When we think of haggling it tends to be in the context of markets on foreign shores, perhaps good naturedly arguing over the price of a piece of fabric or a snow globe. In British culture, haggling is fairly frowned upon and few of us would even think of querying the price of something when it’s put in front of us. We assume that the cost is the cost and, perhaps, that there is some authority that has set this price that cannot be questioned. In actual fact, this is not the case at all – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go into a shop, even a large chain, and query why the price of an item is set at a certain level.
Recent initiatives from enormous brands have proven that it’s possible to get price reductions – for example the Tesco Brand Guarantee, which gives customers who speak up about a product they have seen cheaper elsewhere a discount at the till. While you may see this as just another cynical marketing exercise by a supermarket giant desperate to keep market share, it’s also one of the oldest haggling tricks in the book “I saw this cheaper next door and unless you reduce the price I’ll go buy it from there.”

Can you haggle?

So, forms of haggling are actually possible and available to anyone who has the nerve to try it. But what about the brands and organisations that don’t have a Brand Guarantee – what’s their response likely to be if you try a few haggling tricks? Well there’s absolutely nothing to stop you going into a shop, any shop, and suggesting an alternative price for what’s on offer. While we’re not lawyers, we’re not aware of anything that would prevent a consumer from making an offer of an alternative price for a purchase. Whether you’re successful simply depends on the response. However, if you’re going to do it – and get results – then here are a few tips:

Provide examples of where the goods or services might be found elsewhere at a cheaper price to justify the reduced price you’re asking for.
Ask for a discount or offer an alternative price that is reasonable and not ridiculously cheap.
If you’re buying a large quantity of something then ask for a price reduction per 10 or 100.
Most retailers mark up products between 2 and 3 x the wholesale price so discounts of up to a third will usually still leave them with profit.
Don’t get angry if you’re met with a refusal – you don’t have a right to a discount or price reduction.

When to haggle

Farmers markets, fruit and vegetable stalls, wholesale sellers and auction sites are all the most obvious places where it’s easy to offer your own price for something but what about sales where you’re not in direct contact with the seller?

Mobile phone contracts – many of us assume that our contracts roll on every year and we just have to take the tariffs we’re offered. However, factors such as being a longtime customer, the risk that you might switch to another provider if your contract is nearly at an end or the prospect of losing you because you’ve had a bad experience all provide opportunities to haggle. Ask for a reduction in your monthly tariff, a free device upgrade, free extras (such as data or minutes) or free itemised billing and see what response you get. Threatening to cancel your contract can be enough to trigger the seller to offer you a better deal. Companies like EE and Sky have entire departments dedicated to “retention” – they want to keep you because it cost them so much to get you to join in the first place.

Bank fees – more often than not if you query bank fees for going into overdraft or payments bouncing then banks will be willing to reduce or remove them, at least the first couple of times. And banks relay on so-called “inertia” to keep you. Let’s be honest, bank accounts are boring and there seems to be little incentive to move away from your bank. There’s also the fear of what will happen if you do – what will happen to all your standing orders and direct debits? But since September 2013 the 7 day Current Account Switch Service means it’s as easy to switch as eating pie. If your bank won’t reduce their fees then threaten to switch banks. They’ll get the message.

Rent – yes, the UK rentals market is fairly saturated but, no matter what a letting agent may say to you, the price asked as rent is just an offer. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t negotiate this down, using factors such as signing a longer contract or paying rent up front to help your case.

Insurance – if you’ve found a cheaper insurance quote elsewhere then mention it to the provider you want to buy from and ask if they’ll match it. If your insurance is up for renewal – whether pet, home or car – then look out for the auto-renewal that many insurance companies use, relying on customer laziness for a policy to renew without action required, often at an increased price. Don’t miss the opportunity to renegotiate what you’re paying. The Financial Conduct Authority is now proposing that renewal quotes must contain a reference to the previous year’s payment so you’ll be able to see whether there’s an increase before your policy auto-renews and perhaps haggle it back down.

Check out our personal finance blog for all sorts of tips and tricks when it comes to managing your money.