Haggle on the high street
Tips & tricks for hidden discounts
This guide will help you max the gain. It includes the top 10 shops to haggle in, 20 haggling tips for success plus stock phrases to help grease the wheels.
In this guide
If you don't ask, you don't get
We British will banter and bull with the best if we're somewhere where snake-charmers wind cobras around their necks. Yet on home turf, we become complacent, lily-livered cowards, meekly accepting the first price we're given.
Over the years, Brits have accepted haggling as rude and impolite, when it's neither. This misconception has left the big stores with their profits intact and only the knowing few with big bargains.
Haggling cuts shops' profits. But if you wouldn't buy at a higher price, this way they still make a sale.
The law behind this
When you walk into a shop or phone a call centre, until money's changed hands, no contract's been struck. By law, no store has to accept your cash, even if you're paying the ticketed price.
Equally, you don't have to accept the ticketed price. What counts is the bargain struck, so why not ask them to lower the price? After all...
What's the worst that can happen? They say "no".
Do it with chutzpah!
Chutzpah's a powerful consumer weapon, especially when combined with talents not often evoked in the money world: seduction, a gentle patter and a twinkle in the eye. Aim for polite, firm, non-combative and maybe just a touch flirtatious.
Aggressive or forceful haggling's usually a mistake. It annoys the person you're dealing with, and your discount is normally at their discretion.
Top high street shops to haggle in
In May 2016, we polled 1,400 MoneySavers to find which shops hagglers have the most success in. With over 60% success rates in some big name chains, including John Lewis, Homebase and Tesco, it shows you could be throwing cash away by not haggling.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a discount – in fact, it's built into some shops' official policies. A former member of staff at one big DIY store even once told Martin they'd been told if anyone asked for a discount, just to give them 10% off.
This isn't just big name chains either – 97% of people who haggled in small independent shops reported they'd had success.
|1. Carphone Warehouse||77%||6. B&Q||60%|
|2. TK Maxx||74%||7. Currys/PC World||59%|
|3. John Lewis||72%||8. Debenhams||55%|
|4. Homebase||68%||9. Clarks||47%|
|5. Tesco||62%||10. M&S||39%|
|1,398 people were polled in May 2016 – only retailers where at least 30 people attempted to haggle are included. (1) Of those who tried. See full results.|
MoneySavers swear by haggling. We're constantly hearing haggling success stories. Please add your feedback to the High Street Haggling Successes forum discussion.
Went into Currys to buy a TV – asked for £100 off to match competitor prices, and because it was a clearance item. The manager said yes and even threw in a free £50 HDMI cable, which I didn't need so gave it back for cash, getting me a total of £150 off the original price of £1,500. It was easy.
- MSE Guy
I got a Panasonic DVD recorder which was £240 full price and on sale in Richer Sounds for £170. I found it for £150 online, so they beat the price by £10, doing it for £140.
My wedding dress was £650 reduced to £500. I told the shop my budget was £300 (it was more). While wearing the dress (which will need taking in) I haggled the owner down to £300 on the basis I could pay in full there and then. It is perfect!
If you can club together with friends to get similar things at the same time you stand a better chance of successful haggling, as you have more clout through the bigger order. Myself and a few friends clubbed together to buy over £1,200 worth of consoles at Game, and we saved around £600 by haggling.
Courtesy of Martin's It Pays To Watch, Channel 5, Dec 2008
Top 20 haggling tips
The beginner's haggle – get them to chuck in something for free
Customer service assistants often say they're not allowed to give discounts, but if you're new to haggling, an easy start point is asking them to throw something in on top. Whether it's free cables with TVs, polish with shoes or a fridge with a kitchen, if you need an add-on, try not to pay extra for it.
To prove no ask's too cheeky, one MoneySaver persuaded an electrical-shop sales assistant to throw in a £60 George Foreman grill with a £500 laptop.
Look for already discounted items
If the price is already reduced – in a sale, manager's clearance or online promotion – there's often more flexibility. The boundaries have already been flexed and the psychological loss for the salesperson is reduced as they've already given up on the idea of getting full price.
