The Ultimate Guide to Haggling

Everything’s Negotiable

When most people think about haggling, they usually imagine rapid-fire negotiations with merchants in a Turkish bazaar (or perhaps the memorable haggling scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian). Sure, price negotiations happen in the U.S. if you’re trying to buy a car or a house, but when it comes to everyday purchases, you have to pay the price on the tag. Right? Well, it turns out that’s not entirely true. Retailers mark up a product considerably over its wholesale price, which means that even when you factor in the costs of operating a store, there’s still plenty of room for a retailer to discount an item and still turn a profit. And while they’ll usually give those discounts in the forms of markdowns and coupons, sometimes you just have to go ahead and ask if they’ll give you a lower price. To find out the best way to haggle your way to bigger savings, we spoke to some veteran deal-hunters and negotiation experts to get their tips for pulling off a successful haggle, whether you’re buying a new TV or a blueberry pie. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Have the Right Attitude

Most of us have been subconsciously trained to believe that the price on the tag is non-negotiable, as if it were handed down on stone tablets. Herb Cohen, a negotiation expert and author of You Can Negotiate Anything, says that it’s important to get away from that mentality if you want to save some serious dough. “Number one, you’ve got to start with the right attitude,” says Cohen. “’Haggling’ is a pejorative term used by a retailer because they don’t want you to do it. They want you to believe the price like it came from God.” Once you start thinking of price tags as mere suggestions or starting points for a negotiation, you’ll have the confidence to challenge the price tag and bring it down to your level. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Be Respectful

Being respectful is probably the number one rule for any interaction, but it bears repeating here. Many negotiators will take a standoffish tone and go out of their way to find flaws in the product in question to drive the price down – hey, there’s no way that lousy purse is worth anywhere near that much! Teri Gault of TheGroceryGame.com, who says she has saved thousands by haggling on a daily basis, takes the opposite tack. “I respect the retailer and always maintain a positive attitude toward what I’m buying,” she says. “Don’t criticize or put it down, and don’t be dramatic and march out [if you don’t get your way].” After all, if you really felt negatively about the product you wouldn’t be trying so hard to get it, and the retailer knows it. You’re essentially asking the sales associate or manager to do you a favor, and Gault believes that getting in their face and belittling their products isn’t going to give you much success. Photo Credit: Getty Images


…But Look for Flaws

There is one exception to that “be respectful” rule, though: If you see a scratch, tear or other flaw in a product and still think it’s worth buying, by all means ask them to discount it based on that defect. Gault says she recently got 10% off a purse at Lord & Taylor that had a tiny scratch on the buckle, and the same goes for clothes with a missing button – as long as the item comes with an extra button and you can sew it on yourself, you can generally get some modest savings for your trouble. Cohen says he goes a step further, formulating reasons why a product falls short of his expectations in some way and asking the retailer to compensate him accordingly. For instance, he might ask if a product comes in purple – knowing that it does not – and then ask them to give him a small discount, ostensibly to compensate him for the cost of painting it purple himself. “The right attitude should be a cross between irrational exuberance and logical despair: I care about this, but not that much,” he says. Still, Gault cautions that some high-end retailers may have policies that prohibit discounts for products that are actually defective, noting that some stores are supposed to send defective units back to the manufacturer. Like all policies, though, this one can be bent at the discretion of the manager, which was the case with the purse at Lord & Taylor. “They have the power to do it, and it’s no big deal,” she says. Photo Credit: Verdier Flickr


Up the Food Chain

Speaking of managers, let’s take a moment to talk about who you should be speaking with when you negotiate. Different stores will give varying degrees of power to their employees to haggle, and it’s all about figuring out how high you have to go. A sales associate may be eager to give a discount to move an expensive item (especially if he or she is working on commission), but if the employees on the floor can’t help you, don’t be shy about asking for the department manager and making your pitch there. “Start with the person that’s there [on the floor],” advises Cohen. “If you abruptly go over someone’s head, that’s insulting. You don’t want to make enemies, so start off amicably, and if you get to stalemate, see before you walk out if you can speak to the boss.” Gault says she’s even gone all the way up to the store manager, at which point she’s usually able to get her discount; she has even landed discounts on brand new items, she says, by talking her way to the top. Photo Credit: Getty Images


