Bargaining, Bartering and lessons in haste.


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We live in a world where most things can be bought electronically, you can pay your bills, buy things, sell things (yes I’m guilty) browse the local super market, even buy individual songs online and not just the whole album.

What I’d like to do is talk about an almost lost art. Bartering and bargaining and haggling for a desirable item.

Bartering has been with us from when man first had the ability to perceive value. The value of an item is generally defined in today’s world as a price, and in South Africa it’s generally in Rands. That price has the tendency to increase every few months. Contrary to what most people believe, it’s not that the item is getting more expensive. It’s that the money that you have in your hand is losing value. But that is a whole other discussion.

So back to bartering and bargaining. I love to haggle, I feel it’s one of the best ways to get the best value for your produce or your hard earned cash. There is skill in bargaining and bartering, it’s a skill that is often learnt the hard way, by getting the raw end of the deal. This post is hopefully an instructional post, where you can learn from our mistakes, and possibly some of the info that we have picked up by going to an auction or flea-market with people who know more than us.

Here is one of our “failed” attempts at barter. I say “failed” as it’s debateable as a failure, we achieved what we wanted… in the end. We also learnt some valuable barter and bargaining lessons and about patience in training animals… something my wife says I need a lot of. Patience not training! Ok that’s debatable as well… onto the story, please.

A few years back we decided to get a milk cow, after much research we decided on a Dexter. As they were a good dual purpose breed that did not produce milk in excess with a fairly high butterfat content and also would not be too heavy on our grazing. At that point the value of Dexter’s suddenly shot from being an almost unknown breed into the limelight and prices doubled accordingly (and they are still rising). We could just not afford to pay cash for a cow. So we set about planning on how we could get a Dexter for ourselves.

We also keep Pedi Sheep, an indigenous breed that is hardy, requires minimal inputs, needs no de-worming nor dips and the ewes drop 3 lambs every 2 years. They are the perfect sheep where minimal maintenance is required, and compliment organic grass fed meat production. We started off with just 4 sheep seven years ago and now eat at least 5-7 rams that are 100% organic and grass fed every year. Our flock fluctuates between 20 and 30 animals, mostly ewes and slaughter rams. At the same time that we were looking for the Dexter we had a surplus of ewes in our flock that we needed to cull. So I put and ad in the Junk Mail for a swap, 4 Pedi Ewes for a pregnant Dexter Cow or one in milk. I thought it was a lopsided trade as a pregnant Cow was worth more. However a few days later a guy from Potch phoned and agreed to the trade, he had a heifer that was ready to drop her first calf in 3 months time. He offered to bring the heifer to me if I added a ram in as well. I jumped at the trade and he came round the next day with our new heifer. We were ecstatic! We dreamed of cream, butter, homemade cheese and real full cream milk.

Dexters are known for their calm nature, sweet disposition and ease of handling, we named her Lacey and she was madder than the March Hare. She was not pregnant and had never been ‘handled’ in her life. What an introduction! We only found out about the lack of ‘pregnancy’ two weeks later when she came on heat, but it was too late to complain. Anyway almost three years later, after much patience and time, we have her trained, she milks easily, she’s dropped her first calf and she’s due to have her second in 3 months time.

So what did we do wrong?

1)      Did not have a look at her before we agreed to the trade. When looking at animals or anything in fact, try to arrive a good 30-45 minutes before you said you would. This allows you to see how the animal works with people. Most people will try to have the animal in a stall or stable before you arrive, so you can’t see how she reacts with people. If it’s an item, people often do the clean-up just before you arrive. If you get there early you may see what the item is really like and get a better bargain.

2)      If you are buying an animal for a purpose then make sure that the animal is trained/able to do what you expect. Ask for a demonstration!

3)      We did not ask for a vet’s certificate of pregnancy, alternatively we could’ve had our vet on-hand to confirm pregnancy. I would have had the upper hand in bargaining with her already transported to my property.

4)      I did not ask anything about her history or breeding. She’s 100% pure Dexter, but we could have questioned more on her temperament (foul) and how she is handled (with difficulty) if she was lead trained (she wasn’t), did she allow petting and stroking (she didn’t) was she used to people working with her (she definitely was not).

5)      Lastly, we were so happy that someone agreed to a trade that we jumped at the first opportunity, with both feet and no clue. LOL it was great, and we can laugh about it now, but it could have been a lot easier…. and we would have gotten our own milk a lot sooner as well. That extra year of buying milk cost us more than the value of a trip to Potch, a Pedi Ram and the charge of a vet’s call out together.

We spend a fair amount of time at our local auction/flea-market, below are a few of the tips that I have employed to good effect.

1)      As a rule, wherever I spend money, I ask for a discount. The worst they can say is no. This was illustrated with my daughter yesterday. She bought two books at CUM Books and I told her to ask for a discount. She was shy and said they would not give her a discount. So as she was paying, I asked the assistant if we could get a discount and she obliged with a 10% discount. If we had not asked, we would have paid full price.

