Haggling 101

I suppose it is time to throw my shoes away when the soles start to separate from the shoe, flapping like a mouth everywhere one walks and when random street-dwellers mutter at you, “Belilah kasut baru!” (Malay for “Buy some new shoes!”)… Damn hoboes.

So, out went the old and, with a couple of friends, I went to Kota Raya Shopping Complex to shop for my new pair of shoes. Now, the thing about shopping for shoes at Kota Raya is this: you can get a pretty good pair of original “unoriginals” (bootlegs, to my American friends) at prices too good to be true. For instance, a pair of “authentic” Nike Shox shoes is listed for RM99.00 (about US$26.00), a steal compared to the normal price of RM300.00 (about US$75.00).

The only problem with these too-good-to-be-true prices is that they are for suckers.

Even at these bargain prices, you have to haggle because the shoes can be bought for far, far less. But, how do you haggle for prices? Well, follow these few principles and you should be alright:

  1. Never show your commitment to the sale
    You may have already decided that you absolutely cannot live without this purchase in your heart, but your face, your body language and your words should never reveal that intention. The moment they sense your commitment, they know they’ve hooked a sucker – you. They know they don’t have to entice you with their absolutely rock-bottom price because you’re pretty much set on buying the product. They know they are going to make a better-than-average profit from you.
  2. Start at 40% off
    A fair price to start haggling from is at 40% off the listed price. So, if a pair of shoes is listed for RM99.00, you can be fairly confident enough to begin your gambit at RM60.00. Those of you who are bolder might even want to start at 50% off, so go with RM50.00. Of course, discretion must be used – if the guy has a perpetual snarl on a face only a mother could love, has tattoos from here to Timbuktu with words like “kill,” “evil” and “Satan” on it and you notice that his buddies are gathering behind him, you might not want to be too much of a smart-ass.
  3. Stick to your price
    This depends on your kind of personality. If you’re a total bastard that just wants to win everything and wants everyone else to lose everything, then you stick to whatever rock-bottom price you’re offering until you get it (bearing in mind, it has to be fairly reasonable). People like this eventually become very, very rich… and very, very despised. On the other hand, if you’re more of a softie like me, be prepared to win some and lose some. That is, leave something on the table for everyone – you get your discount, he gets his profit. See below for an example.
  4. Open with less than what you’re actually willing to pay
    If you really want to pay only RM75 for the shoes, you should start your offer at RM65. That leaves you at least an RM10 range to play around with. Maybe the price you both agree on will be RM 70 – better for you, and the seller will think he managed to jack your price up by RM5.
  5. Don’t be afraid to walk away. He’s not the only one.
    If the seller is still not willing to meet you at your price, you can consider walking away. Just leave and the seller, not wanting to lose a sale, may just call out after you and agree to your price. If he challenges you to walk away, just remember: He’s not the only one selling the item. There are other bootleggers out there who would be most willing to meet your price and gain a sale, rather than not earn anything at all. Besides, you can now go around to the other shops and quote the lowest price you were offered by the previous seller. So, the new sellers you meet have to work down from that price.Needless to say, this is your ace-in-the-hole. If you use it too early, you might lose your edge and fail to get that-really-great-price. A caveat, though: These days, sellers are getting more bold and this trick may not work as well any more. So you’ll have to play this one by ear (This is also why principle #1 is so important).
  6. Never, ever, ever back out after successfully haggling
    If you’ve successfully haggled for the lowest possible price (you can tell by the beads of sweat on the seller’s forehead and your heart skipping for joy), you better bloody well reach for your wallet and pay up! Nothing pisses a seller off than someone haggling all the way down and not buying the item. You will be guaranteed harassment for the rest of your shopping trip in the vicinity. Worse, if the seller is particularly well connected to a triad gang and is rather pissed off that day… well, let’s just say it will not be very easy identifying your body after that.
  7. Enjoy the show
    These street sellers and bootleg salesmen are the best communication practitioners alive! They know how to zero in on all your weaknesses – revealed through body language and other non-verbal communication. These days, they also put on plenty of sandiwara (Malay for “theatrics”) to further convince the buyer of the “awesome” bargain price for their purchases.For example, since both the seller and I were ethnically Chinese, I was told, “Haiyah… kum yeong la. Ngo dei hai tong yan. Ngo bei lei jui hou ke ka cheen lah. Yi go ka cheen ngo mo bei tai dit yan ge.” (Translation from Cantonese: “Alright… since we’re both Chinese, I’ll offer you this really great price which I don’t offer to people of other races”). After this great declaration of brotherhood and camaraderie, I’m supposed to be convinced that I’m truly getting a great price from my fellow countryman and we’re supposed to close the deal.

Another example: After closing the deal at a price lower than what was offered to me, a colleague came up to the seller and “berated” him while ringing up the cash register. Much hoo-ha was made about how the seller “should not allow such a low price next time” and “when the boss asks about this, you’d better cover your own ass because I’m not going to do it for you” (Cue in mandatory huffing and puffing for further dramatization). Then, while handing me my purchase, there’s the whole “look at the buyer with somewhat resentful eyes to make him feel that he has won the day with such a ‘bargain’ price. Then, say thank you and smile.” The buyer is then supposed to walk away smugly with a tale to tell his friends.

Of course, at the end of the day haggling (or in business-speak: negotiating) is a very touch-and-feel activity. You can only improve through practice. Whether in the office or at a rickety-stall by the roadside, you must “feel” your way through the negotiation process to walk away satisfied. At the end of the day, at whatever price you agree on, both must feel that it was a “fair deal.” You leave feeling you’ve paid what you were willing to pay for, and the seller is satisfied that he got what he wanted for his wares. Then, that’s a good sale.

So how did I do?

I’d love to tell you that I adroitly engaged in these principles and victoriously walked away with a new pair of “authentic” Nike Shox shoes at a bargain price of RM60 (~ US$15). I’d even love to tell you that I walked away from the store, strutting in slow motion, leaving behind a weeping bootlegger being consoled by a colleague.


But in reality, my two friends felt that I could have done far better than the measly RM13 discount I got. I felt stupid – and that’s when they started telling me about those priciples above.


I’m such a sucker.


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