Can you haggle with your local hairdresser?

Group selling websites make a mint out of small businesses and customers who forget to redeem their vouchers. Is there a way you can get the discount without having to use them? Here’s how I fared when I tried bypasssing them. 

I’m not a big fan of group selling websites, which flog deals from independent companies for a discount.

Personally speaking, I think they take advantage of small businesses  by taking up to 50% of the profit. In the past, I’ve been to hairdressers who told me they lose money doing it. But they take the risk because they might gain new – and returning – customers,

Sometimes, these firms make even more money by not passing on parts of your payment to the small business if you forget to redeem your voucher in time – meaning they keep all your payments for themselves. All vouchers have an expiry date and you can’t get a refund, and a lot of customers simply let their vouchers go to waste. Group buying sites rely on this, and this is how they make their big bucks.

I could get one over these sites for the benefit of the small businesses and us customers, I’d do it. So here’s what I did.

I looked up a number of deals on group-buying site. Then I called the small business offering the deal. Would it give me a better discount by going direct?

Now, I’m rubbish at haggling. So for the first attempt, my patter was all over the place – my colleagues had a good laugh at me. But as I did more, I got better.

Here’s how it went.

A Brazillian BBQ (which was about half price) – matched

I asked if I could go direct through the company, I was told yes – but I’d have to pay the same amount as it was charging on a group-buying site. I politely asked (mumbled and stuttered with a red face) if I could get a bit more off, was told no.

A house clean (offering about two-thirds off) – no deal

This time, I thought I’d skip the phone as I spotted a live-chat window (and I’m a wimp). “Is this the same company that’s on Groupon?” It said it was. Good start, right? I went on: “I was interested in the clean, but do I have to go through Groupon, or can I just get the deal on the site?” First, silence.  Then came the no.

Oh well. But then this was a company that has lots of sites and a central booking hub – so probably not the best choice to try to negotiate with. Also, as my request was in writing,  it could mean it was unwilling to offer me a better deal as there would be evidence the company was bypassing its contract with Groupon. So phoning or talking face-to-face is likely to be a better option.

A better than half-price haircut – matched

After my defeat with the cleaning company I thought I’d try another type of service – a haircut.

I called the company and asked generic questions about how long my haircut would take, etc, trying to be subtle.

When the guy on the phone asked if I”d actually bought the voucher, I plucked up my courage and said: “If I skip buying it through Groupon, will you give me a discount?” To my surprise, he  responded: “Are you free today, the shop is empty so yes!”

Elated, I asked: “How much will it cost?” “£21”, he said (my heart sank). I said: “Isn’t it £21 on Groupon at the moment?” “Yes, that’s the discount,” he added.

So as much as I didn’t get any extra discount, at least I’d have paid for an appointment, rather than a voucher which I might forget to use. And  the business would have got some extra cash. I’m happy with that.

A hair treatment (half price) – no deal

I still hadn’t got myself any extra discounts,  so I thought I’d up my Welsh accent to maximum and call a hairdresser in Wales. Again, the company said it’d offer me the same price as the daily deals site. I tried pushing for more – but it was a no.

Non-invasive liposuction (£79, from £300) – deal!

Without much success, this time I thought I’d change my tack and go in tough. As soon as they answered the phone I went straight to the point and asked if I could get a discount if I went straight to the clinic. And lo and behold, they said yes! The original price was £300 for a session, but it was on offer for £79. So instead of just asking for a blank discount, I went in for a reasonable figure I was happy with – £70. And it worked!

Pedicure (£29, down from £75) – deal!

I now felt I was on a winning streak. My confidence was on a high.

I rang up, and asked for a £1 discount straightaway – so for £28. To be honest, the company seemed a bit confused by it, but told me that it was fine and that I could just drop by. Yes, another win!

So what did I learn from this experience? Well, the reality is you probably wouldn’t be able to get discounts on your own – you’d need them to be advertised on group buying sites first. The businesses use them to reach thousands of people.

That said, you can use this to your advantage to start your own negotiating process. From my experience, it’s worth a try.