Donna Montaldo scored a $175 discount when she bought a gas stove from an appliance store in Louisiana. Sally Greenberg wrangled $100 off the price of a flat-screen TV at Best Buy in Washington, D.C. How? By simply asking.
If you thought haggling was limited to car dealerships and mom-and-pop stores, it's time to broaden your horizons. Nationwide department-store chains, exclusive clothiers, and big-box discounters are open to negotiating prices. You just have to know how and when to approach them.Get over it
For most folks, the biggest obstacle to haggling is the fear of looking foolish, says Montaldo, a bargaining expert at www.about.com
, a consumer-advice Web site. "You have to get it in your head that you are a savvy negotiator, not a cheapskate," she says.
Most salespeople won't be surprised when you ask for a price break. Retailers allow and sometimes even encourage their managers to negotiate, though it's rarely a part of written corporate policy. "It's customer service--an opportunity to say yes to the customer," Montaldo says.
Montaldo has negotiated the biggest discounts for herself at clothing, appliance, furniture, and jewelry stores. But she has haggled everywhere and over just about everything. She's been especially successful when she finds a flaw. "When you buy something new, you should expect it to be perfect," she says. "If there's makeup on the collar of a blouse or a scrape on the inside of a table, that's not new, and you should be able to negotiate a discount."Follow the rules
Here's how Montaldo saved $175 on the gas stove: It was in perfect shape, so she didn't haggle on the $900 sticker price. (She had already researched the model on the Web and knew that it was priced fairly.) Instead, she asked for free delivery, which would have been $75, and $100 off the cost of installation.
Robert Bordone would call Montaldo's deal a classic example of one of the basic rules of negotiation: Propose an outcome that will be attractive to both sides. Bordone is an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Law School and the director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program.
The key is putting yourself in the other party's shoes, Bordone says. If you make an offer that you wouldn't accept if you were in their place, why would they? But if the offer would satisfy you, chances are that the other side will accept it.
"Always ask" is Greenberg's mantra. When Best Buy didn't have the TV model that she wanted in stock, she asked for a $100 discount on a higher-priced set. The manager agreed to the deal.
Greenberg's typical approach is straight-forward: "First I remind the manager that I'm a good customer and that I spend X amount at his store every month. Then I ask if he can do better on the price," says Greenberg, an attorney who, as it happens, is senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union in Washington, D.C. Consumers Union is the publisher of Consumer Reports
and this Web site.
Like Montaldo, Greenberg doesn't pay full retail price for imperfect goods. She's even gotten discounts at Toys "R" Us and Target on items with damaged packaging. But if you don't ask for a discount, she says, you won't get one.
- Be patient and be nice. If you're waiting to talk with the manager, don't glare at your watch or tap on the counter. No one wants to bargain with a grouch.
- Time your haggling. Late in the month, when salespeople are trying to meet their quotas, can be a good time to bargain for big-ticket items. And evening or early morning hours are usually less busy, so clerks will have time to talk.
- Know before you go. Research prices and store policies. Bring Web printouts, flyers, and newspaper ads with you.
- Learn to read the ticket. Price or inventory tags often contain date stamps that tell you how long an item has been in the store, though you may need to ask a friendly salesperson to help you locate and decipher the codes. Retailers are often more willing to cut the price on merchandise that's been on the sales floor a longer time.
- Avoid an audience. Haggle out of the earshot of other customers. Sales clerks don't want everyone in the store asking for a deal too.
- Inquire about sales. Salespeople often know when an item will be going on sale. Ask if they will hold something for you until then--or let you have it now at the lower price.
- Find fixable flaws. Look over items carefully for minor imperfections you know you can live with or easily repair, say, a dent on a washing machine or a missing button on a shirt.
- Be prepared to walk. Unless those pumps are worth full retail to you, there are other stores with other shoes.
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