Picture this - you have just purchased your latest pair of sneakers and just stepped at a friend’s party feeling all good. You not only dressed the part, but you crucially dressed to impress too.
Then as you settle down, a friend shows up with identical sneakers and sits right next to you - a bummer, right? But then you strike a conversation that ends up with him saying “Wah! Uligongwa! - You were ripped off!” referencing the fact that you paid Ksh1,000 more than he did for the same product.
Now the next thing you want to know is the store he purchases from and an introduction to what would definitely become your new shoe guy.
Well, that is the power of haggling, or if you like, bargaining or negotiating. You bought an item that you loved, and until the point you had that conversation you thought you had gotten the best deal.
Haggling is pretty much an integral part of the Kenyan consumer culture with price negotiations happening with all transaction types with the exception of supermarkets and some select store types.
Simply defined, haggling is the process of convincing a seller to sell something to you for less. It comes from the premise that no price tag is ever fixed as long as you try to negotiate the seller down.
Some say that the best time to haggle is very early in the morning when stores are just opening using the ‘I am your first customer’ persuasion or during closing hours for a ‘bei ya jioni’ (closing) offer.
While this might be true in some scenarios, it may not apply in many others. Further, traders are very well aware of this and other tricks buyers play to get good deals and adjust their ask prices accordingly to create the ‘good bargain’ illusion. After all, they are fellow Kenyans.
With that in mind, it is important then to be armed with several haggling skills that can help you get the best deals at different stores, practice them and hive off some money from your regular expenditures into the savings jar.
Remember that sneaker you paid so much more for than your friend? Well, you probably would have been guaranteed a much lower price if you had taken some time to do some price comparison.
Before settling on a particular seller, check other sellers/competitors who have the same item/s you would like to purchase. It's easier to bargain for a deal when you understand the numbers.
The research could be as simple as asking your friends for referrals or physically visiting a number of stores and getting actual price quotes.
If, for example, seller X argues that the deal is non-negotiable, then you can let them know you are aware of a competitor selling the same item at a lesser price, and you are better off making the purchase elsewhere.
In many instances sellers will be willing to match the price or lower their price if indeed the items are of the same quality.
NOTE that for this to work, you have to get the comparison right. The specific ask prices set by stores vary on various factors including store location, quality vs knockoffs and other services offered as part of the sale. You, therefore, need to ensure you are making a fair comparison before threatening to buy elsewhere as a technique to get a better price.
Traders can also use the ‘we have higher quality' etc. argument to convince you to pay higher than the next store. Don’t fall for that if the differences are not that apparent.
One of your biggest bargaining advantages lies in the fact there is no guarantee that you are going to buy from that seller.
If a seller is convinced you are going to buy from them, then you're at their mercy. In as much as you are already in love with the commodity you are purchasing, you should try not to betray that to the seller.
Herb Cohen, the author of You Can Negotiate Anything recommends using remarks such as ‘that’s interesting’ as opposed to saying something like ‘I gotta have this’. The former implies interest and detachment while the latter is literally ‘game over’ for you.
So, if you stay detached and make it clear to the seller that while you are interested in the product, you are willing and will actually visit another store, you are tilting the power difference to your side and are likely to get a better deal.
Well, there likely isn't a truly perfect time to bargain, but you can bet that there are some near-perfect moments to get the best deals.
One important tip to identify these moments is waiting to purchase things you need when there is less demand for them. This is strongly applicable to seasonal purchases - items whose demand shoots up during certain seasons.
For example, during the Festive season, when everyone is buying gifts and clothes, it might be a good time to haggle over furniture or even a car. It is likely most people are not making these purchases at the moment.
If you are booking a holiday, try haggling during seasons when there is little to no travel or celebrations. In Kenya, for example, you may find it cheaper to travel in January, as compared to December or during Easter.
Other seasonal purchases include raincoats, umbrellas, boots and other clothing whose prices shoot up during the rainy, cold seasons. You can always count on getting a trench coat at a bargain if you purchase one during the hot season. The price could be as much as half of the rainy/cold season price.
In a store, you might have a better chance of getting a discount if you choose to haggle when the store is near-empty than when attendants are too busy with the many customers needing their attention.
There will be more time to bargain and little distraction. Also, especially in stores where sales targets are high, traders may decide to reduce the margin per item and instead, sell more.
