Today began my foray into the world of negotiations. I must admit that I have an aversion to negotiating (see “Terrified to Negotiate”). It makes my palms sweat, my heart race and provokes an undue amount of social anxiety.

To conquer this I followed Tim Ferriss’s advice and headed to the Santa Monica farmer’s market. A farmer’s market is good place to challenge one’s negotiation skills because unlike corporate stores were barcodes fix prices, there is a flexibility that comes with the personal interaction, bulk discounts, and all cash transactions. Other negotiation challenge possibilities include a swap meets/flea markets, artisan festivals, and small individually owned retailers.
I went to the market at noon, figuring that by going near the end of the day I was more likely to find farmers eager sell a product that would otherwise end up in the trash. I began with eggs. I needed to purchase a dozen large brown eggs, which normally sell for $2.50. My heart beating, I approached the female vendor and asked, “what kind of end of the day deals are you offering?” I had read that by starting with an open-ended question you allow the vendor to negotiate with them self.

This wasn’t the case for me.

“Are you a farmer?” She asked. I had to think on my feet, “No, but I am a student.” Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out two dollar bills, “can you do a dozen large for two?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” she replied.

I was off to a good start. As I approached the salad stand I noticed that the woman behind the counter was rounding the down the price for those who bagged there own salad. Seeing this I decided to I bag what appeared to be equal to the pre-packaged half pound bag that cost $3.50 and handed it to the generous blond woman. It’s actual weight was .4 pounds, but when she asked for just two-dollars I accepted, figuring that I had made a deal with out even having to negotiate.

After negotiating with two older women, I realized that I was more intimidated to negotiate with someone who was my own age and gender. I worried that the negotiations would only be compounded by social awkwardness and machoism. But when I walked up to the young guy behind the carrot counter and asked if he could do two bunches for two bucks instead of three he simply said, “why not?”

Next it was on to cherries where I asked the woman to give me a pound for $5 instead of $6.50. She hesitated at first, as she clearly had the most popular cherries in the whole market. But as I persisted she offered to sell me two boxes of cherries (1.13 pounds) for $5. I assume the cherries I got were slightly less fresh, but I had some with lunch today and they were delicious. I think I got a deal.

The hardest negotiation came at the end. The two Japanese women at the berry stand have a virtual monopoly on the blueberry, blackberry and raspberry market on Tuesdays, and they know it. Their berries sell for $5 a box, or 3 boxes for $13. I approached and asked one of the women if she would do 3 for $10. “OK, thirteen,” she responded.

“No,” I said, pulling a $10 bill from my pocket, “ten”.

“Oh, no, no, no,” the woman said putting the box down. And so I did what is often most important in negotiations: walked away. I wandered around the market a bit more, talking with the environmentalists and the gay rights activists, and when I realized that there were no other berries on the whole four block stretch, I relented. Berries were on my shopping list, which meant I had to get them even if I paid full price. This time I put $11 in my hand and approached the other Japanese woman. “Can you do 3 for $11?” I asked.

She smiled at me, “OK, come on, I give you for twelve.” With that I gave in. I ended the negotiations on a friendly note joking with the women about their berry monopoly. Could I have gotten the berries for eleven? Probably. But on the bright side I have a goal to aim for next time.

Items & Prices:

Eggs – $2.50 – $2.00 – 20% discount – $0.50 savings
Salad – $3.00 – $2.00 – 33% discount – $1.00 savings
Carrots – $3.00 – $2.00 – 33% discount – $1.00 savings
Cherries – $6.50 – $5.00 – 23% discount – $1.50 savings
Berries – $13.00 – $12.00 – 7.5% discount – $1.00 savings
Total: $28.00 – $23.00 – 18% discount – $5.00 savings

Ok, so I saved five bucks, nothing to write home about. That said it was a great exercise for getting more comfortable negotiating. I also learned that the easiest way to get a better price is to simply ask.

6 Comments
  1. June 04, 2008

    you forgot another common arena to test negotiation skills: whores.

  2. June 04, 2008

    Yeah, I love the idea of open markets where you get to haggle for the price. But after seeing tons of shows like “Bargain Hunt” where the seller is completely unwilling to drop the price on an item, then suddenly agrees to a 50% discount, and reading other people complain about how they got ripped off from something they thought was a bargain over seas…i begin to have my doubts.
    Then again despite how much they try to hide the fact…its still shopping and therefore utterly brainwashing.

  3. Tom
    June 04, 2008

    after you left a comment on my blog I thought i would check yours out. Its really cool. It was a good read. I am going to link your blog on my site. feel free to link back… :)

    http://howtoclearyourdebt.blogspot.com

  4. June 05, 2008

    a good skill to work on! I was recently told that I’d make a pretty lousy lawyer because I don’t know how to haggle – so we probably all need to work on that. I really like your writing style.

  5. June 05, 2008

    After purchasing one dozen large eggs, did you then proceed to throw them at the window of a nearby Burger King? And more importantly, when the police came by and asked you what you were doing with the eggs, did you tell them, ‘Making an omlette”? Because that would have been funny.

  6. June 10, 2008

    Be careful it’s addictive. That’s how I started negociating for everything! ;-))

    Brice with a “i”

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