The Loisels were able to buy the necklace for less because the jewelry store owner was interested in making bargains since the necklace was not worth his asking price.
When Madame Loisel loses the necklace, she is horrified. It is very expensive. She had to borrow it from a wealthy friend from school because she had nothing as nice that she owned. They went to the jeweler whose case the necklace was in, and he said the case was his but the necklace was not. They finally found a jeweler with a similar necklace after searching for days.
They found, in a shop at the Palais Royal, a string of diamonds that seemed to them exactly like the one they had lost. It was worth forty thousand francs. They could have it for thirty-six.
The jeweler says the necklace was worth forty thousand francs, but it must not have been. Otherwise, he certainly would not have agreed to buy it back for thirty-six. Like most retailers, he put a high price tag on it to sell it for less than the asking price to make them think they were getting a bargain. It is also possible that he saw how poor they were and knew they could not afford more, and preferred to make some sale rather than none.
In those days and in that country there probably would have been no price tag on the necklace. The customer would inquire how much the jeweler was asking for an item and the jeweler would name a price. Naturally the jeweler would try to get as much as possible, but he was probably making a big profit on everything he sold. If he paid 20,000 francs for the necklace and mentally marked it up to 40,000 francs, he could sell it for 36,000 francs and still make a nice profit of 16,000 francs for the day.
The fact that there was a certain amount of haggling going on is indicated in this sentence in the story:
And they made a bargain that he should buy it back for thirty-four thousand francs, in case they should find the lost necklace before the end of February.
The Loisels may have confided their whole problem to the jeweler. They had lost a borrowed necklace and had to replace it. They would have a very hard time raising enough money to buy such an expensive item. The jeweler may have felt some compassion for this young couple, since they were obviously distressed and obviously not the type of people who bought expensive jewelry. So he not only lowered his price by four thousand francs, but he gave them a promise to buy the necklace back if they could find the one they had lost. He would buy it back for two thousand francs less than they paid him for it. The jeweler seems like a kind and understanding man, but a businessman just the same.
Perhaps the bargaining over the diamond necklace was a delicate foreshadowing of all the haggling that Mathilde Loisel would be doing in the future when she was shopping for the bare necessities of life. We Americans are not accustomed to haggling with merchants. We either pay the asking price or we forgo the purchase. The exception is in buying automobiles. For some reason there is almost always haggling involved in buying a new or used car. But people in many foreign countries are quite used to haggling over prices. In some countries a merchant might be astonished if someone paid him the price he first mentioned. The fact that Mathilde did a lot of haggling over groceries shows that it was not an uncommon practice in Paris.
And dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, a basket on her arm, bargaining, meeting with impertinence, defending her miserable money, sou by sou.
The jeweler agrees to sell the necklace for less than the asking price, but we are not told exactly why. There are several reasons why the Loisels might have been allowed to purchase the necklace for thirty-six rather than forty thousand francs. The jeweler might have simply told them that the price was higher in order to make them think that they were getting a bargain. This is common practice, even today. You will see sale signs all of the time, even if something is always on sale.
Another reason that the necklace might have been on sale is that Madame Loisel was very beautiful. Beautiful women do tend to get all of the breaks. Madame Loisel’s beauty is spoken of often in the story, and this is early on before she worked so hard that she lost it.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was unhappy as if she had really fallen from a higher station; since with women there is neither caste nor rank, for beauty, grace and charm take the place of family and birth.
It could be that Mathilde used her feminine wiles in order to convince the jeweler to give her the necklace for a lower price. Or, just the presence of a beautiful woman in his shop might have convinced him to give her the necklace at a cheaper price.
There is another possibility. He might have realized that the Loisels were poor, and if he did not lower the price he would not get their business at all. They could not afford the forty thousand francs, but by lowering the price to thirty six thousand he would have them as a customer. If he had kept it at forty thousand they might have kept going until they found another shop that was cheaper.
No matter the reason they chose his shop, the Loisels decided to buy from that shop, and he agreed to buy the necklace back for forty-four thousand francs if they found the other necklace. The irony is that this was a real necklace, whereas the one that Mathilde lost was a fake one made from paste all along.