Towards the end of a sale is a golden haggling opportunity, as shops are keen to reclaim their display space for new stock. It's worth pointing this out in a friendly way. For a detailed example:
The discount haggle – Martin's story
John Lewis's 'never knowingly undersold' price promise is effectively an open invitation to haggle. But many people just walk in, get what they want, pay the set price, then leave.
I once spotted a small wooden bathroom cabinet, original price £80, on sale for £40. It was both the last one left, and the last sale item in the entire department. My suspicion was if they didn't sell it that day, they'd chuck it out.
Spotting someone who looked like a manager walking past, I asked if I could have the cabinet for a discount. He was open to it straightaway: "How much?" In that moment, you know the haggle's on – now it was just a question of the price.
The preamble was important: I wanted him to know I understood why he should discount it. So smiling, I said, "Well I'm sure you want to reclaim your display case, and I'm willing to remove this for you. So why don't I just give you a tenner and get it out of here?"
He tried to suggest £20 – already 50% off! And half-heartedly at that. "Go on, a tenner and I'll just get it out of here." Five minutes later I was out the door with my £80 bathroom cabinet for £10.
- Martin Lewis, MSE founder & chair
Buy in bulk
Discounts are often available for bulk-buying. This may mean stocking up for a year, buying combinations of products, or even going with a gang of mates who want to buy something similar.
The advantage you have is you're going to hand over a lot more business, and you may secure a reduction because of it.
Haggle via online help chats
Spot a window offering live chat with a help person when browsing an online retailer? Don't dismiss it – this can be a route to hidden deals. To test this, we chatted to 10 retailers via live help, asking a few questions about a product before requesting a discount.
Three stores offered us discounts: Nike a 10% off code; Dell £55 off a £779 laptop; and Dyson an extra £10 off a £350 vacuum that was already in the sale, plus a free tool kit. If you've successfully haggled via live chat, please let us know in the Discounts With Online Chats discussion.
Whether it's haggling via online help chats, hidden codes on price tags that reveal if items'll be on sale shortly or abandoning shopping baskets on websites to score discounts, often ways to save are hidden. Our Shopping Secrets guide lists things shops don't want you to know – many are insider secrets divulged by shop workers.
Who to haggle with? Senior yes, head honcho no
If you're haggling face-to-face, an assistant manager or supervisor is a good person to bargain with. They have more discretion than most of the shop staff, understand the retail game a bit better and are used to pleasing customers. Go to the very top, though, and the person will be short of time, and not bothered about one small sale.
Pretend you want a warranty
Sales staff have weekly, monthly or quarterly targets on the amount of warranties they can sell. Reaching this target's often crucial to them, so it gives consumers a real bargaining tool on products they're likely to flog warranties with.
The best bit is you're free to change your mind within 45 days of purchasing underThe Supply of Extended Warranties on Domestic Electrical Goods Order 2005. So buy the knocked-down item then cancel the policy for a full refund. (This applies to service agreements and insurance products.)
One MoneySaver got a Sony LCD TV reduced from £1,000 to £750. See our Cheap & Free Warranties guide.
Don't fill the silence
As negotiations come to a close, a classic sales technique is staying silent. They want you to accept the price just to fill the awkward silence. Make them fill it with a cheaper offer.
Flaws mean discounts
If you're shopping in person, look for the tiniest of dents or scratches in electrical appliances, or marks on clothing. This makes them more difficult to flog. Clothing can be cleaned and your new fridge'll soon be knackered anyway.
One MoneySaver even talked 20% off a dog-eared book in Waterstones.
It's worth noting that even if you buy something knowing it has a fault, you still retain your consumer rights if something else goes wrong. For example, if you buy a washing machine with a small dent and it goes on the blink a week later, you can still get a refund. For a full explanation, see Martin's Shop staff quoted nonsense rights at me blog.
Play them off against each other
Don't target retailers in isolation, play a number off against each other. This has two advantages: it gives you a solid foundation and it prods their competitive instincts in your favour, as they want to prove they're better than the opposition.
Many high street retailers will price-match internet prices when pushed. To find the cheapest e-tailer, use a shopping comparison site or shopbot.
A shopbot – or shopping robot – saves you time by trawling through selected e-tailers to find the cheapest deal. Sites like 123PriceCheck and PriceRunner search for the lowest prices on books, CDs, DVDs and appliances.
