6 Secret Tactics To Bargain Like a Pro

Ryan Ong



Young Singaporeans are a disgrace to their kiasu forebears. There was a time when Singaporeans would haggle the price of a life vest on a sinking ship – but these days? The current generation has no clue how to haggle. This is why we get overcharged for TV channels, cars, interior design, etc. It’s time to educate you lot:


What is Bargaining?

It’s the art of making your life better.

Oh, what’s that? I’m exaggerating am I? Listen buddy: with a bit of bargaining, you can shave $100 off, say, your office rental.

Think about how many many indulgences you’d have to sacrifice to save that. $100 can mean comfy cab rides for a week. It can mean nine pints of Guinness. It can mean 10 steak dinners at Aston’s.

If you’d just open your mouth and bargain a little, that’s the indulgence you can allow yourself every month. Here are the basics:


Tactic #1: Set the Stage

Don’t rush into the bargain. Instead, make small talk first. Where possible, ask how well business is going – if the answer is “okay”, congratulate him loudly. If the answer is “not so good”, then look suspicious and ask why the product isn’t popular.

Always ask these questions – or something along the lines:

  • Is this item popular? Do a lot of people buy it?
  • Have you been in this sales line for long? Does it provide a decent living (because my job doesn’t)?
  • Are you the owner? Are you in charge of setting the price?

All you’re doing here is making it harder for the salesman to use common excuses later.

If a lot of people buy the product, or the sales have provided a decent living for years, then the salesman can’t use the “I am just a poor guy struggling to make ends meet” speech. He can afford to charge you less, as his business is doing fine.

If the salesman is in charge of setting the price, his “boss” can’t disagree, nor does he need to “check with the boss”.

(If the salesman is not in charge of the price, ask to negotiate directly with the boss if you can. You may be turned down, but you want to be bargaining with someone who has the authority to lower the price).


Tactic #2: Flinch

When told the initial price, you may want to flinch.

Tilt your head back with a start and widen your eyes; like a tourist looking at a Singapore taxi meter for the first time. You might want to let out a whistle or a “ouch”. There’s no need to say anything: some sales people, especially inexperienced ones, will lower the price based on your reaction alone.

Note that flinching rarely works against veteran salespeople – they’re too confident of their product’s value. But you can hit the newbies with it – rookie salespeople are almost always worried about charging too much.


Tactic #3: Silence is Your Friend

Let’s say you’ve been given a price that you’d happily settle for. What do you do? Smile? Shake hands? That’s all good, but hold it in for around half a minute – 30 to 40 seconds is about right.

Bite your lower lip, be silent, and stare at the product. This gives the impression that you’re almost ready – though not quite – to close the deal. The seller might get impatient, and throw in a few freebies to finally convince you. If you’re lucky they may even knock the price down some more.


Tactic #4: Tiered Negotiation

Also called “defence in depth”. This tactic works best if you have two other people with you; typically a friend and a wife.

Begin the negotiations alone. When you are close to a price you want, reach for your wallet. Then hesitate, and say you need to check with your wife. She will either insist you pay less, or that you get some kind of freebie. So then you tell the salesman:

My wife says it’s too much. Can you do $X instead?”

Once the salesman agrees, your friend intervenes. Your buddy tells you he got free headphones / car accessories / a coffee maker the last time he bought something like this. With luck, this might squeeze even more freebies from the salesman.

If you are bargaining on behalf of a company, you can refer the decision to “a higher authority” three or four times over, each time requesting further concessions.


Tactic #5: Call in the Competition

After making small talk (see tactic #1), use the following line:

(Your competitor) is offering me this product / service for $X.

Don’t lie about $X, it should be a genuine price that a competitor is offering.

Don’t say anything else – wait and see how the salesman reacts. Most of the time, the salesman will try to explain his unique selling point. Try to look nonplussed, and say that isn’t too relevant to you (even if it actually is). This can result in a discount.


Tactic #6: Get Them on Your Side

This tactic works for complex products, with a clear cost breakdown (e.g. buying an assembled computer). It’s also the best way to bargain when you frankly know nuts about the item. Rather than take an adversarial stance, pull the salesman on your side. Ask:

Can you walk me through the breakdown, and show me how to save on each one?”

Besides giving you a clearer idea of what you pay for, you might spot things you don’t need (e.g. I don’t need that much RAM, now that you explain it. In fact no one on the planet does, Mr. Alienware salesman).


What are your favourite bargaining techniques? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.