2)      If you are going to a flea market, and something catches your eye. DO NOT pick it up immediately. Rather pick up an item near it and inspect it and comment on how nice it is. ask the price and put it back down. This lets the seller know you may be price sensitive. THEN pick-up your item and ask the price. He will probably drop his price slightly and tell you. Inspect the item and if it’s used then mention that it’s in nice condition. You like it, however the dent/rust etc should qualify for some discount. If it’s a new item, then ask this simple question. “Is that the best you can do?” while you are waiting for his response, put the item down, to affirm in his mind that you are really considering walking away. Most of all keep quiet, he who talks first loses!

3)      In the same vein, don’t point out an item, nor rush over and comment on an item. And lastly don’t tell the seller any information about the item that you may know and he may not.

4)      If it’s a bulky item that you may need to carry around then counteroffer at a lower price and say you will pay cash now and pick it up later. He may be concerned that you will find a cheaper version down another isle and accept. This works both ways as sometimes you do find a cheaper/better condition one down the next isle 😉

5)      Note that once you walk away at a spoken price if you come back, that is the price that you will pay.

6)      Never haggle a seller down to your price and then walk away, that’s just bad form.

7)      One trick that we like to use is if we are haggling on a particularly desirable item and the seller just won’t budge, my wife (or I depending) will say out loud, that I only have X to spend, if I can’t get it at that price tough. She then walks away. I apologise and put the item back. Often the seller will cave and give it to me at that price.

8)      Bargain hunting at the end of the day while they are packing up is great. You can often get some stunning bargains while guys are packing-up. Especially if they have had a slow day.

9)      At an auction there is typically a minimum acceptable bid, most times the auctioneer will either have a schedule of minimum prices. However at informal actions, after an item is put up for sale and the bidding has run, the auctioneer will often look at the seller and confirm if he will accept your price. If you were bidding right from the start and countered every bid you may still not have reached the sellers minimum price. (or he could just be sly and bump his price by a R100.00 to cover the action fee) He will see that you are very keen on his wares and will push for his price. However, if you only entered the bidding right at the end, your reluctance to bid would be seen as reluctance to spend money and he may just accept the final bid, especially if he was unhappy with the outcome.

10)   Another auction trick that occasionally works is to jump in early and push the bidding with big increments. If your target price is say R1200.00 for a calf (the real value is around R 1400-1500), the auctioneer starts at R200.00 and it goes in R100’s from there(for some reason people always want the bidding to start as low as possible, I’d love to know why? Also people always prefer bids in small increments so when a big bidder suddenly bids it scares them off). What you do is right from the start on each counter bid, name the price (say R400)and then name the price (R800) again and name for a third time to your target price(R1200). Never more than three bids and two bids is better. SOMETIMES it scares the other bidders that they might suddenly overpay for an animal so they back-out and you win the bid at your price. It’s a risky game and you HAVE to know when to stop. Naming the price gives the bidding power to you and not to the auctioneer, and it unsettles other bidders. This only works every now and then but it’s a nice trick to have up your sleeve when the right animal comes along.

I’m sure there are many other tips that people have for haggling on price and bartering, if you would care to leave a comment we could all benefit from your experience.

2 thoughts on “Bargaining, Bartering and lessons in haste.

  1. Paul Zietsman says:

    I absolutely agree with “schedule5”. I have a business of my own, and try to always charge what is fair and reasonable, but also not doing myself in. This is my responsibility before God, and at one time when I afterwards concluded that I could have charged a cleint less, I actually contacted them and returned some money to them, expalining that I had estimated the job to be bigger than it actually was, and upon completion felt that I did not deserve the full price they paid. Needless to say, they were surprised. Yes, I could have argued that this was the price they had agreed to, and its a free market, but I do have my conscience to live with also. I therefore do not allow clients to bargain with me.
    I realise this is one side of the coin; the other is: there are cultures in which bargaining is expected, and you will be completely ripped off if you don’t. So exercise discretion. If the asking price for an item is reasonable, dont exploit the situation because you have the wallet. Those stall owners are also trying to make a living and feed their families.

  2. schedule5 says:

    It’s fine to bargain when you need to, and I agree, often necessary, but I have a problem with people bargaining just because they can. I used to work selling a friends’ handmade goods at a flea market. Each item represented what we felt was a fair price for her time and materials, bearing in mind that this was the only income for a family of 4. It sucked when people wanted to bargain just because they could. Every time we dropped the price, we were taking something away from the maker. If it was a bad day, we sometimes had to undersell just to pay the stall fees.

    If you are buying something homemade, and you think the seller is offering it at a fair price, don’t try to bargain them down just so that you can feel good about yourself. Remember that there is another person on the other end of the deal, too. They may be trying to pull a fast one, but they may also just be trying to make a living.

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