Print the results or show them on your mobile and see if the shop will match the price. If you're feeling naughty, keep your thumb over delivery costs. There's more on this in the Cheap Online Shopping guide.
Independent stores are great places to haggle
Negotiating with independent retailers, where you can speak directly to the owner, is often a better bet than a chain, as there's more leeway.
This is because in owner/retailer shops, the owner has complete discretion, so a smile and a hint that you'll become a regular shopper can work wonders.
Better still, become a regular. Somewhere you give your custom frequently is likely to look after you. Put all your business through them, provided they'll price-match the best deals you can get elsewhere.
Companies are more amenable to haggling at slower times of year, when fewer customers are after their wares. Do the exact opposite of what firms expect you to do: go for cameras with special Christmassy packaging in January; lawnmowers when it's snowing; electric heaters in July.
It's one of the reasons the weeks before Christmas are perfect months to buy home insurance and car insurance. Insurers aren't busy, they want business, you're giving them business: expect a discount. See the Great Hunt: Counter-Seasonality for more tips
Try to find out their month or year end
Towards the end of a firm's financial year or monthly target, retailers and sales people are often much more willing to haggle. At this point, it's the volume rather than profit that really counts, so they're willing to cut margins down to a sliver, just to make sales. This is also the time when head office sends down special deals and sweeteners.
If you're in doubt about when a firm's financial month/year end is, assume it's the calendar month and the tax year. As a general rule, the end of Saturday is fortuitous and the last Saturday of the month is the hottest date in the haggling calendar.
For more info on this, read the Great Hunt: Best Time To Haggle, where we asked MoneySavers working in sales to share their tips.
Don't commit to financing
Don't talk about your payment method until it's necessary. Sellers prefer debit cards to credit cards, so request a discount for using a debit card.
If a firm has its own financing options, it may be worth hinting you're interested, without committing, as there's often good commission on finance. They'll be more disposed to give a bigger discount. Though don't actually use their financing options: they're generally expensive.
Prices ending in 7, 8 or 1 mean it's clearance – a perfect haggling opportunity
Watch out for obsolete products, such as old DVD players and cameras, usurped by newer models. If it's the last one left, offer to "help them clear their shelves for restocking".
It's worth knowing electrical shops sometimes use price codes to secretly communicate to staff which models need to be shifted quickly to make way for new stock.
According to shop staff we asked and forumites with inside knowledge, the key to these codes lies in the last digit of a price. While most prices end in 9 (or 0), if one ends in 7 or 8 (eg, £19.97, £109.98 etc), it usually means that model has been discontinued. If the price ends with a 1, eg, £5.91, the item is often especially old clearance stock.
Pick quiet times to negotiate
Try not to haggle when a shop is crammed with other customers. The last thing salespeople are interested in is reducing their margins when they can see lots of people willing to buy. Go during times of shopping serenity, such as midweek mid-mornings.
Don't settle unnecessarily
In Martin's year out before university, he had a job selling caravan awnings. As a salesman, he had full discretion to drop the price. Yet he was instructed to routinely tell customers he had to check with the manager beyond a certain level.
This both put a break in negotiations and, if they weren't going well for Martin, allowed him to return and say "sorry, it's not possible, I can only drop it so far", without looking like the bad guy.
Often customers were fooled into settling at that point. Remember, even if the salesperson is telling the truth and does need the manager's permission, make them go back to the manager with an offer, or get them to bring the manager to you.
Set a target price
Know your market
Before diving in, do some haggling reconnaissance work, just as a professional negotiator would. This site's a mine of useful information on all manner of products, from laptops to lip gloss. Search to discover what offers are on, then use them as a bargaining tool.
Say you're buying a camera and you unearth that Canon recently gave £50 cashback on your desired model. This could well mean the price is negotiable.
Don't be afraid to walk away
If you're nearly ready to buy, start to use true sales negotiation language. Let them know the exact conditions they must meet to close the sale. But don't be afraid to walk away if they won't give you what you want – you can always try elsewhere.
Use our stock haggling phrases
Haggling can feel unnatural to us stiff-upper-lipped Brits. If you feel shy, try one of these MoneySavers' top bargaining gambits. Thanks to all those who suggested them.
