Jun 24, 2018

How to bargain in marketplace like a tactful auntie

Bargaining in Marketplace - The Skill that Seems Only Taught in the Auntie Cult

When talking about haggling in marketplace, our mum/grandma seems to possess some superpower that we could never fathom. When we try to imitate them, the results is usually unsatisfactory (I remember first attempt in my life to haggle at Petaling Street, the hawker just shoo me away.)

This article would like to explain two tips that would make your haggle more tactful, like our mum/grandma/the auntie standing next to us.

Abrupt Concession

Typical conversation in a haggle:

Hawker: “The price is $200.”

Customer: “What about $100?”

Hawker: “$180”

Customer: “What about $120?”

Usually, customer will offer a price that is much lower than they willing to pay, and then increase little bit by little bit, until both of them are satisfied. We can call this type of concession in bargaining as incremental concession, or “squeezing toothpaste concession technique”. This is the most common type of concession technique that people use.

The reason people use this technique because they afraid that they would overpay by offering higher than what seller willing to sell. Besides, if we concess too much in the beginning, we can’t concess further when the seller make the next concession.

However, when you think about it, if you know the other person is willing to concess when you pressure him, then you would always keep pressuring him to press him further. This may actually makes you getting paid more.

So, what should you do?

Abrupt concession. It means you should not concess at all in the beginning, and after accumulating certain amount of pressure from the other party, make an abrupt and drastic concession.

Let’s see the conversation:

In the beginning, Hawker: “This thing $200.”

Customer: “No way, I only willing to pay $100.”

Hawker: “Sorry, $200 is the final price.”

After much barganing, the hawker insists on $200. Then finally, the hawker sigh and say, “Fine, it’s late now, I am closing soon. I’ll sell at $160.”

If you’re customer, do you think you can continue to ask, “what about $155?”

The key elements of effective abrupt concessions are:

  1. Be insistent. Do not concess easily.
  2. After certain amount of pressure, concess with a special reason. Because it is a special reason, it indicates that it is one-time only.
  3. Never ever concess further after the abrupt concession.


Abrupt concession works fine in some situation, but other situation requires a more drastic technique, which is threaten to leave the bargaining, i.e. flip-table.

The ideal situation is when we threaten to leave, the hawker will ask us to come back and offer us a much cheaper price. However, if you try that, what you see frequently is that the hawker will just let you go.

So, how to make the ideal situation more likely to happen?

Let see an example:

Alex is good in bargaining.

When he found something that he like, Alex would take the packaging and read carefully. If there is a friend beside him, he would even say something to show that he like the item very much.

Besides, Alex will talk to the shopkeeper as well, but never ask about the price. Instead, he will ask about the details of the item, such as how long is the lifetime of the item, as if he already buy it. He would also “unintentially” say things like “my wife would not be happy if I buy this” etc.

Finally, Alex would take out the wallet, and then only ask, “how much should I pay?” Regardless of how much the offer (say $1,000), he would show a shocked face, and then put his wallet back to his pocket, “that’s too over!”

Usually, the shopkeeper would either offer him a big discount, or just ask him to offer. And then Alex would respond, “I thought it is only about $100, who knows it is so expensive! If I buy it my wife would kill me. What about $400? If you don’t like it, it’s fine, I’ll pass on then.”

In the whole bargaining process, Alex followed 3 key steps:

  1. Express your interest, make the other party have the expectation that the transaction will happen

Before starting the bargaining, express your interest and willingness to buy, giving him the expectation that you’re buy. Once the expectation is set (ka-ching! in his mind), when you retreat, he would feel the pain of losing the earning, thus more willing to concess to keep the earning.

  1. Once the other party have the expectation, show that there is another decision maker in the bargaining

There are two benefits of this: preparation for your retreat later, and avoid direct conflict during your retreat by blaming the other decision maker. For instance, Alex is blaming his wife.

  1. Retreat

Final thoughts

These two techniques are not the only techniques that you can employ in bargaining. Some common sense, like compare multiple sellers, still applies. Also, using those technique could not confirm that your bargaining will be successful, as it also depends on the price you offer is acceptable to the seller, but at least, it makes it easier.

Happy bargaining!


The content of this article is mainly excerpted from the Chinese book “好好说话”。Highly recommended if you can read Chinse.

Thanks for reading!

Love what you're reading? Sign up for my newsletter and stay up-to-date with my latest contents and projects.

    I won't send you spam or use it for other purposes.

    Unsubscribe at any time.