Is online shopping making Britain a nation of barterers?

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With the festive shopping season in full swing, shoppers are getting more savvy in trying to save some pennies.  But has the typically middle eastern custom of bartering entered the mainstream of western society? Jack Palfrey investigates Britain’s so-called bartering revolution and offers four top tips to get you started.

British shopping habits have changed dramatically over the years. At one time if you needed new attire you’d head to the local market, then the high street boom shaped our shopping habits, and now buying an item of clothing simply involves a quick browse of the internet on your lunch break.

Recent studies have revealed that two thirds of Brits now use the internet to buy goods or services, making it the biggest online shopping nation in the developed world per head. If Britain is indeed undergoing a bartering revolution, then online is the best place to start.

Bartering more prominent in British culture

Simon Allen launched his website, BarterBay in October 2012. When asked if he feels bartering has become more prominent in British culture, his view on the topic leaves little room for doubt. “It certainly has,” says Allen. “The success of BarterBay in such a short period proves that Brits are confident enough to negotiate on price.”

The Cambridge-based company is built on the idea of trading goods for others. Unlike traditional bidding sites, such as eBay, users can state the price they want for a given item, with other users then being able to accept the price, propose a lower fee, or offer to trade something of their own as payment.

It simulates a traditional face-to-face transaction, rather than an auction process. BarterBay is just one of numerous new startups and apps that are providing internet users with a platform to sell products at a price that’s open to discussion.

Depop: the app for clothes swaps and offers

Another example is Depop, an app for buying and selling clothes where users are able and encouraged to make swaps and offers to their liking. So what does Simon believe is driving this change in the way people are doing business? “It is explicitly linked to the economy,” states Allen. “When the economy is down people are trying to save as much money as possible, forcing them to say ‘actually I’ll pay 20 quid less for that’.”

It is clear, that if this so-called bartering revolution is indeed occurring, it is fuelled by the online market place. The anonymity provided by a computer screen grants people the confidence to ask for a discount and also rids them of any of the pre-existing prejudice of haggling as a practice of the lower classes.

Derek Arden: the master negotiator

But away from the computer, the effects of the bartering revolution are less likely to make their way on to the high street, according to Derek Arden, a business whizz, author and TV personality that helps companies to improve profits by teaching staff how to negotiate.

He is also the only person in the UK to be a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association, Chartered Management Institute and the IFS School of Finance. Arden, known colloquially as ‘Mr Negotiator’, accepts that online haggling is on-trend, but when it comes to real life, people are unlikely to dispute price.

“There has been a clear rise in comparison style websites that mimic the bartering concept,” he says. “But face-to-face bartering still scares the pants off most Brits and most simply won’t do it. “During my seminars I ask the audience to raise their hands if they would ask for a discount on typical consumer items like clothes – almost no hands go up.”

Arden believes that bartering is geographically influenced on a global scale, the further south you go the less items have prices and the more the sales staff expect you to discuss price. Arden, as an avid negotiator himself, doesn’t understand why more people don’t give it a go. “People are terrified of any form of confrontation. Most say they feel rude asking, or simply don’t know where to start,” Arden says.

Four steps to bartering success

If you are afraid of getting stuck in then following Arden’s four-step programme is a good place to start.

1. Be nice

First off it’s vital to build rapport and ensure you are approaching someone with the authority to give you a discount. “When you begin speaking, be friendly – a smile is crucially important,” says Arden. “In all of the countries where bartering is the norm, they smile while they negotiate. It’s about finding a price that is fair to you both.”

2. Mention competition

“Let the person know that this isn’t your only option,” Arden says. “If the item in question is a coat, let them know that you’ve seen one you like in a rival store. They have to be aware that they have competition for your custom.”

3. Go for it

“I always say, ‘you don’t ask, you don’t get’,” says Arden. “But it is all about how you ask the question. Make it a soft question like: ‘Is there anything you can do to help me make a decision?’ Don’t be too direct.”

4. Prepare for defeat

After trying all that, if it doesn’t go the way you hoped, then Arden’s last nugget of advice is to simply get over it. “If they can’t help you with a discount then move on,” he says. “Neither you nor the salesperson has lost anything from the conversation. If you really are broken up about it, give me a call and I can give you the number of a good psychotherapist.”

To book Derek Arden for a seminar, visit his website

Jack Palfrey is a writer for AAT Comment.

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