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Thursday, January 29, 2009

When and How to Bargain

New Car

Originally uploaded by nodigio

Bargaining is a lost skill among most Americans. We’ve spent so long just paying the asking price or doing without that we’ve forgotten how to bargain. We feel a touch guilty when we try to negotiate a better price for our new purchases. “Or best offer” has always been seen as a way to buy used items, not new ones. In today’s climate, when people are increasingly hunting for less expensive alternatives and doing without and seeing that store markups are often in excess of 300% or more, there’s resentment at paying full price.

Sometimes, though, paying full price is not only acceptable but the right thing to do. When you are patronizing a store that opened recently, you should pay full price if you shop there. When you attend an arts festival, the artists are charged very high prices for their booth spaces and few earn enough to cover their expenses, so pay full price there, too. Custom made items should be paid for at full price because it was specially made to your specifications.

Other times, it’s not optimal to negotiate. If there are lots of the items in stock, it’s iffy to negotiate. If it’s a best selling item and they keep lots in stock because of that, there’s little point in negotiating. If there are lots in stock because it isn’t selling, it may be a very good time to negotiate. Chain stores often have set prices and aren’t allowed to negotiate, so if you receive a firm “No”, end it there and either pay full price or shop elsewhere. This isn’t universally true – some chains can negotiate on some items, especially if you are a frequent shopper there. In both of these, you won’t get much of a discount by negotiating, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Some stores will negotiate on some items and not on others and the only way you’ll know is by asking.

Now, good times to negotiate are when the store is already having a sale, and the item you want isn’t specifically included in the sale. Asking may get you a discount on what you really want instead of what’s on sale. This can work in grocery stores, particularly in the produce section. Another good time is when there’s a surplus that isn’t selling. That means paying attention and waiting. Clearance stores, stores going out of business, discount stores, and flea markets all are good places to negotiate a better price, but a lot of high end places are also willing to lower prices if asked in the right way. Furniture stores, clothing stores, home d├ęcor stores, even jewelry stores may be willing to negotiate with you over price if approached correctly.

Once you’ve located a place that has something you want and the price is more than you’re willing to pay, check to see if the items are custom pieces or handmade, if it’s a newly opened store, if it’s a chain that can’t negotiate. If not’s one of those, you may be able to negotiate.

Now you need to know how to negotiate.

Shop midweek, when the store is empty, or at least when the salespeople outnumber the customers. That way, it’s easier to make the salesperson a mentor and helper, which makes them more willing to get you a better price.

The most important step is to make the salesperson a partner in your shopping. Establishing a rapport early on is crucial to successful bargaining. Be aware that some salespeople work on commission. They want you to buy. You want the best price possible, but without hurting their commission. Encourage the salesperson to think creatively about ways their need to be paid can be met along with your need to get the best price. Salespeople are your best advocate, so treat them well.

Prepare yourself beforehand. Do some research. If you’re going to buy a new sofa, find out what’s the trend, what’s on sale, what their competitors are offering. Ask questions like “How does this sofa compare to Sofa X sold by Competitor Z?” Compare it to other sofas in the same store and ask similar questions.

If you decide to push for a still lower price, keep your questions theoretical. Say things like “Maybe I could buy it if…”, and “I might be interested if….”

If you don’t see any identical items on the floor, don’t hesitate to ask if you could get an additional discount for the floor model. The floor model isn’t always for sale, and it never is if there’s more just like it in stock, but if it is for sale, you might get an additional 10% off.

Ask about free delivery and installation, too. Sometimes those can be pricey, and by getting them free, it may clinch a sale. Very few salespeople earn a commission off of delivery and installation charges, and if giving that to you causes you to buy, it’s a win-win situation all around.

Don’t push too hard or you may create bad feelings. The salesperson will stop feeling like a helper and start feeling used. If you push anyway, and the item has a problem, they won’t remember you kindly and your after purchase service may suffer. You can tell you’re pushing too hard if the salesperson pulls away from you, takes too long to answer, starts speaking brusquely, and/or stops looking at you (this is the body-parl in America; in other countries, this will be different).

The willingness of stores to negotiate depends on many varied circumstances. Don’t let one store’s refusal affect asking at another store. Even if times were financially stable and prosperous, it still makes sense to negotiate prices anyway. The way to become wealthy is to spend what you must but no more than that. Save your generosity for the handmade items, the artisans and custom work, and bargain for the rest.


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