December 5, 2015
Let me confess up front: When it comes to negotiating, I’m a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal wimp. And I’m not alone. “Our culture has program reed us to believe that the sticker price is what you’re supposed to pay,” explains Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything. But the reality, he says, is that “almost no price is etched in stone.”
So where can we hesitant hagglers begin? First, know that it’s generally best to wheel and deal on weekdays, preferably in the A.M., when retail traffic isn’t at critical mass, says Mark Davis, head of marketing at Launchscore, a business opportunity search engine. When you shop, picture yourself as a seller, not a buyer. “Your money is actually the product up for sale,” Cohen says. Beyond price bargaining, consider asking for an extended warranty or free delivery, suggests Roger Volkema, author of The Negotiation Toolkit. Or, if you’re buying several blouses, see if they’ll throw in a scarf or earrings for free.
Here’s the technique. Get the salesperson’s name and use it, Cohen says. Then plop on an imaginary dunce cap. A salesperson who feels superior is more malleable, so just smile, listen, and strike what Cohen calls “a low-key pose of mild incompetence.” If you’re hungering for a new refrigerator, for instance, park yourself in front of that side-by-side and stare, in a bewildered but affectionate manner. When the salesperson–let’s call him Rob–approaches, start spouting non sequiturs such as “hmm … gee … I dunno.” Cohen claims that Rob will then ask, Do you like this model? Does it have the features you want? In response, mumble “yeahs” and “uh-huhs.” Then he’ll put a price on the table. You reply, “That’s more than I can spend.” Or ask, “When is this going on sale?” “Ninety percent of the time,” Cohen says, “the salesperson will reduce the price on the spot.”
Now, those are impressive odds, so I gave it a try. I stationed myself in the big-screen TV section of an electronics warehouse and struck my best amiable but disoriented pose. As the salesperson sidled up to me, I spotted his name tag and said, “Hi, Frank, I’m Carrie.” He smiled. And I swung into the “hmm … I’m not sure” mode. As Cohen predicted, Frank began probing about my desired screen size, features, and manufacturer. In minutes, he played the price card. I politely pounced with, “Gosh, that’s more than I can pay.” To my amazement, a $2,600 TV was suddenly $2,400.
It was almost too easy. So a week later, I set my sights on a boutique. As the store’s lone shopper, I got the owner’s undivided attention. “Hi, I’m Marguerite,” she said. “Can I help you find anything?” “Just looking,” I replied casually. I meandered from rack to rack until a silky A-line dress caught my eye. I made sure to gasp audibly at the price ($138). The owner appeared again and I sputtered, “This is pretty, but–the price. Marguerite, will it be on sale soon?” She immediately replied, “You can have it for 10 percent off today.” Sold! And in that instant, I became a bargaining believer.
Flea market madness!
Our rules for wheeling and dealing
Hit the stands late in the day. Most vendors are all too happy to slash prices rather than schlepp items home.
Never reveal your price. Simply ask: “What’s the best you can do on this?”
Don’t get hot and bothered. If a dealer quotes you a sky-high price, don’t act mad or insulted. I just laugh and say, “I didn’t realize I was at Neiman Marcus. Can we keep trying?”
Be prepared to walk away. If you fall in love with an item, take a few laps around the market; you can always come back later for round two.