I hate garage sales. The idea of lugging all your stuff out in front of your house so that complete strangers can attempt to steal it for cents on the dollar is painful. Nevertheless, this past weekend we had a garage sale. It was supposed to start at 7 a.m., but as we were pulling things out during the pre-dawn hours, people were already showing up to unapologetically scavenge. Then it began: They would ask, “How much?” I’d give them a price, and then they would ask, “Would you take [insert ridiculous price here]?” and expect to haggle until we met somewhere in the middle. As a professional negotiator, I loathe haggling, and the pain of it started to set in. That is, until I tapped into overlooked sources of power and leverage that ended these attempted haggles early.
First off, why do I loathe haggling? It’s like two dogs competing for a bone — in order for one to win, the other must lose. By definition, haggling occurs when two parties bargain over a single variable, typically price. As one gives, the other takes. No value is created. Well-worn phrases like, “Let’s meet in the middle” are bandied about. For a negotiator, giving up value and getting nothing in return simply hurts (and if it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right!).
That’s what happens at most garage sales — people haggle over price. It’s an accepted, and expected, part of the culture. But it also extends beyond garage sales. There are many buying/selling cultures in which it’s absolutely part of the process. So, if there’s no value exchanged during haggling, most of the power that exists is based on our ability to persuade the other party to give upvalue. At this garage sale, my challenge was that there was only so much persuading I could do. In fact, I was fairly certain that I was doomed to a day of haggling until I had an interaction with one of my first customers.
One of the early birds started pulling things out of boxes and laying them out like he was running a crime scene investigation. Once he created his lineup, he started walking me down the line, asking about the price of each item. He then went back to the top of the line and started haggling with me over the price of each item. Just as he began, someone else walked up and looked at something at the end of his line. “That’s mine,” he blurted, and the other shopper backed off. To which I responded, “It’s not his until he buys it.” That’s when it hit me. Right there, in front of me, I saw how I was going to turn the entire process around and pivot from mind-numbing haggling to value-creating negotiating.
The key to moving from haggling to negotiating is having other variables in play. There has to be something else to trade with. If at the garage sale I let every interaction be about just that one item in hand, there would be no variables other than price — so I had to create them. I found them in three areas:
- Volume. When people asked me to discount the price of an item, I told them, “Why don’t you look around and let me know if there’s anything else you’re willing to buy, and then we can discuss price.” It worked like a charm. I sent the message that I would discount only when they bought multiple items. For those who brought me only one item, I would introduce another item and make them an offer if they bought both. That put a stop to haggling on many of the lower-priced items.
- Multiple Buyers. As soon as two buyers became interested in the same product, I no longer had to haggle. Bringing about this situation wasn’t all that easy to pull off, so I had to get creative. I took the more valuable items and placed them on Craigslist and eBay at prices slightly higher than those at the garage sale. I quickly got some interest online. Then as buyers at my garage sale wanted a lower price, I just let them know that I had an interested buyer online who was willing to pay a higher price if the item didn’t sell today. That stopped haggling on the higher-end items.
- Time. I used time throughout the day. Specifically, I was aware of the time that had passed and the amount of time I had left. I would even use time and other variables to create leverage (e.g., “No discount on that because we’re early in the sale. But if you were to buy both of these, I’d be willing to . . .”). However, it also worked against me. For instance, one gentleman who arrived early was interested in an item. He made a very lowball offer, which I refused. At the end of sale, he returned, saw the same item, and made an even lower offer. That was smart. I tipped my hat to him and accepted his offer in exchange for the lesson learned.
At the end of the day, we sold everything but a couple of small boxes of trinkets. We also tripled the monetary goal we set for the sale, and I wound up having a lot more fun throughout the day as I engaged in haggle-averting micro-negotiations.
It was also a good reminder that if you get stuck on just one variable, don’t get sucked into value-depleting haggling. Get creative and start looking for other variables to save your value — and avoid the pain!
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