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Bargaining 101: How to Negotiate a Better Price

Key Bargaining Phrases

"Can you do any better on the price?"

Posing this simple, straightforward question nudges the seller to make the first offer. "If you, the buyer, state a price at the outset, you hurt your bargaining power because the amount can only go up from there," says Michael Soon Lee, coauthor of Black Belt Negotiating: Become a Master Negotiator Using Powerful Lessons from the Martial Arts (Amacom). "If she won't budge and you have to throw out a number, start really low so you can still go back and forth before settling on a figure."

$mart Strategy: Spend a few minutes chatting up the salesperson before you attempt to open negotiations. She will be more inclined to make a deal if she has already invested time in you.

"It's nice, but I can take it or leave it."

Never let on to a salesperson that you've fallen in love with something — even if you're head over heels. This knowledge makes him more likely to insist he has no wiggle room on the marked price because he knows you won't want to leave without it, according to Max Edison, author of How to Haggle: Professional Tricks for Saving Money on Just About Anything (Paladin Press). So play it cool, cruise the aisles, and look at lots of different products while you wait for an employee to approach you. When he does, politely mention a feature that you don't like about the item, then ask for a discount. Be prepared to walk away if the seller won't come down in price. Most of the time he'll stop you and agree to a lesser amount.

$mart Strategy: Casually mention that you'd be happy to refer friends if he will work with you on lowering the price.

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More Key Phrases

"I've seen this elsewhere for less."

Many retailers will beat a competitor's price if you show them a local newspaper ad or printout from an online store. Say, "Bob's Appliances has this same gas range for $419. Can you do better?" Be prepared for the salesperson to explain that her merchandise is higher quality or her store offers better customer service. Respond by pointing out that you'd like to buy here and now but only if you can get the absolute best price.

$mart Strategy: Inquire whether any markdowns or special promotions are coming up in the next week or two. The salesperson may be willing to ring you up at that price now rather than risk that you won't come back.

"What would you take if I paid cash?"

Good old-fashioned dollar bills can have a hypnotic effect, especially at independently owned stores. "Processing a credit card costs retailers about 3 percent of the transaction," says Edison. Checks take time to clear.

$mart Strategy: If a salesperson insists he's not authorized to negotiate, ask who is. "Never accept 'no' from someone who can't say 'yes,'" says Lee. In other words, speak to the right person.

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Secrets of E-Negotiating

Even though you never interact face-to-face, you can wheel and deal with e-tailers. To cyberhaggle, Google around for the lowest price on an item you want, then e-mail a different online store, providing a link to the price and asking that seller to go lower. If a customer service rep says she can't give you a discount, ask if she has a free shipping or promo code you can use. Request a supervisor if the answer is still no. Generally, small- to medium-size e-tailers are more receptive to haggling than large discount sites.

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Overcome the Fear of Haggling

If you'd rather endure an anesthesia-free root canal than ask for a discount, you're not alone — a lot of women find the thought of negotiating unpleasant. Haggling is sometimes seen as pushy or aggressive, says the founder of ShoppingQueen.com, Fatima Mehdikarimi. "Men don't seem to care much about those perceptions, but women do," she says. If you're hung up on coming across as brash and unfeminine, keep these key points in mind:

  • Sellers are asked for discounts all the time — it's a normal, everyday part of doing business. Remember, the worst thing a salesperson can say is no. Then he'll move on to the next customer without a second thought and forget all about you.
  • Haggling is a win-win for both parties. Most retailers would rather sell something today at a discount than have it sit around for a month or longer.
  • Asking for a markdown doesn't make you look cheap; it shows that you're savvy about how you spend your money. "If it helps, remind yourself that rich people are generally frugal and rarely just go ahead and pay the asking price," says negotiating expert Michael Soon Lee.

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How a Successful Negotiation Might Sound

You: "I like this jacket. Any chance you can discount it?"

Seller: "Sorry, but we don't mark down merchandise."

You: "I'd take it today if you could cut the price."

Seller: "Well, I do have a $10-off coupon I could give you."

You: "That's not a huge savings. Can you go any lower?"

Seller: "We've never sold that jacket for less."

You: "Okay. Actually, the buttons seem a little loose. Thanks anyway. I'll check back later."

Seller: "How about if I knock off 15 percent?"

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Best & Worst Places to Haggle

Some sellers are more open to negotiations than others. Check out our cheat sheet.

Go for It

  • Hotels & car rental agencies
  • Furniture stores
  • Appliance & electronics stores
  • Jewelry shops
  • Antique stores and pawn shops

Don't Bother

  • Discount stores*
  • Warehouse clubs*
  • Major department stores*
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores

* If an item is scratched, dented, or missing its original packaging, you have a chance. Speak to a manager.

Originally published in the November 1, 2008, issue of Family Circle magazine.

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