Experience

The Lost Practice of Bargaining

Bargaining is like playing chess.

You’ll have to predict the next few moves of the shopkeeper before asking for a price.

You’ll have to assume the final price of the product you’re interested in and ask for a price that is 20-30% lower to what the shopkeeper’s final price would be in order make them believe that you have settled for their price.

As a kid, I used to go to the railway station market in Ambattur and I’ve always been amazed by how Indian women bargain.

Many times Indian aunties ask shopkeepers for a price that would make them (and you) jump from their seat. When the shopkeeper disagrees, the aunties will simply walk away. The price they ask for would seem ridiculous when you hear it, and sometimes I’ve even felt bad for the shopkeeper. I used to think if people rob them like this, how can they make a living?

But, to my surprise, 90% of the time, the shopkeeper agrees for the price and sells the product.

Sometimes, my mom or aunt used to settle for the shopkeeper’s price but will ask more quantity instead. The women I saw bargaining have always won and walked away from the shop with a victory smile.

Bargaining is an art. It involves smart moves, some confident bluffs (like saying “I know a shop next street that sells is for “x” amount”), and some in-depth crowd-sourced knowledge about products and prices sourced from friends, family, and extended circles.

Bargaining is part of our culture and has been existing for several thousand years.

In some Asian countries, people will accept an outsider as one of them based on the outsider’s bargaining skills.

But, with the rise of ecommerce, we were given no room for bargaining. Instead, we’re made to believe that everything we see is an amazing deal and there is no need to look elsewhere.

Deals and Countdown Timers

Today, major ecommerce players use psychological principles to make us believe that we’re getting an amazing deal and we should click the “Buy Now” button before it goes away.

As soon you land on the product page, you will at least see one of the following things on the page:

  • A discounted price with the original MRP striked-off (you can also see how much you’re saving)
  • A lightning deal that will show you an attractive price with a clock ticking next to it.
  • The system says “Hurry! only one left in stock”
  • Attractive offers on EMI and cashback

Sometimes, there will be more than one element to make you think that it is a “now or never” deal and you’ll have to act immediately.

This way you’re not given enough time to do your research and find better deals.

Digital bargaining = Finding a better deal

In online shopping, the best alternative for bargaining is finding a better deal.

I was recently looking to buy a laptop that was priced at Rs.62,500. It had a striked off MRP price that said the original price was Rs.82,500 (and it said “You save Rs.20,000 on this purchase”)

I felt good. But, I went a step further and started looking at websites of famous electronics chain (such as Croma and Reliance digital) and found one of the sites selling the same model for Rs.58,999. I dug deeper and found a code that brought me an additional Rs.3000 discount and bring the price down to Rs.55,999

By doing some research, I was able to get the same product cheaper (by Rs.6500) than the original “deal”.

Removing the Human Element from Commerce

Despite giving us a comfortable and hassle-free shopping experience, one thing ecommerce websites have failed at is the empathy involved when shopping in real life.

If you’re buying take away from a neighborhood restaurant, you can ask them for an extra pack of chutney or sambar and they would give you without hesitation. If you’re ordering online, you can’t do that. Even if there is an option, there will be a sub-menu and the app will say that the extra sambar costs 15 rupees or something.

You go to a grocery shop, buy soap and the owner tells you that you owe him twenty-four rupees. If you only have twenty-one rupees, he’ll say that its not a problem and ask you to give it when you buy something next time. If you’re doing an online transaction and you’re short by three rupees, you can’t go through with the transaction.

The extra few fishes you get after buying prawns or crab. The free curry and coriander leaves you get when you buy vegetables, the special gravy you get in a parotta shop, the extra appalam you get when you’re eating limited meals (we call these ‘kosuru’ in Tamil which means ‘a little more’). These are the small things that make shopping more lively and satisfying.

Apart from helping us save a little bit of money, bargaining and shopping brings a human connection to our lives. For the majority of previous generation Indian women who spent their lives as homemakers, shopping and bargaining offered them an outlet to get out of their homes, be smart, and win tiny rewards. It was their connection to the outside world and it made them happy.

Humanizing ecommerce

I’m not saying ecommerce websites should bring bargaining into online shopping. But, they can build small interactions and quirks to make our online shopping experience similar and rewarding to shopping in real life.

This can include rounding off the price when the buyer has 1-3% less money than the listed price (applicable for essentials), offering a little extra for returning customers (while ordering vegetables, groceries, and meat online), etc.

But, whatever we do, nothing beats bargaining in real life. Even though I suck at it big time, I’ve always amazed by how some people do it gracefully. And, that will be missed in the future.