If you have little to no experience haggling, don't fret just because it feels weird. You're not a cheapskate, and the other party isn't going to hate you. Don't get flustered by a momentary silence, and don't be afraid to pause and think.
Remember why you are doing this - and for many Kenyans or rather, serious hagglers - you have to do this. There is money to be saved with every purchase, so why not bargain?
The first step in moving closer to the perfect deal is establishing a familiar ground with the seller. While haggling, bring in light moments by, for example, introducing jokes. Smile and be patient. Everybody wants to do a favour for a friend.
If the price is non-negotiable, don't give up. There are other ways to get a better deal, such as asking for free delivery, free installation, or even a free upgrade.
Sometimes, these concessions are cheaper than dropping the price but still make customers happy, and businesses are ready to go for them. Not to mention that they could save you a lot of trouble like finding an installer and transporter for your brand new TV.
Additionally, the liability - for example if the TV breaks while on transit - is borne by the seller until the product is safely installed in your home.
You can ask for extras in virtually any transaction including when paying for services such as at the salon/barbershop and auto garage. You can also apply this when negotiating for rent, or booking a holiday trip. This way, you get more for the same amount - and it feels good!
This is probably one of the more common ways of getting a good deal and you have probably done it before. It is a no-brainer that when you are having a party and need supplies in bulk, you would rather buy from a wholesaler rather than push an enormous cart at your local supermarket.
But even when you are not hosting a party, you could easily use bulk buying to force the seller's hand into giving you a nice discount. But you have to do some pre-planning here to avoid impulse buying - or basically buying junk items that you do not need at all.
So you have to plan what items you can buy together at the same store and engage the seller to make them feel like you would buy more if they lowered the price. The more they think they can sell at a go, the more they would be willing to be flexible with the price.
Look for minor defects in items that don't bother you but could potentially lower the price, for example, slight wear and tear.
This is likely to make it easier for a seller to offer you a discount, as it ideally shouldn't be sold at the same price as if it were brand new.
These could be anything from a small dent or scratch on an electrical item or a slight stain on clothing.
Note savvy traders will be quick to play down the impact of the minor defects, so while using this tactic always have some rebuttals ready, try to point out the defects before the seller mentions them and importantly stand your ground - respectfully, of course.
While at it, remember to draw attention to unique features that might make an item unappealing to other buyers but aren't a deal-breaker for you, such as an unpopular colour or a less attractive style.
The easiest items to haggle on are those that are already discounted. There's way more flexibility with offering discounts on clearance items, so these price tags are gold.
Traders literally want to clear their stores of these times - either because they want to pave the way for next season’s items, or they have low demand, have defects, were on display etc. - whatever the reason, clearance items need to go. So, get yourself an even better bargain.
But also make sure you are not too focused on the cheap price tag and forget to check the product for quality and usability.
If you're serious about haggling, ensure you pay in cash.
Additionally, it sits better if you have the exact amount of money you are willing to pay. For instance, if the marked price is Ksh500, and you negotiate down to Ksh200, you would rather have the exact amount and save the seller the trouble of looking for change.
Also, having cash in hand rather than, say, paying via mobile money or credit/debit card, can help you create some urgency in the seller to close the transaction.
Having offered the price you are willing to pay and adding that you are ready to pay immediately and in cash can help the seller make up their mind faster.
As much as some may look down on haggling as a poor person’s tactic, haggling is actually an important money management skill that is recommended for anyone trying to get their money go farther.
While you typically will not do as much haggling, if any, for small purchases like regular shopping, you will find haggling skills really useful when making big purchases, or paying for services and goods whose prices are variable.
As a fun project, to get you started on haggling, you could have a Bargain jar where you put every saving you make from haggling and count the amount at the end of the month.
You could also just create an excel sheet or some other record of the amount you reasonably save from bargaining and you are probably going to truly appreciate the power of haggling.
It will not serve you well to feel discouraged if you are yet to get the best deals. Like any other skill, patience, practice and evaluation will be needed. With consistency, you will get better at it.
You probably have seen your old man offer what you would think to be an outrageous price to a trader and thought the seller would dismiss them - and most probably, they didn't.
Do you have any haggling stories you would want to share with us? We’d love to hear them.