Shoppers have nothing to lose but their inhibitions

WHAT is it that makes us reluctant to complain or to haggle for a lower price in shops?

According to a new survey, politeness – or weakness, depending on your view – is costing us 74 billion a year. But we hate causing a fuss. We fear embarrassment more than we value the pounds to be saved by seeking to bargain in the shops. We recoil from the sour aftertaste of a row in public and the sense that we can never go into that restaurant or shop again. Our card will be marked. We fear at some point in the future terrible vengeance will be taken.

But complaining is something we should do more of, providing the cause is just. Scotland has a very mixed record on service, partly because local customers have put up with poor or indifferent service that overseas visitors would consider unacceptable in their own cultures. Techniques can be deployed to register a protest without sparking a scene. Equally, there are occasions when bartering in shops is acceptable. This may be in respect of soiled or damaged items or goods offered in a discount sale, where the retailer may quite welcome a price lower than that advertised in order to shift stock and clear space for better items.

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Reading these situations and deploying a technique that encourages compromise is as good a social gift as "politeness" and need be no cause for embarrassment.