There is a fine line between accepting a bargain and actually asking for one that we tend to find difficult to cross. Hop on a plane to Marrakech say, and us Brits storm the shops and markets like we know it all. How absurd 20 Dirham (less than £2) seems for that bracelet you’ve been eyeing up! Forceful and dominant, we shout the locals down or tactfully walk away letting them dwell on a missed sale, eagerly awaiting them to call us back. No shame.
On our own little island however, we seem to shrink at the thought of coming across rude. How could we possibly question the price printed before us and risk the embarrassment of being told; “No, it’s still £12.99”. It hardly seems worth asking in case the lady behind overhears your poor attempt at trying to save a pound.
In saying that, we are definitely thrifty. Coupons for 20% off or ‘buy one meal get one half price’ are printed out and handed over with a smug and satisfied look. We maintain our dignity and like to think of ourselves as wise, rather than cheap. When it is placed before us it would simply seem rude not to accept this deal; but god forbid we would force this unsuspecting waitress to provide us with an unwarranted discount!
Sales are the glory days: Bargain after bargain at our fingertips. Amazing. But they also have a darker side. Boxing Day and Black Friday tend to turn chaotic, the two days a year you catch the glimpse of evil in your neighbour’s eye: people lose all sense of self-control and respect for their fellow shoppers. Black Friday customers greeted each other into Wembley’s Asda with a good old fashioned stampede, climbing over each other’s bodies in the doorway with all the fervour of kids in a jungle gym. I would have thought if being polite and reserved is what is holding us back from embracing haggling in our culture, then this surely this spectacle is something else entirely!
Local markets are a different story. This is the one environment where you’re almost expected to haggle. Or try at least. This is a trick that I, myself, have yet to master. I seem to have a look about me that gets laughed at when I try and ask for a great deal, no matter how confident or stern I thought I looked; “Nice try darling, but no”. You’re more convincing the more you (pretend) to know, acting like your totally clued up on exactly how much the other stall are selling their knockoffs for. But as much as we have this stereotype of Jack the Lad and his uncle Steve shouting about their apples and pears, you don’t get anywhere fast being boisterous and aggressive. We may be dipping our toes into haggling, but those holiday tactics don’t quite have the same effect in London.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, explains it as a “don’t ask, don’t get” situation. London has largely taken an accepting stance and settled for not asking. In recent years, however, with much discomfort and resistance against our cultural normality, Londoners have become braver. From food markets and now onto the high street, haggling is becoming increasingly common, perhaps due to the ever-rising price of living in this metropolis. Phone shops and other electrical retailers have become windows of opportunity where shoppers feel a little more at ease in prying out the best deal they can get.
It is increasingly expected that prices are there to be played with. No-one takes the first deal offered to them at Carphone. Everyone threatens to leave, and just like that, you’ve saved yourself £15 a month. Slightly damaged goods in stores more than likely will get 10% off if you dare put in that cheeky request; and if you flutter your eyelids, acting like you’re best pals with the girl on tills – I’m sure she’d knock some more off just because you’re not a rude ass.
If things keep going to way they are going, it could be just a matter of time before you’re bartering over the cashier about how much you are willing to pay – and they actually might have to listen to you. After all, if there was an offer on two days ago, why shouldn’t the shops afford to give you that price today?