May 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm
By Dawn Papandrea
In these tough economic times, every dollar counts. So if you can end up with some extra cash in your pocket by simply polishing your bargaining techniques, all the better! Try these tactics on your next shopping trip.
At Flea Markets
Why it makes sense: Negotiating is expected.
Spending strategy: First walk the flea market to get a sense of prices. Unless there’s something you must have, wait until the end of the day to make purchases, says Scott Gamm, personal finance expert and founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com. “That’s when you get the best deals, because sellers might be planning on clearing out their inventory.” Also, always carry cash, says Teri Gault, CEO and founder of TheGroceryGame.com. “Keep all increments handy: coins, dollars, fives, tens. You don’t want to pay more if they don’t have change.” Most important, keep in mind that flea markets are almost always final sale. Test items before you buy them: Inspect clothing and furniture for holes, stains or rips; check dishes for cracks; and ask to plug in electronics to see if they work. If a product is questionable, walk away.
At Garage Sales
Why it makes sense: Sellers are as anxious to get rid of items as they are to make a buck.
Spending strategy: Start by connecting with homeowners to see why they’re having the sale. For instance, is their house on the market or has it just been sold? “You’ll have more leeway for negotiation,” says Gamm, pointing out that it’s better for the seller to get $5 for an item than for it to end up on the curb. If you can’t get the deal you want, leave your phone number and tell the sellers to call you if no one else shows interest—they just may reconsider your offer.
At Department Stores
Why it makes sense: They have some flexibility and offer perks and extra sales for cardholders.
Spending strategy: Ask the salesperson if there are any in-store coupons he could swipe for you, or if he would honor an expired coupon. Follow your favorite stores on Facebook and Twitter so you’ll be notified about sales in advance. When you’re searching for something specific, do some online research to get an idea of the average price. Gault also suggests examining merchandise and pointing out minor imperfections in a noncritical way to see if you can get a discount (that is, assuming the defect is something you can live with). For example, you could say: “I love this shirt, but it’s the last one and the button is hanging off. Since I’d have to sew it back on, could you give me a discount?” Gault says that strategy can usually get you 10% to 20% off.
At Neighborhood Mom-and-Pop Stores
Why it makes sense: The owner has the final say on pricing and may be open to negotiation.
Spending strategy: Try to deal with independent shops when the proprietor is there. If she has stepped out, don’t be afraid to ask the clerk to get in touch with her, because salespeople will often defer to the boss, claiming they don’t have the authority to modify prices. Buying quantity puts you in a better position to bargain. “A lot of times I’ve gotten half off on the second pair of shoes,” Gault says. Another way to gain bargaining position is to keep tabs on competitors’ prices. But be mindful of how you bring those up, since small shops often can’t compete with big-box stores, says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, which specializes in corporate etiquette training. She advises saying something like: “I’d love to do business with you since you’re in my neighborhood, but so-and-so has a better price. Can you match their offer or at least come closer?” Gottsman says, “You can be polite and still show assertiveness.” Other ideas: Inquire about discounts if you purchase a floor model or showcase item that might be missing its box. Just be sure to get in writing that the item is still covered under warranty.
At Furniture and Appliance Stores
Why it makes sense: You’re making big purchases.
Spending strategy: Always ask to speak with a manager, since a higher-ranking employee may be more willing and able to work with you. If there’s no wiggle room, there are other ways to save. “See if the price can include tax,” Gault says. “Or inquire about free delivery, assembly or treatments like spot guard.” No matter the venue, the key is to never feel embarrassed about bargaining, says Gamm. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Smart Bargaining Tactics for Any Situation
Be polite. Salespeople aren’t going to be bullied into dropping a price, says Gottsman. “They’re more receptive to a friendly customer,” she explains. Keep your cool!
Master tiered haggling. You can save more by layering your price reduction requests. For instance, at a jewelry store, if you plan to buy two items, start by asking for a discount on a single item first. Then inquire whether you could get a better price if you buy two items. Finally, ask if paying cash will lower the price even further.
Request freebies or samples when buying higher-priced items. When you’re shopping for pricey goods like a cell phone or a video gaming system and you’re not able to negotiate a discount, Gamm recommends asking if they’ll throw in something extra. You might be able to get a few bucks off an accessory or score a small freebie.
Be fair and maintain your dignity. It’s great to be a smart consumer, says Gottsman, but don’t act as if prices must be lowered. Fair questions to ask: Is this the best price? Do you anticipate a sale? Are there going to be any coupons? Will you honor other stores’ coupons or their sales? If you’re not pleased with the answers, leave with no hard feelings.
What have you successfully haggled down? Share your best bargaining story in the comments below.