What's your best price?

If we can accept it's okay to use vouchers, why not haggle?
British people are infamously bad at haggling. On the whole we tend to accept the price and just buy something - and yet all the evidence is, especially at tight times, that people who are selling goods and services are prepared to negotiate on price.

I've experienced this from both sides. When I give creativity training to a company I have a list price for my services, but I am well aware that some customers will discuss modifications to this. What surprises me is the ones that won't. I don't mean the companies who just pay up the full price - I have no objection to them, not surprisingly. I mean the ones who say 'Sorry, we won't be using you, you are too expensive,' who haven't even attempted to negotiate on price. This I really don't understand. When I was was at British Airways, our purchasing people where like razors. There is no way they would limply say 'Ooh, sorry, we can't afford that.' They would say 'Okay, how about doing it for free?' Admittedly they probably went a bit far, but at least they knew an unaffordable price is a starting point, not a reason not to do business.

As a purchaser, I have traditionally had certain categories of product and service where I expect to haggle. When I last bought a car, as I've mentioned before, I bought it primarily for one of my daughters from one of those car supermarket places. I have never paid full price for a car, and they were adamant they never drop the price. In the end we bought it (with some free mats thrown in because the manager realized he had to salve my pride) - but only because it was for my daughter who loved the car. If I had been buying for me I would have walked out. They couldn't believe I was prepared to drop the sale because they wouldn't budge - but I so wanted to.

Similarly I would expect to negotiate on price when buying tyres. The last time I did, I must admit I said to them 'I could phone around and get a better price and come back to you, but to avoid wasting our time, how much can you drop that price?' Quite a lot, apparently. I also do it when buying office stationery. But. There are lots of purchase where I don't haggle.

I can't quite believe it, but according to one of those money saving websites, even supermarkets will haggle over 50% of the time. (I can't imagine this is for a pound of onions - I assume it's if you are buying a big ticket item.) I really must try harder.

One of the problems is that the interface with the shop or service provider doesn't always support haggling. I love buying things online, but have to face up to a lack of a haggle box, where you put in the price you are prepared to pay and it comes back with a compromise. (Please, internet shopping software providers, we need haggle boxes! It would make the experience so much more fun.) And in many chain stores you are served by a 16-year-old who a) doesn't know what haggling is and b) has no authority to do so. So you have to find a manager and it's all a bit painful and embarrassing.

However, I really think it's something we could do much more. Vouchers have become socially acceptable these days. No one raises an eyebrow if you produce your 20% of voucher in Chiquitos or wherever. (And if you ever eat in a chain restaurant without getting a voucher first, you have money to burn.) You would be mad to buy anything from Dell without hunting down a voucher. This acceptance that saving money is not, somehow, bad form should spread to the way we purchase things more generally. Haggling is part of business - and it makes you feel great when you achieve a saving. It's mano a mano, facing up to an opponent and bringing home the bacon.

Feel the haggling force, people. Feel the haggling force.