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Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008 12:14 UK

The art of high street haggling

Window shopping

High Street stores are doing sizeable discounts for customers plucky enough to ask, according to recent reports. Is it time to put aside those British inhibitions in the face of the credit crunch and have a go at haggling? Margaret Ryan (above) puts on her best smile and hits the shops.

Many would not think twice about trying to knock down the price of a rug from a Moroccan market stall on holiday, but would the same resolve hold true in a UK department store on a rainy August morning?

I decide to put my bargaining skills to the test to seek a deal on a DVD recorder and a smart new pair of shoes for work.

With warnings of a recession looming and of consumers tightening their belts it seems like now might be as good a time as any for it be a buyers' market.

So putting aside my natural disinclination to haggle I bundle my two children in the car and, with rain threatening and my heart slightly racing, we are off to a shopping centre on the outskirts of London.

Go at a quiet time of day
Be friendly
Research the products and deals on offer
Bring print-outs of internet deals
Be realistic about expected discount
Offer to pay by cash, not card
If you don't succeed in getting money off, go for extras like extended warranty

But before starting I need some tips on the best way to strike a deal.

There are bargains to be had if only the customer has the confidence to get them, according to one financial expert.

"Most high street retailers would much rather make 20% of something than 50% of nothing," says David Kuo, head of personal finance for the independent financial website

But tactics are key to succeeding in the haggling stakes, like finding a quiet time of day, preferably first thing in the morning, when the shop assistant will not be distracted by other customers.

Sales staff have more autonomy to negotiate on prices than customers might think, he says. However your approach counts.

"You have to ensure that you and the salesperson wins. You want to make the salesman your friend.

"The best bargain is where you pay less for something someone else has paid the full price for."

Do your homework first to find the right product and know how much it costs elsewhere in other stores, online and the rest of the world.

Luck tried

So armed with these shopping mantras I head for the electrical retailers.

I am unable to shake the feeling that asking for money off is still a little cheeky.

Consumers can smell blood and think 'let's see what I can get'
Neil Saunders, Verdict Research

In a Sony Centre I make my move with the make, model and price of a DVD recorder I have seen on a competitor's website. I am not even off the starting blocks before I'm told that it has been discontinued.

But all is not lost as instead the sales assistant offers me the latest version, already marked down 40 from the original ticket price of 279.99.

Without too much further persuasion on my part - a simple request of "can you do any better than that?" - he offers me another 20 off.

Buoyed by this success I decide to keep my powder dry and see if I can get an even better price elsewhere. I try my luck at John Lewis, which stocks the same model of DVD recorder. The first rule of haggling is broken, though, as the audio visual section is full of pensioners and I have to wait my turn to catch the eye of the salesman. But I am ready to negotiate.

The sales assistant is polite but firm saying that the price quoted is not open to negotiation. When I point out that I have seen the same model cheaper in a nearby store he agrees to match the lower ticket price, if this can be verified. But he will not stretch to taking off the further 20.

A spokeswoman for John Lewis later tells me the store does on occasion lower prices if a product has previously been on display or if it is not in perfect condition.

And she confirms their pricing policy remains "never knowingly undersold" whereby it checks its prices against national and local competitors and reduces a price if it finds one lower in the market.

After two shop visits I already have the promise of two discounts on the marked price - not bad going so far.

In another store, Hi-Fi Care, I see a cheaper, 120, model of DVD recorder, and am immediately offered 20 off just by asking for a discount. But offering cash makes no odds.

Pay the price

Now I switch tack and see if the same applies to shoe shopping. In an Office shoe store the sales assistant moves from saying they do not offer discounts unless there is a mark on the item to my being given 10% off a 55 non-sale pair of shoes.

Margaret Ryan with her pair of shoes
The haggling pays off

Here it is a bit harder work to convince the friendly sales assistant that I like the shoes but they are a bit too expensive. Maybe she takes pity on me having two children in tow or maybe she just wants me to go away. Either way she eventually drops the price.

I do not try to get a discount at Selfridges in London but I would like to know the flagship store's view on the subject.

A press officer is keen to say there is no room for haggling.

"You pay the price on the ticket. Any department store would tell you that. Otherwise there would be anarchy."

There are some stores where responding to haggling is still "not done", agrees Neil Saunders, consulting director for Verdict Research, which publishes retail analysis.

But he believes there are deals to be done in this buyers' market, especially on more expensive items like furniture and electrical goods, where the profit margin is better and where sales have been hit hard.

"Consumers can smell blood and think 'let's see what I can get'."

While Mr Saunders still believes haggling does not come naturally to the British in high street stores, he does think it will become more prevalent.

"It is not going to happen in all stores and for all products but it is going to happen more."

"Haggling is about being determined, " he says, "It is a game of brinkmanship and sometimes you have to be prepared to walk away."

As my two children begin to lose patience with shopping, I decide now is the time for me to walk away before I spend more - even at discounted prices.

Here is a selection of your comments.

Please be careful what you tell shoppers - we own a small shop selling designer goods at the same price as the high street. Without the buying power of the high street and bigger overheads though, we can't always afford to haggle! This kind of approach only makes us look less approachable and therefore we suffer...

Remember shoppers - you can get a great bargain locally too!
Anon, Wetherby

Have a price in mind before you engage. If you achieve it, then excellent result. If you don't, then walk. Rule of thumb is in the article: BE PREPARED TO WALK AWAY!
Mark A.Brewer, Wolverhampton, UK

I have always found it better to haggle in independent stores. A good way to save pennies rather than pounds is to offer to pay cash,for example, when the butcher says 30.59 I always ask, 'Oh, 30 for cash?' and sometimes it works. I have also haggled with big high street names on electrical goods and won.
Pauline, Edinburgh

Easily done. For instance, I've never paid the full price for camera equipment. The last camera I bought had a RRP of 360, and after visiting two high-street stores I paid 280. Do your research, as the article states. Know the product you want, then walk into any Tottenham Court Rd shop and let them talk you into buying that product by naming the relevant features... ask for their best price. Get them to write it on a business card plus the model (So you'll remember)... go into the next store, show them the business card, and repeat. Then go to the main retailer and ask if they can beat that price and throw in, say, a memory card. Works a treat for me.
Myles, London

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