Three Letters Re: The Savvy Barterer

Hi Jim:
That first paragraph touched a nerve, because it was so truthful for me. My senior year in college everybody went to Ft. Liquordale. I went to Marrakech. Amazing experience. And boy did I get burned on some of the things I bought there. Some by as much as 1,000%. But the learning experience I came away with was priceless.

The negotiation skills I learned there have become by far my most valuable business tool. That experience really made me think. On one hobby web site where I have collected much feedback my favorite one of all is “He exhibited finely honed buying and selling skills: a pleasure to do business with.” There is so much to bartering, selling, and buying skills. Part of it is even some poker skills.

For the most part we in America consider haggling painful and want it over with as quickly as possible. People over there (in Marrakech) have all day to barter. I think to myself, “It’s my money, I earned it. Why don’t I follow their example and try my very best to get something at the lowest price and see what kind of game we can play to save some dough.” Make it a game and it naturally makes people interested because of competition. But winning the game and letting them make a small profit was the part that I enjoyed.

Yes, sometimes it is majoring in the minors. I don’t have 15 minutes to haggle over a half a kilo of dates, but knowing the real price something should cost hastens the process. I came back home a changed person and used my newfound skills to make and save some real money here at home. When I buy a used item off, say craigslist, I don’t simply make an offer out of thin air. I provide a rational, believable, supportable argument why I am offering what I am offering and why the seller should accept my offer.

Cash is king right now. Not enough people have it, and many desire it more than they desire their toys. One should remember that he who has the cash, now has what everybody wants. If you won’t sell it to me at the price I am offering: I’ll just keep looking. And then they think you might just be the last guy who comes offering them some cash and often you get what you are after.

People just need to slow down the process. I personally like to get off topic. Ask some roundabout personal background questions in friendly way. You can get some valuable insight into whether someone is being truthful or not. Sometimes based upon those answers I choose not to even bother to make an offer. But I am always polite, and respectful. Barter and haggling need not be unfriendly or acrimonious. I usually have more respect for someone who tries: much like respecting your adversary.

I never show too much interest, and make it known I am looking at other similar items elsewhere. Make a point of examining faults quietly, not to annoy the buyer but simply to show those faults are mutually acknowledged.

One of the most valuable things I learned in Marrakech was never offer a price. Work your way down, but don’t offer a price unless you must, toward the end of the game. But, offering a price there is something you must follow thru on. Walking away from an offer you made is very bad form and considered shameful. Here in the US you almost always offer a price on the low end: from a point where you can’t get hurt. Often times I will start negotiations on the phone. But I always ask the seller for his price. Never make an offer before you ask the seller for his price. I have been amazed the few times in my life where I bit my lip and asked the seller for a price, and got one that was far below what I was going to offer for it. Pleasant surprise indeed, and then you can even negotiate downwards from that point. You will get a better price from someone who realizes you are educated in their ways of haggling and you will get to that price quicker.

When I have occasionally dealt with people here in the US who were from North Africa: I usually sense they feel we are fools. Fools in the sense we spend money too easily, to fast, on impulse. We rush one of the most important facets of business. Haggling is a skill most our brethren need to brush up on. Who says you have to spend your money today?

Hope the insight is of some value. I appreciate your work very much. – John E.


Greetings from the Foothills of Maine:
Bartering truly is the greatest sport and a New England national pastime. I’d rather barter than eat. Most folks I know would. I learned to bargain early from a farmer father who was a rather fine trader.

Here’s a tip for our new traders: I’ve never encountered a fellow who wouldn’t take a chance. You see, sometimes a fellow would have accepted my last offer if it weren’t for the “giving in.” Everyone likes to think they have the last word. So somebody pulls a quarter out. If I win he takes my price. If he wins the toss, I take his price. (Which I have already decided I would pay, but I don’t want to give in either and let him have the last word.) It’s all about the dance. I know people who won’t trade unless they haggle-dance first. It’s a contest, a game, a sport — so to speak. I call heads because a quarter goes heads more times than tails. (It’s slightly more likely than tails on a quarter.) I win, he frowns, we all have a good laugh. I pay him, load my goods, and leave. I’ll be welcome back to deal with him in the future, but I’ll won’t be able to use the “flip” again. He won’t remember most of his customers, but he’ll remember me and the “flip.” – CC in Maine


Dear Jim:
Great article on bartering. Here is an inexpensive pocket weight scale I found. With this scale, some calipers, and a good reference you can check coin weight, thickness and diameter to verify authenticity to specifications for coins not covered by the Fisch Instruments gauges.
Regards, OSOM