What it takes to bargain like an Indian

What it takes to bargain like an Indian

It’s rather rare to come across someone who hasn’t exercised their bargaining skills. We, Indians, have perfected bargaining to a fine art, replete with a little bit of emotional banter, manipulative tactics and carrot and stick ploys. We are such masters at the game that we don’t even leave God out of it, muses Rachna Chhabria.

When I was a teenager, shopping with my mother and aunt, in the mecca of the bargaining world - Linking Road, Mumbai, I had expressed my liking for a purse at the first shop we visited. The shopkeeper quoted a sky-high price and adamantly stuck to it.
 After we moved away from his stall without buying the purse, my aunt scolded me: “If you hadn’t expressed your liking for the purse, he would have brought the price down!” 

After we had visited other shops, and none of the purses there met with my approval, I asked my aunt whether we could go back to the first shop. “We will walk past it without looking in his direction, I’m sure he will call us back in,” my aunt said.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. We walked passed, nonchalantly. The shop owner called us in. We ended-up buying the purse at a mutually-agreed price; we had to give in at some point. 

That day I learnt a valuable lesson: never to show my eagerness or liking for an object if I were to haggle over its price.

It’s common to hear voices haggling and beseeching with vendors “Bhaiya, apni behan se zyaada paise loge?” (Would you charge your sister extra money?). The poor shopkeeper, stuck with a newly-acquired sister, looks sheepish and reluctantly agrees to the lady’s terms. “Chalo, na aapka na mera, beech mein settle karte hain” (Neither your way, nor mine; let’s settle halfway) is another favourite refrain of bargainers. And then, there’s this juicy bait: “We are going to be your frequent customers, so you should offer us a good price.”

It’s rather rare to come across someone who hasn’t exercised their bargaining skills. Bargaining satisfies our human instinct of getting the better of another person, of getting away with a few extra goodies or a freebie or two thrown in for good measure. We, Indians, have perfected the skill of bargaining to a fine art, replete with a little bit of emotional banter, manipulative tactics, and carrot and stick ploys. It’s embedded in our DNA.

We are such masters at bargaining that we don’t even leave God out of it: “If you get my son admission in that prestigious school, I will visit your temple for nine Saturdays”; “If you get me that promotion I will fast for a few days and offer sweets at your temple.” We strike deals even with the Almighty.

Dr Chitranjan Andrade, a psychiatrist at NIMHANS, says, “Different people bargain for different reasons, and some may bargain for more than one reason. The most likely reason, and one that is often justified, is that the customer feels the price quoted is higher than the fair value of the unit. Another reason is that the customer feels a sense of psychological victory when s/he beats the vendor down. Yet another reason is that bargaining may be part of the culture, or just habit. Finally, people who do not know the fair value of an item may bargain because they don't want to be cheated.”

The popular perception is that women bargain more than men. This could be due to the fact that women do the shopping for groceries and other small stuff, while shopping for the more expensive stuff, like TV, refrigerators, cars and computers, is left to the men. 

Obviously, we cannot ask for two refrigerators for the price of one. Dr Andrade reckons, “It is likely that some men may consider it below their dignity to bargain. Also, men and women purchase different things, and the latter are more likely to need to bargain for the things that they purchase so that they are not cheated. The only people who don't bargain are, perhaps, those who are too rich or too busy to bother. And those who know that they can get the unit at a lower price, but don't mind paying the higher price out of sympathy for the poor road-side vendor.”

Rahul Bhatia, an MNC employee, says he bargains wherever it is possible. “Discounts give me an inherent feeling of satisfaction, as money saved is money earned. I try to bargain in places like Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka; otherwise, I bargain only in the flea markets,” he maintains. Of course, bargaining skills cannot be tried everywhere. Just imagine the sales person’s expression if one were to bargain in a designer store or jewellery shop. The snooty sales staff would, perhaps, discreetly show the customers the door and ensure that they never sully their pristine premises again. 

Recollecting an incident that happened when he was visiting the US, Rahul narrates, “I was bargaining at a store in Boston as I liked a particular watch. My friend had accompanied me and he too wanted the same watch, so we asked the sales girl to strike a deal. She was excited, and in the process she mixed up the price tags (which, I realised later). We were asked to pay USD 35 each, whereas the watch must have cost more than USD 150 each with a 10 year warranty! I still have that prized possession.” 

Not everybody is into bargaining, though. Manisha Nichani, who makes gourmet chocolates, says she gets irritated when people bargain with her. “My chocolate rates are fixed whether one buys one kg or hundred kg. So far, I have never acceded to bargaining tactics, and I make it a point never to bargain with others either.” 

The fact remains that we - most of us - love freebies. That ‘little extra’ makes us drool. Maybe it has something to do with the feeling that we got a better deal or got something extra. The consumer goods industry cashes in on this mentality and comes out with exciting offers - 30 percent off or buy one, get one free or get three for the price of two. Whatever the reasons attributed for bargaining, one thing is certain: we all love the feeling of getting away with that little extra that was not originally on offer. Well, a few freebies have never harmed anyone, right?

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