/ Money

Should we have to haggle to get the best price?

Men shaking hands in shop, black and white photo

Six out of seven customers who haggle on their mobile contract get a better deal. And you can knock almost £200 off your summer holiday by negotiating with a travel agent. But should we have to turn to haggling?

Whatever your view is on haggling, it’s clear that it works.

However, it could be argued that you shouldn’t have to go through this process to get the best price. Where do you stand?

Haggling in a free market

There are many who prefer to save money by doing their research and buying from the cheapest provider, rather than arguing with firms who dare to charge over the odds. And if everyone did this, firms might be forced to drop prices across the board, and those without the courage to haggle would get their discount.

But, does that mean those with the nerve to ask a particular company for a lower price shouldn’t be rewarded?

The UK is a free market where businesses will charge as much as their customers are willing to pay. As consumers, we should be looking to pay as little as businesses are willing to charge.

Like it or not, our research proves that the best price often isn’t the figure printed on the price tag.

Haggling is not as scary as you think

A lot of us Brits are a conservative bunch, for which the thought of going head-to-head with an experienced salesperson is terrifying.

Yet, our figures highlighting the success rate of certain haggles should help to ease those nerves.

If that’s not enough, we’ve even provided field-tested scripts that you can recite word-for-word in order to get a better deal.

So, rather than complaining about the businesses who dare to ‘overcharge’ their customers in a free market, why not pick up the phone and get the price you deserve? You might be surprised how easy it is.


Which? should be campaigning for fair prices for everyone, not just those who are prepared to haggle. I am happy to shop around and make price comparisons, but we need to move away from inflated prices and the need to haggle.

If some get lower prices by haggling then their discount is paid for by those who do not or cannot haggle. Perhaps we should think about those less fortunate than ourselves.

I would be grateful if Joe will find out if Which? will give me a discount on my subscription. I have been a subscriber since the 80s. I would also like a discount on your book on buying and selling houses, since my copy is out of date.

Please drop the discussions about haggling, Which? Please get on with helping everyone, which is what you are good at.

I entirely agree, Wavechange. Attempted haggling is not guaranteed to be successful and many people do not feel good after such encounters. Fair pricing and fair dealing should be the norm. It’s quite obvious that companies are padding their quotations to accommodate some negotiation and this is definitely not in the interests of consumers generally. If I decline a quotation and am offered a lower one I refuse to entertain it and take my business elsewhere as I consider the company to be in contempt of fair trading.

Sincere thanks for the support John. I have turned down quotations in similar circumstances. I often have a small dig at Which? but I feel very strongly over this issue.

Very well said, wavechange. I agree 100%

In the past I have haggled and done very well out of it (car trade-in price upped from £3,500 to £5,200 was my best) but it really is an archaic idea in a civilised, modern society. Let’s leave it to middle-eastern market traders.

I feel sorry for the shy and timid in society. Getting overcharged and ripped off by tough, pushy salesmen at big-profit companies.

I don’t do it now, and blacklist any company that even hints that a better deal might be on offer. Just this week, my ex-car-insurer refused to quote me a price; instead offering to beat any other quote by a tenner. They’re permanently my ex-car-insurer now.

And, Joe, I too would like to haggle the price of my subscription. Please tell me how I go about this.

It’s a hard world and those who make the effort to get the best price – whether shopping around or haggling – will be the most likely to get the best deal. There rarely is a “fair” (fixed) price – the price is what both seller and buyer can accept and it can vary depending upon circumstances. Many businesses making or offering products or services look at their annual sales budget which includes two types of cost – the cost of labour and materials in each product, and a fixed overhead (e.g cost of premises, rates, staff, plant and machinery). They need to predict the annual volume of product likely to be sold and spread the overhead cost over those sales. If sales have been slower than expected they may reduce the price to boost them and try to recover their fixed overheads. If sales have been better than expected they may have recovered their fixed costs and can reduce the product price. It’s the way a free market operates. It is even more the case in business to business purchasing – the NHS (and Government) would be a lot richer if they learned to haggle properly.
I think it is perfectly acceptable for Which? to help consumers achieve the best price by educating them in haggling – better known as negotiating. No point in ignoring the real world.

Malcolm – I very much agree that the NHS, government, businesses, etc. should be haggling with their suppliers to achieve good deals. The university that I used to work for was very good at doing this, either alone or as a part of a purchasing consortium with other academic institutions.

On the other hand, a charity that I work for has considerable involvement with a charitable trust that receives government funding. The charitable trust routinely employs various contractors that charge high prices. Our charity has found that it can get the same work done by local contractors for typically half the price.

A consumer buying goods and services is very different from business. The retailer can vary their prices according to the circumstances you mention. They can offer discounts if their turnover is low or for other reasons. I don’t see any problem with loyalty discounts, and some of the holiday companies that I use do offer them to all previous customers.

Why should the customer be expected to haggle for a fair price? What about Mrs D, who is in the early stages of senile dementia and now finds figures confusing, Mr & Mrs R, whose life is dominated for the past two years by their daughter’s brain tumour, or Mrs N (MBE for her services to the community) who is struggling to continue to live alone with the help of care. I don’t think you or I deserve lower prices just because we have the ability to negotiate them.