"Hmm... I'm considering this engagement ring, it looks nice."
Never ever walk in and announce: "My girlfriend adores this ring, it's the only one left in town and she'll dump me if I don't get it". The salesperson will think: KER-CHING.
Even if you absolutely love it, keep a poker face until you've shaken on it. Though let them know you're seriously interested in doing business there and then – at the right price. You're more likely to score a deal if they know you're in a position to buy.
The same thing can be said in many ways. Find the phrase you're most comfortable with and then use the rest to bolster your negotiation.
"What's the best deal you can do on this?"
"What's your range of flexibility on this price?"
"I'd love to buy this, but my wife'll go bonkers if I pay that."
"I like this mountain bike, but it's too pricey."
"Price is the most important factor for me."
"I like this, but it's above my budget, can you do it for £60?"
"Come on, you can do better than that!" (In a cheeky voice.)
"Oh go on, do it for £90."
"I'm unemployed/a poor mature student/pensioner/nurse/teacher." (Though be honest, of course.)
"Oh, I've only got £160 left until pay day. If you do it for £160 with free delivery, I could take it today."
Get sale prices when sales have finished
If it was on sale, but that's ended, you know they're willing to accept that price. And if a kitchen company offered you 10% off as long as you bought before 20 Oct, chances are that price will be available after the offer too.
Be friendly, but firm
You're more likely to get a result if the staff member empathises with you. If you're polite, charming and treat the whole process with humour, you'll get further. The trick's to work with what you've got, as this story from Martin shows.
Work with what you've got – Martin's story
When I first started dating the now Mrs MoneySavingExpert, we were in John Lewis's lighting department. As it was a new relationship, I was still on my best 'trying to impress' behaviour.
Knowing which lamp I needed and that it was already discounted, I asked if the sales assistant would throw in some spare halogen bulbs for it. He said no, at which point Mrs MSE nipped off to grab some bulbs for her own place.
I then went back to the sales man (who thankfully didn't recognise me) and with an embarrassed smile, told the truth, something akin to, "I really need you to throw in the bulbs. I've already boasted that I'm a good haggler, and I'm going to look a fool in front of my new girlfriend. Can you help?"
Once we were in the queue, he walked up to us, took both our bulbs, and said: "OK, I said I'll throw them in, let me take those too," giving us both sets for free!
So it'd worked a treat on both scores. I had an impressed girlfriend saying: "Wow, I never knew you could do that!" and more than a tenner of free bulbs.
- Martin Lewis, MSE founder & chair
Ask for the sun and you may just get the moon
Remember, do it with humour, do it with style and there's no price or suggestion too outrageous. You can haggle virtually anywhere for anything.
And if you're wondering why there are 23 tips, for you, we chucked in three extra!
Service companies to haggle with
Big savings are available on phones, mobiles, TV, broadband, car insurance and more, as well as at high street retailers.
In mature industries, companies grow by tempting customers from other firms, not by grabbing customers new to that market (for example, almost everyone has a mobile). Retaining custom is key. If your firm won't offer a hot deal:
Tell it you'll leave and switch unless it gives you a better deal
Do this, and you're usually put through to the disconnections department. It's often known internally as 'customer retentions', as its job is to keep you, and it has far more deal-making discretion.
Our Haggle with Sky, the AA and More guide has general tricks, but we also have a suite of bespoke company and industry-specific guides.
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Sector-by-sector quick tips
Different retail and service sectors call for different strategies. Below, you'll find some top tips, with links through to specific discussions and guides for more information.
The price is massively negotiable on electricals. With the right tactic you can slash £100s off the price. Always ask for free delivery and extra kit thrown in: scart leads, cables, batteries.
Sales staff have warranty sale targets, so the customer really is king if you're buying a product that could be flogged with a long warranty.
The best bit is you're legally free to change your mind within 45 days of purchasing the warranty, so cancel for a full refund.
Likely stores: Richer Sounds and Currys/PC World price-match.
The classic clothes haggle is to ask for a discount because it's marked or there's a button missing. One MoneySaver bagged £20 off a pair of trousers "just because the belt was missing, but the belt looked like it was worth about £2".
