Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Downturn upside: The art of haggling returns

My father, Bob, owns a carpet and hardwood flooring store in New Hampshire. It's among the industries that's suffered great collateral damage from the downturn. Builders aren't building. Homeowners aren't remodeling. He's very ready to make deals.

And his customers know it.

"Definitely," he says. "They're really talking me down."

A new Economist article this week reports that an old tradition is making a comeback as consumers feel the pinch of the recession. According to America’s Research Group, a market-research firm, 72% of American consumers have haggled in the past four months, compared with 56% a year earlier.

What might surprise you is the places where prices are flexible - upscale department stores like Nordstrom, rates on consumer credit cards, charges at your doctor's office.

Certainly, consumers have forever shopped for bargains, compared prices, taken quotes to competitors. But an outright haggle - a plain "can you cut a few bucks off this?" - seemed, well, unseemly in our recent era of prosperity. Besides, most businesses had no motivation to entertain such negotiations. They could sell at full price to the next person in the door.

Now those same businesses are calling their distributors to haggle a better wholesale price.

So, a couple tips to keep in mind, from this former retail salesperson:

1) Just ask. A simple, "I was hoping to pay a little less." There's no shame. Salespeople expect it. Many of them have spent years seeing how much they can get you to pay.

2) Don't be insulted if the answer is no. Some retailers already have some or all items at a stay-in-business margin.

Keep in mind, too, that most retailers already know how low they're willing to go on a price. Or they mark price tags at a level that will allow customers the satisfaction of a negotiated discount. What follows is as old as commerce itself - the tug of buy and sell, of finding a price that two people can be happy - or less-than-miserable - about. Try it.

Have you been haggling more - or been haggled? Tell us about a deal you've made or given.


Larry said...

Hey I talked the Observer down to 99 Dollars for a year when I called and told them the paper was not worth what they wanted.

Also if you have XM Radio call them and the will give you five months for only $19.95

Brinks Security will give you a month free if you pay for the full year in advance. Plus they will give you free equipment sometimes if you want upgrades.

Make it a point to get to know the Manager of a store you frequent. They will often let you know of clearance items or specials deals on stuff they want to get rid of.

Always drink water and not pay for tea or drinks while dining out. You can instead spend that drink money on appetizers and then order the lighter version of your meals.

Two words: Coupon Books! 15 dollars can save you a lot of money. Just make sure of the coupons before you buy.

Use your charge card with bonus points or air miles for everything you possibly can. Be sure to pay off the end of the month. We have the First Citizens Air Miles and have not paid for air fare for our vacations in years.

And the best idea is to do the old fashioned bartering. If you have a skill someone else needs and can trade it then do it. They have some professional groups of barterers but why join when you can just create your own list. It is the old idea of me helping you and you helping me which we seemed to have forgotten in this Country.

Anonymous said...

$99 for the Observer?? U overpaid by about $90 and I'm being generous. Not worth the cost of the newsprint.

Anonymous said...

Good...businesses have been charging too much for too long. Notice that the businesses doing well are the ones who already have low prices?

Anonymous said...

We got a great deal on a new TV at Best Buy. They have price matching, so we got the Sears sales price AND we got Best Buy points for our purchase which resulted in a substantial Best Buy gift card.
Another great way to save $$ is to shop online and use retailmenot.com and other coupon sites to get free shipping, 5 or more % off, and free gifts.