Learning to negotiate

Secrets to Getting a Better Price on Anything

by Sally A. Kane

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Almost everything is negotiable. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of this fact or uncomfortable with the process of haggling. Negotiating is an intrinsic part of our culture and you likely engage in some type of bargaining every day, whether it is purchasing a car, negotiating a salary, haggling at a garage sale or bargaining with your children to clean their rooms.

The tips below provide simple guidelines to negotiating a better deal on many common goods and services, from airline tickets, furniture and hotel reservations to items at your local discount retailer.

  1. Just ask. Everyone understands the significance of negotiating with the automobile dealership. However, bargaining can come into play with any retailer; you don't always have to settle for the listed price. To get a better deal, all you may have to do is ask. "No" is the worst the merchant can say. Even if a merchant does not reduce the price, she may advise you of upcoming sales, coupons in the paper or other deals.
  2. For example, a friend of mine wanted to send her child to preschool but could not afford the tuition. In speaking with the preschool director, I learned that the school was willing to lower the tuition for her child due to low enrollment. Given the choice of losing an enrollment or offering a price reduction, the school chose to give my friend a break on tuition. My friend would never have asked. It never even occurred to her that tuition might be negotiable. If I had not intervened, her child would not be attending preschool. As the adage goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  3. Deal with someone with authority. An employee vested with authority, such as a sales manager, will have more power to grant you a lower price. That person may also be more knowledgeable about other deals, such as upcoming sales or about economic circumstances affecting price. For example, research shows that bargaining directly with a hotel reservations manager generally yields a greater price savings than shopping online. The hotel will be aware of the demand for rooms on a particular night and may be willing to reduce prices if room vacancies are high.

  4. Advocate your case persuasively. Give the merchant a good reason to reduce the price. One of the most effective ways to obtain a price reduction is to shop around and use a lower price as leverage. Many companies, including lending institutions, credit card companies, telephone services, furniture companies, mattress retailers, automobile dealers and electronics retailers, will bid against each other to compete for your business. Getting a competitor's lower price in writing gives you even greater negotiating power.
  5. You can also negotiate discounts on products for minor defects in the merchandise. For example, at Target, I received a 10% discount for a small scratch in a vase. At Ann Taylor, I received a discount for a snag in a suit. Store policies vary, but it never hurts to ask.

    Even if you don't have a compelling argument for a price reduction, you might still ask, "Is that the best you can do?" I paid twenty percent less than two friends on my street that retained the same professional carpet cleaner to perform the same services. Why? Simply because I asked for a better price.

  6. Look beyond price. Market rates for goods and services are governed by supply and demand. Clearly, if demand outstrips supply, price may not be negotiable. But sometimes getting a better deal means negotiating other perks. For example, when recently purchasing an elliptical machine, I convinced the retailer to provide free delivery, free assembly, free financing and a free heart rate monitor for a total value of $300. Similarly, if a hotel will not budge on room rates, it may supply free breakfast, reduced parking, free Internet service or a room upgrade.

  7. Avoid being confrontational or argumentative. Your attitude will set the tone for the negotiation. Advocating your position calmly and rationally will advance your cause further than raising your voice, arguing or being confrontational. You want to establish a rapport with the merchant and persuade him to give you a price concession or other perk. Conduct yourself with honesty and integrity and the merchant may be willing to give you deals in the future.

Prices are not set in stone. Often, the easiest way to save money on goods and services is simply by asking.

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