Wavechange, It would be wrong to penalise everyone who can negotiate their way through life simply because there are people, such as you mention, who cannot; the answer is to give these unfortunate people the help they need, whether through family, friends, charity or other official organisations. If you seek to destroy any benefit from initiative then the future is worse than bleak.

If we fight for fair prices for all, then we can help everyone. That’s my initiative.

My time was charged out at £1500 a day, I got nothing near that. And I would have been out on my ear if I tried to make a case for more money.

It’s many years since I worked in civil service procurement. But I do remember that licences for Microsoft Office cost well over £200 each at that time. If you negotiated hard with local suppliers, as one of my colleagues once tried, you could get the price down to around £150 a licence.

Or then again you could simply buy them through the HM Treasury negotiated scheme. At £10 each.

Don’t underestimate the buying power of HM Treasury or its ability to negotiate.

Sounds like HM Treasury had bought what is called a site licence, that covers all of the “businesses” premises and users. Its quite common in the software industry and I would have expected that from a large organisation. It has nothing to do with the ability to negotiate just the size of your business. And I would also expect that as users you would have had an IT dept that you would contact for issues and they would be the ones to contact Microsoft and not you ? Does that sound familiar ?

That’s why companies like Microsoft can offer such low cost licences as for a large number of users they’d expect to get a small number of calls, as they’d most likely have been dealt with internally to the company in question.


It was indeed a site licence, but I’m pretty certain HM Treasury had negotiated a much lower price than MS’s offered price. After working in the civil service I went on to work in the third largest IT company in the world and, from what I know, not even their licence deal was that good.

It’s politicians that are the problem. Every few years some short-sighted, blinkered MP or cabinet minister notices that paperclips are 4p cheaper in a local shop than buying via HMT. So thinks it would be a really good idea to let every individual civil service manager do his/her own procurement. It isn’t, because size matters.

That’s why we should do our best to stamp out personal haggling. We’re all far smaller than the company we haggle against.

In my experience it was common for a site licence to cover x units, and any extra were charged at that sort of silly low price. Presumably as back in the day, they’d never know if a company installed more, so even getting a low amount was better than getting nothing at all.

My rational side fully appreciates the Darwinian logic of what you are saying Malcolm and for many products it is not an unfair approach to adjust prices in line with demand, with stock levels, with the competition, and with other relevant factors. I suppose I don’t like it so much in relation to services such as insurance, which in many cases is not an optional purchase. Talking to a call-centre operative, I don’t feel comfortable that the price is being adjusted in line with such objective criteria and would be available to any equivalent customer on the same day. I have an abiding sense of exploitation of the less capable or the less well-informed consumer [many of whom, for various reasons, cannot do anything to enhance their ability to conduct a successful negotiation].

I can see that the holiday market is always likely to be susceptible to negotiation; there are so many counter-acting variables involved and prices go up and down all the time, but at least there is a justification for this in terms of the limitations of time and capacity. Mobile phone contracts are not exposed to these forces [or if they are they are self-imposed by the company] so I am not covinced that cultivating a culture of personal negotiation for such a service is entirely ethical.

I read recently that John Lewis Insurance is doing very well and has outperformed the industry. They are not noted for their low premiums but have a very good reputation for fair trading and responsible behaviour. I don’t know whether they are up for a haggle, or whether customers turn to them because they are fed up with the antics and lack of openness of other insurers, and their fear of problems in the event of a claim with companies who fund the discounts from the cover and service provided.

In the fifth line I should have written “at all convinced” instead of “comfortable”.

the truth says:
11 April 2014

Which have no control over pricing, We the consumer drive this. Rip off Briton is only a rip off because some are too proud to haggle.
Haggling seems to be a cultural thing. I was in business for many years and haggling on price was the norm. I took this in to my private life also. When any monies have to leave the bank I generally check it against three suppliers and then ask my existing supplier to beat the lowest quote. It never makes me feel uncomfortable. Since moving to the South from the North I noticed that people seem be afraid of asking for a better price. Is it the stiff upper lip? Is it pride? Companies will continue to tread water and increase prices unless they get resistance from the competition and we the consumer drive supply and demand and hence prices.

I don’t see obtaining several quotations for products or services as haggling. What I object to is companies offering different prices to individuals unless there is a valid reason such as customer loyalty, bulk purchase, late booking, etc.

High prices that can be significantly discounted are very unhelpful. For example, I recently purchased my first smartphone, intending to use tethering instead of a wireless mobile broadband dongle with my laptop etc. My existing phone contract had a small data allowance, so I compared various companies and phoned my service provider for my PAC code in preparation for switching. They immediately offered me a half price contract with a large monthly data allowance. I cannot understand why the discounted price is not on the company’s website.

Rather than waste my time haggling I just research prices online 1st, and then buy via a cashback site if I can. And I don’t think that should be allowed either.

If a company wants my business they should offer their goods at the best price to start with.

I for one am not in favour of paying over inflated prices just to line the CEO’s bonus payment.

