Do you ever ask for a discount when making a purchase?
Do you consider doing so a challenge that you happily take on, or an embarrassment?
There seem to be two types of people in this world–those who happily ask for a discount and those who would just as soon overpay than ask for a discount.
Which are you?
My mom loves to ask for a discount.
When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I found this practice unbelievably embarrassing. My mom, very social by nature, would chat up the salesman or cashier, and just before the transaction ended, she’d say, ever so sweetly, “I’d love to buy this, but what kind of discount can you give me?”
I saw her bargaining as begging, and it made me cringe. Yet the strategy worked for her; she often walked away with a sizable discount.
Ironically, years later, I, too, often find myself bargaining. Honestly, there’s no better way to save money, and I don’t mind hearing “no.” I’m not afraid of a retailer’s rejection, and I’m ecstatic when I save money.
How to Haggle and Ask For a Discount
History of Haggling
Americans have a long, rich history of haggling.
During the 1700s and early 1800s, many Americans didn’t have cash for the purchases they needed. Instead, they’d barter or trade what they did have available, whether that be food, skills, or material items.
Store owners expected their customers to haggle and barter.
In the 1830s and 1840s, store owners began to turn to fixed-price pricing. This pricing meant that the price on an item was firm, and cash was expected as the way to pay. While this was a good system for the store owner, many customers, understandably, didn’t like the practice.
“By the end of the 19th century, fixed-price stores were the norm rather than the exception. Bartering and haggling remained in rural pockets of the country well into the 20th century, but today the fixed price has become such an integral part of retailing that, outside of flea markets and car dealers, the idea of negotiating a price seems almost absurd” (Bloomberg).
Unless, of course, you’re someone like my mother.
Tactics for Effective Haggling
I had a friend once, Vicki, who was shocked to hear I was paying full-price for my Internet and cable. She came to my house and called the cable company posing as me (with my blessing).
I watched with fascination as she got me a discount for almost 40% off my subscription for a full year.
These were some of her tactics:
1. Use the sales person’s name.
No one wants to feel invisible, yet many, many customers never learn the name of the sales rep they’re working with, even when the sales rep gives his or her name when first meeting the customer.
Use the sales rep’s name, and you’ll automatically start to gain his trust.
Glen’s Note: Read more about the importance of using a person’s name in Dale Carnegie’s famous How to Win Friends and Influence People.
2. Be their friend.
Part of why my mom is so effective at haggling is that she genuinely loves talking to people and learning their story. She’ll spend some time getting to know the person and asking about them. By doing so, she makes a connection with them that helps her later when she asks for a discount. (A salesperson is more likely to give you a discount if they feel that you are interested in them.)
Some people even suggest flirting a little, as that, too, can be effective.
The History Channel, in their article, “A Novice’s Guide to Haggling,” suggests, “You need to build a rapport with your opponent, so joke with them, befriend and flatter them. It’s all about the acting!”
3. Be nice.
The nicer, more genuine you can be here, the better.
However, this is a fine line. If, in trying to be nice, you instead look meek, you’re less likely to get the discount. You want to be nice but confident without being arrogant.
Sonari Glinton, a business reporter at NPR News, says the only thing you have to do to get a discount is one, “disarm the salesperson, and two, see if the prices are flexible” (Metro). He, himself, does this by asking for the “good guy discount”.
“Glinton’s trick. . .is to ask if there’s a ‘good guy discount’ and say something along the lines of ‘You’re a good guy, I’m a good guy–come on, just, you know, a good guy discount.’ Glinton told us that this tactic has saved him as much as hundreds of dollars, and he uses it on anything from clothes to tires. ‘The more I cover retail, the more I realize that just because it says it on the sticker does not mean that’s written in stone,’ he says (Metro).
4. Be willing to walk away.
If you’re haggling for a big ticket item, be willing to walk away without the item.
Many sales people will ultimately give you the discount if it means losing the sale, but if they can sense that you really want the item and will still buy it without a discount, they have less reason to offer one.
5. Ask for discounts at a variety of locations.
You may not have as much luck bargaining at chain stores, but still ask. You’ll likely have more luck at mom and pop stores or when you’re buying large ticket items from chain stores such as a washing machine and dryer, dishwasher, lawn mower, etc.
6. Don’t be afraid of rejection.
Not everyone you haggle with will give a discount, and that’s okay. The point is to try whenever you can.
Even Glinton with his good guy discount line admits to success only 15 to 20% of the time. Still, each one of those times represents real money that he’s saved. The worst a person can do is say no. The best that can happen is that you’ll save a significant amount of money.
7. Ask for the manager.
If the cashier or sales person says no, try asking for the manager and seeing if you can get a discount with him. He may have more power to authorize a discount.
8. Try again later.
If you’re negotiating over the phone, try again later if you’re having no luck. I once called to negotiate my credit card interest rate. The person first assisting me firmly said no, as did the manager when I politely asked to speak with her. I called back the next day, once again had to speak with a manager (a different one this time), and negotiated 3% off my credit card APR.
Why Haggling Makes Us So Uncomfortable
For many, though, haggling is an uncomfortable exercise they’d rather not participate in.
The reasons vary, but two of the most common is that haggling makes them feel uncomfortable and that haggling makes them feel poor.
The thought process goes something like this–“If I’m asking for a discount, the sales person will assume that I don’t have enough money to pay full price.”
Yet this is a flawed thought process.
For instance, Dave Ramsey is worth $55 million, and he haggles, as does his wife. Many wealthy people aren’t above haggling and taking advantage of a discount. Doing so helps grow their wealth by keeping more money in their pockets.
This American Life asked reporter Ben Calhoun to try Glinton’s strategy to ask for a “good guy discount” and the results were part humorous, part painful to listen to. Calhoun clearly felt uncomfortable asking for a discount, especially with the good guy line. He argues, asking for a discount is “asking them [the salesperson] to break the rules for absolutely no reason.” He adds, “I hate making other people feel uncomfortable” (This American Life).
Calhoun’s pitiful attempts were documented on the show. After simply asking the cashier how she was doing, he blurted out, “Is there any way I could get, like, a good guy discount on that?”, to which the cashier said, “Good guy discount? I don’t think we do those” (This American Life).
Calhoun broke several important negotiation “rules”.
He didn’t make friends with the cashier, he was clearly uncomfortable, and he was a bit meek in his approach. Simply put, he was embarrassed, which may have also embarrassed the cashier. If you’re going to negotiate, you need to negotiate with confidence.
Chances are, once you get your first discount, you’ll be more confident negotiating further.
Glen’s Take: I’m not one who’s what you’d call an extrovert. The idea of chatting someone up that’s a stranger isn’t anywhere on my list of fun things to do. But I can tell you from personal experience that asking for a discount works! And the more you do it the more comfortable you get at it.
Want a good place to practice? Go find garage sales. Find 2 items you want and ask for a lower price on both items because you’re taking more than one. Odds are you’ll get it. Really. Also, many retail stores email coupons these days. On a number of occasions I’ve asked the cashier if there are any email coupons she could scan for me (they usually have a sheet of the current coupons by the register). It doesn’t always work but it’s worked enough that I always ask now. Two places I’ve had success is The Children’s Place and Michael’s.