While it’s the norm when buying a car or a home, “haggling” is sometimes considered a dirty word among American consumers. Most of us aren’t used to it and don’t like to do it, as we assume most prices are non-negotiable.
Think again. In this tough economy, there has never been a better time to haggle. From flea markets to fancy boutiques, it’s easier than you think to negotiate deals and discounts. But to be successful, you’ve got to know what to say to a salesperson, when to say it, and how to get them to go lower.
Here are seven strategies to get the price you want.
Fall “in like” with an item
Even if it is the most beautiful item you’ve ever seen, curb your enthusiasm, says Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything. “Negotiating is a game where you care, but not that much,” he says. “Only fall in love with humans, and ‘in like’ with objects.”
Make comments like “that’s interesting,” which indicates both interest and detachment. “If you say something like, “I gotta have this,’ it’s game over – there’s no more bargaining, and you’ll be manipulated.”
Do your research beforehand you go
“By knowing prices before you go into a store, you don’t need to haggle,” says Philip Reed, senior editor of consumer advice for auto website Edmunds.com. Find comparable prices by reading Consumer Reports, searching online websites like Google Shopping and PriceGrabber.com, checking newspaper ads and browsing at stores beforehand.
Bring physical evidence with you. If you go into an electronics retailer and show a printout of an online ad featuring a digital camera for a lower price, he’s more willing to deal. And if he can only go down to a certain price, he may be more willing to throw in accessories, like the camera case or a memory stick, for a lower total overall.
Pick the right time to haggle
Salespeople generally have more time to talk to you at the very beginning or very end of the day. Also consider the end of the month and end of the quarter, says Allan Sloan, president of Negotiate4U, a company that negotiates discounts on everything from cars to cell phones. Some salespeople have to meet quotas every month or every quarter. “So you may get deals at the end of June that you won’t get on July 1.”
Also keep an eye on when retailers have their major annual sales, like winter wear in January, swimsuits in August and cars in the fall. When retailers need to clear out last season’s goods to make way for the next round, they’re more willing to deal. But if you hear of a sale that’s about to start, says Reed, you can ask for the sales price in advance. “Or if the sale just ended, make the deal contingent on getting the sales price.”
Ask the salesperson first, then the manager
Start negotiating with salespeople first, says Herb Cohen. “Much of the time, they are given some leeway to drop prices in order to move items.” However, if you meet resistance, then ask for the manager. All you need to ask is a question like, “I was wondering if you could give me a sale price on this item?” Chances are, the manager will tell you if there is indeed a lower price on the spot, says Cohen. “Managers are more likely to have the information at their fingertips, like how much is in inventory and what sales margins they need to make, so they’ll be quick to tell you how low they can go.”
Differentiate your offer
By sweetening your offer with something that lightens the seller’s load, you’re likely to score a deal. Sloan recommends going to the ATM beforehand, then going to the store and asking, “Do you have a lower price if I paid in cash? I’m ready to pay now.”
If you’re fine with buying floor models, close-out products or flawed items, ask for a discount for taking them off the seller’s hands. Many department stores automatically give 10 percent off – even 20 percent when asked nicely – if you point out damaged items.
And the more you buy, the more you should ask for a discount. “You’re in the electronics store and you like a TV model so much, you decide to buy two,” says Cohen. “You have the right to ask for 20 percent off both.” Do the same for a half-day of spa treatments or a bunch of car work done at your mechanic – services are negotiable, too.
Make it business, not personal
“Be careful to keep negotiation business-like, even friendly, and don’t let it get personal,” says Reed. Even car salespeople are human beings, so accusing them of lying about the price won’t get you anywhere. Maintain a demeanor that tells sellers you’re interested in a mutual resolution that’s beneficial to both of you.
But another tactic Sloan swears by is “the sound of silence.” “He who talks first, loses,” he says. If you reach an impasse on price reductions, don’t say anything, just listen. “The other person will often make a concession just to end the uncomfortable silence.”
Walk away, but leave your contact info behind
Follow Kenny Rogers’ advice: Know when to hold em, know when to fold them, and know when to walk away. But don’t leave without a friendly good-bye. Cohen suggests saying, “Thanks for helping me. I’m sorry we couldn’t agree on a price.”
Don’t let that be the end of discussion. Leave your phone number behind – you may get a call later on from a seller who had a change of heart. And don’t be afraid to follow up with a phone call, says Reed. “Sometimes sellers will change their minds about an offer after they’ve had time to think it over, and reminding them that you’re still interested will be the tipping point to a better deal.”
Vanessa Richardson is a freelance writer in San Francisco who writes about small business and personal finance.