The Best (And Worst) Places to Haggle

Of course, if the goal is to talk your way up the food chain, you can’t get any higher than the owner. Alas, your chances of getting the owner or CEO of a department store on the phone to ask for a discount are just about nil, unless you have some really good connections. That’s why Gault says the best place to haggle is at a small business or mom-and-pop store, where the owner may very well be the person behind the counter (or at the very least, the person in the office in the back). “If you’re shopping in stores where you can get to the owners, that’s the easiest,” she says. “They know the bottom line so they have all the power in the world.” In other words, the owner knows exactly how low they can go and still turn a profit, so they’ll be best-equipped to negotiate. On the flipside, there are some places where haggling is going to be a lot more difficult. Gault notes that couture retailers are more likely to be constrained from changing the price on expensive items, so unless you find a defect you’re probably not well-positioned for a discount. And she says that stores that offer a discount for signing up for their credit card can also be difficult – cashiers and associates there tend to be under a lot of pressure to push the cards on customers, she says, so if you try to haggle they’ll likely tell you about the sign-up discount and make that a prerequisite for any markdown. Photo Credit: Getty Images


The Best Time to Haggle

Assuming that your best bet to score a discount is to speak to a manager, the best time is when the manager is going to be free to speak with you. “Since you want to work up the food chain, you want to come at low traffic times,” Gault says. And haggling will also be more effective at different times of the year, so don’t expect to waltz in on Black Friday to try and shave a couple more dollars off of already-discounted items. “After the holidays, when everyone’s broke, big ticket items don’t move as fast… They’re ready to haggle,” Gault says. You should also pick the best time of the month to do your haggling. Erin Huffstetler, who blogs for Savings.com and About.com, says that sales associates will be more willing to deal toward the end of the month. “In a lot of places where employees work on commission, they get to the end of month and they haven’t met their [sales] quotas,” she says. Photo Credit: sfxeric


Playing the Price-Match Game

One of the most effective ways of haggling is to bring in proof that a competitor is offering a better price. Indeed, some retailers will even make it a policy that they’ll match a competitor’s price. In that case, Gault says to read the terms and conditions of the deal and bring in whatever proof they require (and make sure the competitor’s product isn’t refurbished and has a warranty, so you’re comparing apples to apples). Huffstetler says that some retailers will even take another 10% off the top if you can prove that a competitor is beating them on price. When you’re dealing with a retailer that doesn’t match prices automatically, it gets a bit more tricky. For starters, don’t tell the sales associate that you’re intending to price-match – if that’s against policy, they might tell you as much and end the conversation there. Instead, Gault recommends simply asking if you can get a discount, and if they’re no help, just ask for the manager. “When they go get the manager, I don’t want him to know what my pitch is,” Gault says. “You can easily persuade someone, but once their mind is set, you can’t dissuade them.” Once the manager comes out, produce your printout or competing flier, and be prepared to anticipate any objections they might have. Don’t play dumb – acknowledge that they don’t have a price-match policy and ask if they can help you anyway. “Say, ‘I want to get the best price, I don’t expect you to match it, but maybe you could meet me somewhere in between. I can get a better price but I’d rather buy from you,’” she says. “Sometimes they match, sometimes they meet you halfway.” Photo Credit: dmdonahoo


