The art of bargaining



It was my turn to go to the market and buy the vegetables. I picked up all the things on the list and brought them back home.

“How much are onions” the question went up.

“I don’t know” I replied. Thirty seconds later, “Tomatoes are very good. How much did you pay for them?”

Embarrassedly I said, “I don’t know” and before the price of any other vegetable could be asked, I confessed, “I did not ask the price of anything. I put everything in the basket and paid the total bill.”

“How do you know you did not pay more than normal? How do you know you were not cheated? Don’t you want to know the price of each thing that you buy?”

Frankly, the idea of finding out the price of each vegetable never entered my head. I know the whole thing roughly costs about 500-600 for a week.


I have never been a bargainer. I tend to pay whatever is the bill. But I have seen some people excel in the art of bargaining. They revel in that art. It is almost psychological warfare for some. I have always enjoyed bargaining when other people do it and I am only the bystander.


The Fearless Bargainer

My mother is an excellent bargainer. When we were kids we would get scared at the way she haggled over the prices. Those days everything was sold at the doorstep. Vendors would sell everything (chillies, tamarind, spices, salt etc) on pushcarts. If the guy said something like, “Ten rupees a kilo”, my mom would say, “I will pay only five rupees a kilo” She started with a deep discount of 50% which was unthinkable for us. We would wait for the vendor to fly into a rage. We would tell our mom not to ask for such deep discounts fearing that the vendor may get abusive at her. She would just smile and say, “Nothing of that sort happens. Just watch. He will give me for the price that I ask”. And no surprise, the vendor would go back and forth, refuse her price walk away but eventually come back and give her at the price she asked. Every time it happened we as children would think this time mom got away with it but next time she won’t. But she got away with it every time. She was an intrepid bargainer and nothing was beyond bargaining as far as she was concerned. No shop, no goods or services was beyond her. In fact, I think she never ever paid the price asked for any goods and always got it for less. Boards like “Fixed Prices” which we would nudge her to see when she started bargaining did not deter her either. None of us ever absorbed that fearlessness for bargaining from her. What makes some people so good at bargaining? How do they dare to ask for something so low? How do they know the psychology of negotiation so well without attending any workshops, courses or reading books?


The dying art

Today the world has changed so much that when we shop in Malls and huge shops there is hardly any scope for bargaining. We pay the price that is quoted. Bargaining has become confined to vegetable-fruit buying or when we pick up stuff from the footpath. Ironical that we bargain with small vendors for small value goods. When you think of it, bargaining was a way people engaged with one another. The back and forth would go on at times for ten-fifteen minutes before the deal was struck. Time was spent on it. Today most of us neither have the time or inclination for it nor do we know the art of bargaining.

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