Sunday, January 20, 2013


I have what I have come to appreciate is a simplistic approach to commerce. I go into a shop, find the thing I want, see if the price tag is within the bounds of what I'm willing to pay, and then find someone who works in the shop and ask them to ring it up. The mistake, in case you didn't see it there, was assuming the number on the price tag is how much I have to pay. Apparently in a lot of cases it's completely all right to ask if you can pay less. My dad prefers to explore this option with the opening gambit "what's your best price?" I'll be honest, the first time I was with him and I heard this my reaction was to put my head in my hands and groan (I was a teenager at the time and as a result being embarrassed by my parents was something I was naturally good at).

What sort of shop, thought I, is going to lower the price of their goods just because you ask them to? Sure, maybe at a second hand store or some sort of open air market you can get away with those kind of shenanigans, but in a retail store? These prices must be calculated carefully based on the wholesale cost, rental, staff wages, required profit margin, and probably another dozen complex factors. It's a national company with dozens of outlets, whole legions of people working in logistics and marketing, carefully honing the retail chain to its most efficient and competitive. Merely asking for a better deal isn't going to come into consideration.

Without any sign of being surprised or offended at my dad's suggestion that their prices were anything but a reflection of fair market value, the salesman looked him in the eye and said "I reckon I can knock fifty bucks off it for you." It wasn't even haggling, the salesman just dropped the price. Hell, maybe there was a better bargain to be had by haggling further. It was a sobering moment to find out that the economy you're operating in isn't based on the vendor asking what they believe to be reasonable for their wares but rather charging as much as they think the buyer can afford. I'm not saying that's a bad move by the vendor, just that it's a bit depressing.

Why does this process of just asking for a better price annoy me so much? Is there some poorly thought out excuse about an implicit social contract in the retail environment? Not really. The truth is that I think it makes me look like a sucker. More correctly, it makes me a sucker. I could be getting things more cheaply simply by asking. I don't even have to go to the extra effort of the dedicated bargain hunter, who makes the explicit trade off of time and/or quality for price. I just have to give a cheeky smile and say "what's your best price?" but I know I never will.

Next week's word is bespoke.

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