How much do you gain from bargaining?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

If you can show me an Indian who buys a vegetable from a roadside hawker without bargaining, I will treat you to a dinner. There is one thing we Indians share irrespective of the state we come from, our upbringing or the status in society - the compulsion to bargain before buying anything. It is more psychological in nature than getting real value for the product you buy or the service you pay for.

I was a compulsive bargainer and took pride in the fact that I managed a Rs.500 discount for the Rs.10,000 washing machine or got that Kg. of Tomato for a Rupee cheaper. If there was ever a big ticket to be bought at home, I was always taken to the shop for milking the last rupee for the item bought. The organized retail sector has done little to help Indians get rid of this habit. The haggling in malls and supermarkets gets sophisticated with demands of discount in percentages. The look of helplessness is drawn all over the cashier's face as he is in no control to give discounts to customers with all the prices programmed and fed in to the system.

This behavior of ours I believe has a lot to do with our upbringing. The generation of our parents perceived that they were always cheated and did not get value for money spent. .And bargaining was the only route to get the real value for their service. This has passed onto the next generation. Theirs was a time when a Rupee had significant value. Value of rupee has changed so has our standard of living but not our mindset.

I don't take pride in my bargaining habit anymore. It all changed this Sunday. I took pairs of sandals to be stitched to the roadside cobbler. There were three pairs and I asked the lady how much it would cost me. She examined them as if to calculate in her head what the real cost would be plus the extra 2- 3 rupees and then replied, "Barah" (read: Twelve rupees). I agreed and told her I would pick up the stitched sandals ten minutes later. The surprise showed on her face for a minute because the lady expected me to bargain, perhaps for Rs.10 as every other customer who came to her shop did. Infact, I have done that myself before, for all these years. Advice from Dad and V echoed in my ears, "Don't ever bargain with the vegetable guys and these people. They have a very less margin. If you can afford it and if it doesn't seem over the top, just pay it and keep moving." How much was I going to gain from getting her to fix those sandals for Rs.10? Rs.2 is perhaps a substantial amount of her daily earnings. These are the very people who form the "have-not" section of our society. Why widen that gap with some mean behavior of ours just to get a happy feeling in our minds of having won over that person for Rs. 2?