Go Big or Go Home

Buying a big-ticket item is a surefire way to get a retailer to the negotiating table. A sales associate or manager will salivate at the thought of a customer walking away with $1,000 laptop or TV, and should be willing to give some discounts to make it happen, according to Gault. The same goes for buying in quantity. “Any time you’re buying more than one thing, that could be a haggling position,” Gault advises. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. “If you’re going to buy two gold chains, don’t say upfront that you want to buy two,” she says. “Ask for a discount on one, then once you secure that you can say, ‘I like this one here, too; if I buy two of these can you give me an even better deal?’” Photo Credit: Toshiba.com


Meat, Pies and Meat Pies

You may be surprised to learn that you can even haggle in a grocery store, though Gault says it will only work in certain departments. The bakery and meat departments are probably your best bet, as that’s where you’ll see a lot of food with a short shelf life. “If I see 20 pies and they all have a sell-by date of today or tomorrow on them, I’ll find the one they have the most of and ask them if they can mark it down,” she says, noting that the bakery manager or store manager will usually give her half off for baked goods on the verge of expiring. The same goes for the meat, Gault says: While ground beef and poultry go bad just a day or two after the sell-by date, you have a bit more leeway on steak and other cuts of beef. If they haven’t put it in the clearance bin yet, ask if they intend to do so and they’ll usually put a discount sticker on it. Meanwhile, Huffstetler says that you can also have success at the grocery store if you offer to buy in bulk. She said she recently made an unsuccessful attempt to buy a crate of macaroni and cheese at a bulk discount, but that the store manager encouraged her to come to him again if she ever wanted to buy anything else in bulk. “If they’ve got cases of something on sale, they might give you a discount,” she says. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Cash is King

While swipe fee reform is under review, retailers still pay fees around 2% every time someone pays with a debit card. You’ll make a retailer’s day if you offer to pay with cash, and they might be willing to knock a few bucks off your purchase price if you pull out a wad of bills. Cash also has an advantage over credit cards, as it eliminates the possibility that a retailer would have to deal with the credit card company in the event of a dispute. Cohen says that when he’s in a store – particularly a small local business where the owner is behind the counter – he’ll start off by offering to pay with an American Express card, which he says carries the highest transaction fees. He’ll then ask if he can get a discount for paying with a Visa instead, then finally ask if he can get an even bigger discount if he pays cash. In his experience, a business owner will be relieved to know he or she’s gone from a high AmEx fee to no fee at all, and will be more willing to offer a discount accordingly. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Threaten to Walk Away

One time-honored negotiation tactic, deployed at the right moment, can pay big dividends: Just threaten to walk away. “If you’ve been negotiating for a while and not making headway, start to walk off and they’ll change their tune,” advises Huffstetler. That’s especially true if a sales associate has dedicated considerable time trying to make a sale, says Cohen. He recounts going suit shopping and having an associate help him try on seven suits before he finally decided to buy the eighth. As he was on the verge of handing over his credit card, he asked the salesman to throw in a free tie, knowing full well that the salesman wasn’t about to lose a $1,000 sale – and all the hard work he’d put into it – over an accessory. Of course, sometimes this means actually walking away from the negotiation if the salesperson doesn’t come around. But that doesn’t mean that it’s over. “If I’m in a store and can’t come to an agreement, they’ll say ‘Take my card,’” says Cohen. “Don’t take their card; give them your card, and tell them to call you if anything changes. I guarantee you’ll hear from them in a month, making some excuse to get you back in the store.” Photo Credit: Getty Images


It Pays to Travel

Some large retailers will go out of their way for tourist business, and accordingly will issue “visitor’s cards” for out-of-towners in town for a few days. Gault says she discovered this by accident while shopping at a New York Macy’s during a visit from California. “Macy’s has a discount card for visitors that’s good for a few days,” she says, recalling that a cashier directed her to the store’s business office. “It gave me an 11% discount.” Cohen says he was likewise surprised to learn of the traveler’s discount when visiting a San Francisco Macy’s as a traveler from New York. The lesson here is that it never hurts to ask, as you never know where a discount may be found. You don’t have to be an expert negotiator – you just have to ask. Photo Credit: Getty Images


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