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.
Redheaded, a tight wad, and a haggler… the man of every woman’s dreams.
I worked in retail for six years and We were able to give up to 10% discounts to people. We would only give the discount if somebody was really nice and didn’t expect us to give them a discount just because. As an adult, I rarely ask for a discount but I do use coupons when I have them.
Glen Craig says
We should always try to remember that salespeople are people. I’ve worked as a cashier and remember what it was like. I try to treat them with respect.
As a college student, I’ve been working on always asking for a student discount whenever I pay for something – often they have one, and that’s nice. I also ask for a AAA discount, since those turn up in surprising places ($5 off my last pair of glasses at Lenscrafters, randomly). But for every two times I get one of those discounts, there’s another time that I get some other discount that I don’t actually qualify for, just because I asked (usually a senior discount).
I went on a road trip with friends last week, one of whom has parents in the military, so our rule of thumb before paying for anything was: 1. ask for a student discount, 2. ask for a AAA discount, and 3. ask for a military discount. A solid 50% of the time we either got one of those, or were given something else just for asking and being persistent.
I’m also definitely much more comfortable asking for a discount they may offer for which I legitimately qualify than I am asking for one “just cuz,” and I think taking that approach may help those of us who are really uncomfortable with conventional haggling.
Great point that you can qualify for a variety of discounts. Whenever we travel with my mom, we always ask for the AARP discount.
On a recent vacation, I asked for a discount, and on two different nights at two different hotels I was given the AAA discount even though I’m not a member.
Glen Craig says
I’m always amazed at how many places offer AAA discounts.
Bryce @ Save and Conquer says
It depends on what I am shopping for. We all obviously haggle for expensive things like houses and cars. That’s the way the system for purchasing these sorts of items has been. As you mentioned, other big ticket items like appliance are also fair game for haggling. I also haggle if I am willing to purchase a floor item at a department store or electronics store. My wife got our microwave at Target for 50% off because all they had of what we wanted was a floor item. I also sometimes haggle at the farmer’s market. The best time to do that is during the last hour of the market when the sellers still have produce that they are anxious to get rid of.
Glen Craig says
It does seem easier on big-ticket items. I think when you bundle things together it’s easier too. Like ‘if I get this AND those what kind of deal can we do?’ Good point on the farmer’s market. You can also clean up at garage sales like that.
I agree with all of these, except for using the name.
As someone who worked retail for years with the ability to give discounts, watching people eye your name tag, then start using your name like you were old pals was extremely irritating and a common complaint i heard from my coworkers. It was cheesy and transparant.
Glen Craig says
It’s all in how you come across, isn’t it? It can certainly seem smarmy if you’re looking for a name tag just to start a spiel to get a discount. But I think if you use someone’s name genuinely then it can help build rapport. I think you have to be comfortable using a person’s name for it to be effective.
Bert Halloway says
Basically, I think that once you’re haggling, you’re spending time on a false sense of accomplishment. If the people at the store were willing to lower their prices and yet asked a higher price, they will probably lose my business before I even talk to a sales person because other shops will have it at a lower price.
Making friends with the salesmen in order to use them for getting a lower price? Not only degrading yourself, it’s a waste of time. Be friendly to staff, because it’s nice to be friendly. If you have questions why a product is so much more expensive, by all means ask. But getting something for 5%-10% discount is not worth all the failed attempts.
Then again, I don’t haggle because I am always aware what I am willing to pay for something and I only shop for things that I really want. So it’s more like a tip. Haggling is for people who don’t know what they want and haven’t taken the time to investigate all the options.
Glen Craig says
I don’t know Bert, just asking doesn’t take too much effort. Profit is added to just about all items, unless it’s a loss leader, so if there’s room for a discount why not ask? I wouldn’t expect all companies to offer the lowest possible price all the time. Besides, if you have one place you like to shop then it can be worth it to ask there rather than shop around for a lower price.
Rick Stone says
I will admit this one is hard for me but I’ve done it enough now that I know it pays and I’m getting fairly good at it, at least on big ticket items.
My Dad is the king of haggling. Some times I wonder if he tries to haggle for a pack of gum at the gas station!! 🙂 I learned from him that it never hurts to ask, he’s told no a lot but doesn’t seem to let that get him down. He sticks with it and I’ll bet he gets a yes 40% of the time just because he won’t give up on it!
Glen Craig says
The more you try it the more comfortable you get with it. And the more comfortable you are with it the more successful you get.
This is one of the great articles about asking for a discount. When we were newly married my wife was embarrassed that I asked for a discount and she disappeared from the view. All I did was to ask if the price was final or the shopkeeper could offer us some discounts. It was an antique furniture shop and I managed to get $200 discount on the item she wanted. She was impressed and next time she was the first to ask if there was a discount on offer.
I think I’m generally a push over nowadays when looking to buy 😐 because I’m always nice but also introverted for the most part. However, I worked in retail for a few years myself and was a nifty salesman for a while, and manager. I know the techniques but I still empathise with the shop-worker because it’s not necessarily their job to meet your every demand. But by all means you should look to make a connection and see if you can get a good deal 🙂
Stumbled across this article and just wanted to comment my perspective. I really dislike this practice. I guess I dislike it so much because of my work. For the last 6 years or so I have worked at a small company that sells auto parts for vintage vehicles. We are a small business. Asking for discounts like this maybe isn’t so bad if you are doing it at larger chains and companies – but to ask a small business to give you a discount is rude in my eyes. On most items we only make 15-25% margin. People assume in their minds “You won’t give me a 10% discount? Why not? That’s not even that much.” Well, it is a whole lot if your margins aren’t that big. And then the customer gets offended when you don’t give them a discount, because most of our clientele are well…. let’s just say they have enough money laying around to restore vintage automobiles. Typically I will give them the discount. Maybe on the next order as well. But on the third order, your account is getting flagged and you won’t be getting any discounts. I have always been a believer in “The price is the price”. A store in the United States is not a Bazaar when you broker and haggle. It’s mildly rude. A social and cultural faux pas.
Norman Prather says
Asking for discounts such as AARP is not haggling. or if it is AARP already did it so I don’t need to. having said that I despise that haggling is either needed or expected to reach a fair price. If it is more than I can or feel I should pay I walk away. Why waste everyone’s time?