Bargaining, embarrassment and personal competitive thrills.
Some of my colleagues just stop short of calling me a fool. They can’t understand my inability to haggle with vendors. I tend to accept the prices they offer without any questions. But my critical colleagues are very different. They have developed bargaining into a fine art and are not averse to spending hours on it perfecting the art so that they can enjoy the intellectual stimulation. Sometimes it is personally embarrassing to be with them because they do not always discriminate between whom they bargain. Here is an experience. A person earning upwards of hundred thousand a month is bargaining with a cobbler for reducing the charges of stitching together already obsolete footwear by two rupee from 10 to 8. The cobbler after manly bearing it for some time and patiently explaining about raising costs, finally said ‘enough is enough I don't want any charges. Consider it as free service’. I was looking at my colleague’s face to see whether there is a trace of embarrassment. Frankly I couldn't find any. He was kind of gloating on his bargaining skills and had the pride of a father who got a new born.
Bargaining is now almost everywhere. In my childhood Kerala was a place where the MRP was sacrosanct. If we had to haggle, we had to go to go to the Tibetan/Nepali markets in the nearby popular hill station. Now the situation is totally different. You find bargaining at hotels, you find bargaining at jewellers, you find bargaining at supermarkets and you find bargaining even at hospitals. Obviously bargaining is pretty high in textile shops. You find bargaining in business to business marketing. Here at least you can expect it. But it is interesting to see that the market has readjusted to the equilibrium of accommodating bargaining or price negotiation which is the more sophisticated word.
There is this case of buying books for the library. Every school and college library worth its salt would demand a discount. There is no purchase without a minimum discount. Finally the discount code is standardised to a minimum of 20%. Even without asking, every vendor would offer 20% discount; otherwise books cannot be sold to educational institutions. Librarians put this in their resume that they were able to get the sacred 20% consistently. Now what is happening is at the time of releasing a book the publishers factor in this discount into consideration If a book is to be priced in at eighty rupees they will make it into hundred so that a 20% discount can be accommodated. This is not my speculation, but told to me by a very successful owner of textbook publishing business.
But my problem is not about such equilibrium is professional purchase practices in libraries but the personal embarrassments you face when you do not have the necessary haggling skills or when you do not enjoy the kill. For someone who considers loss of face as more important than loss of money, bargaining is a distasteful act. Despite getting a discount, you do not know whether this is the maximum discount you could have got or whether there is already a mark-up put in place for accommodating this haggling margin or haggling-rent as economist are likely to call it.
I do not know. Maybe in another culture, bargaining is about enjoying the hunt rather than getting the outcome. Shopping is not just about obtaining the products but also about enjoying the act of shopping. That is why in consumer behaviour shopping is often equated to a hunt. Bargaining provide you the thrills and frills of this hunt. The customer may enjoy it and the shopkeeper may also enjoy it . Sometimes you're disappointed if there is no bargaining. I might also enjoy it if I were in some place where nobody would recognise me. Like the Sarojini Nagar in Delhi or the Lamington Road in Mumbai. Somewhere I do not have to be worried about upkeep and maintenance of the reputation in the local market. Somewhere I do not have to be conscious of my higher salary and below the poverty level existence of this street vendor with whom I engage in my precious skills. But in Kerala , Kozhikode and Kunnamangalam, I have a reputation to protect I find the few rupee I save not worth the emotional cost of seeing the withering look on the street vendor’s leathery face.