He who hesitates ... might get a bargain

June 22, 2006

In the first article to examine bargaining behavior from a consumer perspective, researchers from the University of Maryland found that buyers gauge the success of a round of bargaining not by the final price, but by a seemingly innocuous non-verbal cue: how long the seller pauses before responding to the offer.

"Bargaining outcomes were perceived to be better when an offer was accepted after a delay than when it was accepted immediately, even though the actual outcomes were monetarily equivalent," report Joydeep Srivastava and Shweta Oza in the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers explain that we tend to view bargaining situations as combative situations in which we either get the better of our opponent or they get the better of us. Thus we use hesitation - whether we are haggling at a flea market or negotiating a salary raise - to gauge whether our opponent is satisfied or conflicted.

"Although most bargaining situations require both cooperation and competition, it appears that for most individuals the competitive aspect of bargaining looms larger," write the authors. "Skillful bargainers may use response time effectively to influence bargaining processes and outcomes in their favor."
Joydeep Srivastava and Shweta Oza. "Effect of Response Time on Perceptions of Bargaining Outcomes" Journal of Consumer Research. June 2006.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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