Have you had the opportunity to negotiate the price of something at a marketplace? I know that, here in America, when we go into most stores the prices are fixed and culture says we should not ask for a discount. But there are many cultures in the world where that is not the case. There are even certain situations where it is expected that you would negotiate for an agreeable price.
Living in a couple of foreign countries and traveling internationally quite a bit, I have my share of market negotiation stories. Many of my stories I tell because I feel like I got a good deal. Most that I don’t tell are where I feel like the salesman made out better than I did.
You want to hear a couple of them? Consider this verse first.
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.Proverbs 20:14
After a couple of stories I will come back to the verse and see how it applies.
My Personality and Good Looks
A couple of years ago my wife and I were in the Philippines visiting some missionary friends. We went to a souvenir shop that actually had the prices on the products—a rare sight. And the prices weren’t terrible—even rarer.
There was a sign on the door that said prices were not negotiable. I intended to honor their sign and prices.
While in the shop we had a good conversation with the two ladies who were taking care of everything.
When we got ready to pay for our items I jokingly said to the lady, “I saw your sign that said prices were fixed and not negotiable. I won’t try to talk you down on the price. But, I wonder, do you have a discount for people like me with such a charming personality and good looks?”
She laughed and said, “No, I can’t do that.”
Then she totaled up the bill and gave us a 10% discount anyway.
I was willing to pay the asking price because I thought it was fair. The proprietor was willing to come down in price because she thought it was fair. It was a win for her and a win for me.
This is how I hope most of my market experiences end. And I think most do. It is best when the buyer and seller both feel like winners in the transaction. The seller doesn’t make as much as they could have, but they don’t feel bad for gouging the buyer. And the buyer feels like he got a fair price without robbing the seller.
When It All Goes Wrong
In May of 2003 I had the privilege to go to the country of Cuba. It was a wonderful trip. I would love to go again and see the many pastors that I met there. But, there is one bad experience that sticks out in my mind from that trip.
One day, while my friend Reed and I were roaming the town looking for Deaf that we could invite to our meeting, we walked through a market area.
A lady had two wooden boxes she was trying to sell. I wasn’t really interested in her boxes, but she was very insistent that I look at them. To be kind I took them in hand and looked them over. I told her I was not interested. She asked me to name a price and I said I really didn’t want them.
She then said that the price was $17 for both of them. I didn’t want them for $17. I didn’t even want them at all. She started coming down on the price. Then she asked me how much I would pay if I did want them.
I told her that I would not even want them if they were $2. She kept dropping her price slowly down to $6. I kept telling her no. I really did not want the boxes.
Finally she said—as if I had pressured her into it—that I could have the boxes for $2. At that point I felt bad not buying the boxes. I told her I would give her the $2 and she could keep the boxes. She insisted I take them.
All these years later I feel like I stole the boxes from her. But, I would have also felt terrible in not giving her something. I still have the boxes somewhere. I have never wanted to put them on display.
This is one of those few times where I think the buyer and the seller both lost.
This verse in Proverbs 20 talks about a buyer that goes to the market and argues with the seller saying the value of the product isn’t worth the asking price. Presumably he talks the seller down to a price that is unreasonably low.
Then, after driving the price down, he walks away feeling victorious that he robbed the seller. There is no thought as to whether the seller will be able to feed his family on the price that was paid. Nor is there concern for the factory workers that aren’t paid a living wage to work in terrible conditions to provide the product for the seller.
I know there is the argument that says the seller doesn’t have to sell the product. But give some thought to the fact that sometimes it is better sell at a loss than not have any money to feed the family. The seller has money wrapped up in inventory. If they get $2 for a $10 item, that gives them $2 to live on even if it is an overall loss of $8.
The Bible isn’t saying we shouldn’t negotiate. However, don’t drive such a hard bargain that you are robbing someone of their livelihood. You should be able to walk away feeling like you both got a fair deal.
I understand there will always be people trying to cheat you, but that doesn’t mean you have to cheat others. Consider another verse from the same chapter when you are tempted to push a bargain beyond a reasonable point.
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.Proverbs 20:7