How to Haggle

Haggling is defined as bargaining persistently to get a lower price. Shopping at a flea market requires haggling. But, there are ways to do it without being mean, rude or aggressive. There is a saying “when haggling goes well, everybody wins” that should be abided by. The best part of haggling at a flea market and sometimes at yard sales, thrift shops and antique stores, is that it is expected. When you don’t haggle, the vendor is usually surprised. But, there are some tricks to the art of haggling in order to get to the price that you want. Even though most people cringe at the thought of bargaining for a better price, there is an unwritten rule that prices really don’t exist at all at the flea market. So, you have to come up with some kind of price if you want something that a vendor has! Let’s go through some of the expectations on both sides of the haggling conversation.

First, while you are looking at a vendors merchandise, they are sizing you up. They are figuring out how much they are going to charge for that item. They are making that decision based on what you are wearing and how you behave. So, dress down. I don’t mean to dress scary awful, but don’t wear your designer clothing dripping in jewels. You are going to have to play the game. Give the illusion that you don’t have a penny in your pocket. Then, smile! Smile and say hello. Niceness can win the day and get a better price. When you find an item that you like… a lot, don’t act like you have just won the lottery. Stay calm and cool. Pick up the item and look it over and then set it back down. This is always a great time to engage the vendor in a small talk conversation. Pick up the item again and this time, ask for the price. Set the piece down again. Smile and continue with small talk conversation. Yes, this can go on all afternoon. But, the trick at this point is knowing what price you are willing to pay. Think about the very top dollar that you would be willing pay and see where the vendor starts. I have often been surprised at the first price that comes out of the vendor and just went with it! Other times, you will have to bargain and bargain and bargain again until the vendor drops it into your price range. Bargaining can only go on so long before you appear to be someone who is only there to harass the vendor so make sure that your offers make sense. If you can not come to an agreement, thank the vendor sincerely and move on to the next booth. Don’t worry about a vendor telling you no on your offers. It is what it is and is part of the charm of flea markets.

There are some places that haggling is good and expected and there others that it is awkward and not part of the norm. Of course, flea markets is where haggling began. It is an expected part of its character. At yard sales, you have to use your gut feeling here. Some people feel openly offended if you offer to pay another price and other people put no prices on anything at their sale expecting all items to be negotiated. Depending on the time of day, you may want to ask the seller if they are willing to haggle just in case they don’t want to drag all their stuff back inside their home. Junk stores, vintage shops and antique malls are all different with their negotiating rules. If they have booths that are rented out to individuals, you can ask at the front desk if there are the possibilities of negotiation. Many booth owners arrange with management to give a discount if someone asks. Thrift Stores will vary from shop to shop. I have a thrift that I go to frequently and they know the minute I walk in the door, they are going to give me at least 10% off because of the amount of money I spend. And sometimes, they drop the prices even more if they have lots of merchandise in a certain category..

When haggling, make sure that you don’t offer too little. Offer less than you want to pay, but don’t offer so little that it can be taken as insulting. That will just close down negotiations. If there is a price on an item, start with a price that is a little more than half of the tagged price.  You can then expect to get a price somewhere between the tagged price and the little more than half price. It helps if you know the value of the item. You can look up the item on your cell phone on ebay and get an idea of its current value.That way you have a way to negotiate and know when to stop haggling if the price can’t be matched.  And finally, a very big rule in the world of haggling is don’t start the process of haggling if you are not serious about buying, The seller is good at this game and can identify someone who is just teasing and they will eventually just ignore you. One last pricing trick is the old “worry and walk away”. This is when the seller has given you their final offer. If this offer is too high for you, throw on the “worry” look and state that you are going to look around and think about it. So many times, the seller has come back with a price that is more in the range that will make you happy.

When you are shopping for treasures at a flea market, you are normally aware of the fact that things are imperfect. In the haggling process, point out the flaws of the item to see if you can get the price even lower. While pointing out the flaws, don’t criticize the item. That makes everyone wonder why you are even trying to buy it!

Real haggling success comes when everyone is nice. So, be nice. The seller is trying to make a living and you are trying to buy something cool. Haggling is not hateful. It is not an argument. Being rude to someone selling you something can actually raise the price and get you on the Wall of Shame. Flea Market vendors have been doing this a long time and they talk to each other. If you are mean, rude and nasty, they will tell all of the other vendors. With today’s cell phone cameras, it is very easy for them to take a picture of you and share it to all the other vendors before you have even walked away three feet. So, don’t get a bad reputation. Just be nice and polite. Say thank you and shake a hand because, you may return looking for other items and the vendor may remember you as being a great person and they could offer you the best deal ever!  

If the vendor has a lot of something you want, make an offer to buy it all. Buying in bulk gives the vendor a big incentive to sell to you at a better price. And, when the offer is made and accepted, pay in cash. Many vendors now use Paypal, square and other online payment options, but cash is always king. Often a seller will give you a great deal if you pay in cash.

And finally, the best part of the day to get the best deal whether you are at the flea market, yard sales or thrift stores, is when everyone starts to close up. For a flea market vendor, they have to pack up their wares and they are tired and less likely to get into a haggling situation. They are eager to make whatever money they can and will often accept your offer, especially if it a logical offer. This can be said for yard sales. Thrift stores may be willing to negotiate if the next day a large merchandise delivery is arriving and they need the room. Better deals are great at the closing bell.

I frequent all types of flea markets, street shows, thrift stores and garage sales. In the early days, I was shy about negotiating and would just pay full price. But then, I went with a flea market pro who was buying for interior decorators. I watched her “work” the vendors and was amazed at her kindness, professionalism and her ability at buying wonderful things for penny's! The next time I went out, I used her tricks and came home with a carload and had money left over! But, I still say that the best part of haggling is that it is fun! It is a game that all the players should enjoy!

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