Many shops offer a 10% discount when you sign up for a store card – ask, with a smile, if you can get the same discount without signing up for one.
Likely stores: Almost all shops will knock 10% or 20% off the price if there's a fault. But it doesn't even have to be damaged; shop assistants often give you 10% just for asking. This can work in Debenhams, Office, New Look, Ted Baker, Levi's, and Warehouse, and more.
The trick to haggling on bikes is to look for models that are about to be relaunched with new designs – shops will be desperate to shift the old versions.
It's worth looking for flaws – most bikes will have a tiny bit of cosmetic damage if you look hard enough. And don't leave without a few extras thrown in, such as mudguards and/or lights.
Likely stores: Halfords often crops up as a haggleable store and it often matches online prices. Independent bike shops have been known to give a free service if you buy something and will often discount discontinued models.
Tour operators make holidays while travel agents sell them, so many big tour operators' holidays are sold by multiple agents. If you're booking one, once you've found a specific deal, try calling different agents to see if they can beat the price. You could save up to 10% more.
Using this technique, it's possible to shave the cost on package tours from Thomas Cook, First Choice, Virgin and more.
Some eBay* sellers say they'll consider 'best offers'. This is where you propose a figure, they mull it over and tell you if it's a goer.
You can only make three bids – bid too low and you'll have to pay the buy-it-now price if you want it.
Though if you've a partner, they can do three bids from their eBay account too. That way, you should always succeed near the minimum accepted price.
Stores will often discount clearance or display stock, especially if it takes up a lot of space. They're also willing to cut the price of flawed merchandise. Always ask for free delivery on bulky items.
If you're buying several large items at once, such as a bed, mattress and chest of drawers, always try to blag a discount for multiple purchases.
Likely stores: John Lewis is notoriously flexible with prices. Many people have blagged 20% discounts, simply by asking. A friendly chat with the shop assistants works wonders. Plus people have said it gives away things such as free cushions if there's a mistake with your order.
Ikea often gives 30% off damaged stock – better than the average 10% or 20% offered by other shops.
One cheeky MoneySaver saved £284 on a three-piece suite at Harveys. When the salesman suggested the furniture might be cheaper on Boxing Day, she said "Why wait till Boxing Day, if you want to make a sale? Let's do the deal now!"
Gyms want you to think their prices are fixed. They're not. The gym sector is fiercely competitive, and as most gyms employ a commission-driven sales team to sign you up, this makes it a prime candidate for haggling.
If you go for a gym tour and they won't agree to a deal that day, go home without signing up. The phone often rings a few days later with an amazing new offer.
Read our current gym offers and use them as a negotiating tool.
Likely chains: MoneySavers say Fitness First is the most haggleable gym. Virgin Active can also be flexible. LA Fitness usually won't lower the price but will throw in freebies such as towels and padlocks.
There are some terrific deals to be had at jewellery shops. As for engagement ring haggling, this isn't stingy; much better to put the extra towards your future than into Mr Goldsmith's pockets.
Likely stores: One MoneySaver claiming to be an ex-Ernest Jones worker reports sales assistants are free to discount anything over £300 by 10%. Another MoneySaver got 10% off a £500 watch in Goldsmiths by saying they would "go away and think about it".
The classic haggle. First arm yourself with the web's cheapest prices, then try to make dealerships compete for your custom. Hint that you're interested in their pricey finance deals (but don't take them up).
Likely stores: Ever met a car salesperson who didn't like to haggle? One MoneySaver emailed all Vauxhall dealers in his area, looking for a Vauxhall Vivaro van. He got a great response and then emailed the cheapest quote to all the other dealers, asking them to beat it, eventually saving £2,500.
High street opticians charge huge mark-ups on specs, so there's often room for manoeuvre. You don't have to buy your glasses from the place where you had your eye test, so play opticians off against each other, mentioning that you saw them £100 cheaper down the road.
It's also worth asking for a free eye test on top or at the very least some free lens cleaner. (Also see the Cheap Glasses guide.)
Likely stores: One MoneySaver who works in an opticians says you should expect a minimum 20% discount as standard when buying glasses. Some have said Boots is routinely allowed to give 10% for people who ask.
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