizzly Britain, there are few things more intimidating than not knowing what the price of something is. The way it works is that you go into a shop, the price is there and you buy it for that price, yes?  Well, not everywhere it isn’t. This fixed price concept is very much a Western thing. And while we may think it’s the only sane thing to do, people elsewhere work on very different principles.


In many parts of the world – particularly in Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia – the right price is the one that the buyer and seller can agree on. And that means taking the time to negotiate it. Because of the system we’re used to, Westerners are generally terrified by haggling. How are we supposed to know what the real price is if it’s not written down? Will we get ripped off? Will we cause offence by aiming too low? What is it acceptable to say, and what isn’t?


For me, it’s the time-consuming nature of haggling that gets on my nerves. I find it a thoroughly inefficient way of doing business (and you’ll note that haggling is rarely the way in first world economies) but I can see the thinking behind it. Different things are worth different amounts to different people – look at auctions, eBay or trading in prison. It’s up to two people to come to an agreement.


But how do you go about haggling? I’m possibly the wrong person to ask, as I’m hardly the master of it. But I have worked out a few techniques to minimise the damage.


The first key point is to not get into negotiations if you have no intention of buying. That’s what really causes offence – when you’re totally wasting someone’s time. A polite no thank you should work – start mentioning prices and the negotiation has started. It’s assumed that you want it – you’re just working out the price.


Secondly, I’d argue it’s best to forget all about what the locals would pay or what the minimum price you can get the item for is. What’s important is how much you’re prepared to pay for it.


What follows is about technique. A lot of people aim deliberately low and then slowly work their way up while the merchant works his way down. I’m too impatient for that. My general method is to work out what I think is a fair maximum that I’ll pay, then duck a little bit below it. I’ll then stick to it rigidly, with good humour, while the merchant slowly comes down. It goes something like this: $20. No, $8. $18. No, $8. $15. No, $8. And pretty much so on until we arrive at $10, which I’m happy enough to pay. It’s often easier to just raise a little bit at the end to seal the deal – no-one likes being the person that gives way 100% while the other party gives nothing.


OK, I’ll almost certainly never end up with the best price like this, but I’ll also never end up paying more than I’m prepared to. And that will do for me. 


Do you have any particular haggling techniques? How do you go about getting the best price? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.