Has no one ever negotiated a wage or salary increase, or have you always been paid exactly what you were worth. Your product is your labour and expertise – is it wrong to haggle with your employer to get a better salary, bonus terms, or whatever?

I am not sure how relevant this is to a discussion about the cost of goods and services, but my view is that people doing the same job should be paid the same.

That’s a novel idea. If I wanted to lose my job then sure I would have asked they pay me what I thought I was worth (and it was about 50% more than they were paying me), rather than getting paid what they thought they could get away away.

We couldn’t even haggle re days off, as we had to provide cover, until the redundancies started than only having 1 person in at a time was deemed ok by management, before then they always needed 2. Strange that.

wavechange, the relevance is that as well as you buying a product or service, someone else is buying your service when you are working – and you negotiating your salary is what many people do to strike a bargain that both sides accept. It is part of the real world. Evaluating the “same job” is difficult, and equally doing a particular job for one company may be more profitable than for another – and you should benefit accordingly.

Malcolm – The real world is – or should be – about FAIRNESS to our fellow men and women. People are more important than shareholders. Much of the discussion on Which? Conversation is about people being cheated in one way or other by companies and how to deal with the problem.

As I have said in other discussions, let us consider those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Why should they pay higher prices so that those who can negotiate save money.

I’d have to agree with Wavechange on this, and its the same reason I’m not keen on cashback sites as not everyone can/will benefit from them.

I have to agree with Wavechange on this subject. Beware the ‘free lunch” and cash back merchants! Unfortunately the real world also inhabits many silver tongued dishonest rogue traders who have become experts in their ability to rationalise and justify the prices they charge in order to exploit the less fortunate in society, as is frequently witnessed on TV and the media. Fairness has to be the key word here.

“Haggling might not come naturally to you, but we have proved you can save money on all sorts of products just by asking for a discount. Our new guides contain field-tested scripts that’ll help you save on your broadband bundle, mobile phone contract, car insurance renewal or summer holiday. According to our research, you can expect to save almost £500 just by haggling on these four deals.”
So Which? seems to support haggling and gives advice (see links above) to its members on how to achieve good results. All part of recognising the way the market works and helping consumers get the best out of it. Maybe one day it will be different – but I doubt it.

Reputable companies do not haggle with their customers. What sort of employee would want to work for a trader that expected them to stand up to a load of hectoring from customers all day long? Not a recipe for good customer service or job satisfaction. No decent business would give the impression that such behaviour is in consumers’ interests and that their staff are open to being hassled over prices. As for people crowing over how they beat a company down on price, or puffing themselves up for having the “courage”, or “bravery”, or “nerve” to do that, I’m not sure that’s something to be particularly proud of.

“Until it does, be sure to do your own personal price comparison before your car is serviced. And don’t be afraid to haggle if your local garage costs more.” Which?’s statement in the latest conversation.

Haggling disadvantages people who have disabilities of one kind or another, and who find the process more than just unpleasant.

A civilised society such as an EU country should be aiming to ensure fair terms of trading are available to all, not just the self-confident, and these fair terms should go beyond just the purchase price, to cover credit terms, installation set-up, after-sales service, repairs etc.

I suspect the UK has a long way to go in these areas, compared to other EU states who provde better regulation of their sales, finance and service sectors.

Haggling takes all the pleasure out of shopping. To have to engage in what I consider to be downright confrontation when I need to purchase something new in order to save a pound or two would spoil the whole shopping experience – and definitely not good for my BP! Much better to shop around which is easy to do online to compare prices before setting out. The only exception I may make would be if the price differed to that quoted online which I can often differ either way.

John says:
12 April 2014

Just a word for the other side. In my business we do not ‘build in’ discounts. We try and offer the best price to all, and this is relative to the service we offer. Customers do like to use online companies as a source of price for an item with no regard to the lack of service they may receive. We operate well lit, warm, welcoming showrooms(which all come at a cost) for customers to browse in comfort, try the goods and offer informed advice. We are here if things go wrong(which can happen) and we give extra to try and make sure every customer has the best experience possible. We do not get discount from Council Tax, VAT, Utilities, Bank charges, Rent, I could list many more items. Maybe it is acceptable to advocate bashing the big companies but could we spare a thought for small, personally run businesses that keep your local High Streets a nice place to visit. I would suggest most have the community in mind and are not out to overcharge and get rich quick. It really is not welcome when, at the end of a long day, yet another person thinks they are being very clever in demanding you sell them something for half the ticket price. If you want your High Street to die and are happy to buy everything from a picture on a screen then carry on but if you don’t, then remember, a profit is required, simply to pay the bills and the wages of local people that are employed in those businesses.

John Samuel says:
12 April 2014

If you have time, measured in weeks, you can win. But it is a war of attrition.


Well, having said I don’t haggle I have just rung VM and asked for a loyalty discount to be re-applied to my contract, the last one for 2 years ran out. And without any fuss got £7 off a month and an upgrade from 20Mbps to 50Mbps thrown in for free.

The line I’m unemployed and trying to save money is there anything you can do to help was all I used the 1st time, this time I just asked, I see my loyalty discount has run out is there another one you could apply to my account ? So admittedly not much haggling needed.