If someone says “haggling,” you’ll probably think of dust-covered antiques at a flea market, or a box full of old LPs at a garage sale. Time to take it up a notch. Major retailers are increasingly willing to negotiate on price to avoid losing business to online competitors and to engender customer loyalty.
“The bargaining practices are more commonplace for home and sporting goods or electronics, but even higher-end retailers like Nordstrom have price-matching guidelines — though they usually do not broadcast the terms,” the New York Times says.
In a recent article, it points out that bargaining is easier today thanks to a proliferation of high-tech tools that help shoppers compare prices and make deals — often right from their smartphones.
But although these tools make the process easier by putting pricing information at shoppers’ fingertips, the key to haggling is being willing to ask for a lower price in the first place. If bargaining in a store seems as far from your shopping style as a Middle Eastern bazaar, here are some suggestions from experts on how to score a better price.
(MORE: 12 Things You Should Always Haggle Over)
Do your homework. “Knowing about the products you want to purchase put you on higher ground and taking inventory of who else is selling it will help in your negotiating,” says savings expert Andrea Woroch. Many stores have added price-match policies in recent months, but you still need to take the initiative. “Not all sales associates have the power to haggle nor do they all know the price negotiating or matching policies, unfortunately,” she points out.
Ask if they’ll price match. Think of this as a baby step into the art of haggling. If the idea of flat-out asking for a lower price intimidates you, this can be a good way to ease into negotiating lower prices.
Go up the food chain. If a salesperson says they don’t have the authority to give you a better price, ask to speak to whoever does, says Ed Brodow, author of Negotiation Boot Camp. “Usually, it’s the manager,” he says. “They have the authority and they’re more used to negotiating,” he says, and you’re more likely to get a deal because they’re thinking about your overall value as a customer, not just that one sale. “They’re thinking a lot broader than the salesperson,” Brodow says.
Buy in bulk. If you’re purchasing multiple items, it’s reasonable to ask the store to knock the price down a bit. “For instance, if you are buying multiple major appliances, you might ask if you can get a discount because you buying several items,” says Edgar Dworksy, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. Brodow suggests teaming up with a friend or relative and offering to buy, say, four or five of something in exchange for a markdown.
Ask for a recent sale price. “If you know that a store offered the item at a lower price in the recent past, don’t be afraid to use that as a negotiating tool,” Dworsky says. Something as simple as, “I missed the sale last week, can you sell me that TV for that price, or are you expecting it to be re-offered soon?” could yield you savings, he says.
Look aghast. Brodow recommends what he calls “the flinch” — expressing shock at the sticker price. This is a trick that might work at an estate sale or antiques dealer, too, but in chain stores, it’s less likely to come to mind because we’re conditioned not to visibly display our sticker shock.
Point out scuffs and scratches. “If you find a flaw in an item, or are interested in a floor model, that is another justification for getting a price reduction,” Dworsky says.
Offer to pay cash. Merchants all have to pay interchange fees to credit card companies every time you swipe. Since big retailers can negotiate interchange rates with the banks, this puts mom-and-pop businesses at a disadvantage — they often pay higher rates to take plastic. It probably won’t work at a big chain, but if you’re at a small boutique, ask if you can get a discount for paying cash.
Ask for extras. If you can’t get anywhere haggling over price, experts suggest asking the seller to throw in something extra — accessories, free delivery — if you pay full price.
Don’t be afraid to leave. This holds true whether you’re haggling at a flea market or a high-end department store. The willingness to walk away from something, even if it’s something you actually want, can be a powerful negotiating tool.