Why would you want to pay full retail?

Mastering the Art of Haggling

by Joanne Guidoccio

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In my younger days, I cringed whenever I shopped with my mother. She did not like to pay the set price and believed that haggling was always worth a try. At the shoe store, she asked the salesperson to throw in shoe polish or a shoe horn. At the furniture and appliance stores, she asked the manager to hold the tax or provide free delivery. If all else failed, she would ask for free sofa pillows or any other item that caught her attention. When I moved into my first apartment, she helped me shop for furniture. She went directly to the sales manager and persuaded him to give me a discount, free delivery, six months of no-interest payments, and free sofa pillows.

The current economic tsunami has changed many of our attitudes about money. As a result, haggling is becoming an essential skill in today's economy. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, you can master the art of haggling. Consider the following tips:

  • Do your research. Before you can haggle successfully, you must know how much the item should reasonably cost. Visit a few competitive stores and note the prices. If a particular model interests you, find out how long it has been sitting on the floor or lot. This will give you a definite edge when haggling.
  • Set your price. Know exactly how high you are willing to go before you get into a discussion with a salesperson. Be prepared to say, "I'll think about it" and walk away. Very few salespeople will let a customer walk away without making at least one counter offer.
  • Pick your time. Consider going into a store just before closing time. Most salespeople are anxious to leave and may agree to a lower price. If you are shopping for a car, appliance, furniture, electronics or jewelry, shop at the end of the month. Most commission-based salespeople have a monthly quota to meet and are often scrambling to make sales at this time. Whenever possible, travel off-season or mid-week. You are more likely to get discounts for hotels, bed and breakfasts, and car rentals at that time. During low season, ask the hotel manager to throw in a free room upgrade, free breakfast, or late checkout time.
  • Look for flaws. If you are willing to accept lipstick stains, scratches, tears and other imperfections, you can get at least a 10 percent discount. If you are buying a store-display or demonstration model, ask for a discount. Keep in mind that taking a discount often makes the item a final sale.
  • Be ready to pay cash. Even though credit and debit cards are handy, some merchants will give you a discount if you are willing to pay cash.
  • Act as if you are not interested in the product. If the salesperson knows that you desperately want an item, he or she will not lower the price.
  • Be courteous at all times. Salespeople will not respond favourably to rude or aggressive behaviour. Smile and control your facial expressions and gestures. Maintain an appropriate distance when speaking with salespeople. Regardless of the outcome, thank the salesperson for his or her time.

Haggling should be fun. It's not a life or death event. The worst that happens is your offer is rejected and you walk away from the purchase. But, if you make haggling a game, you're much more likely to find a smiling dance partner on the other side of the negotiation.

For 31 years, Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and career education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario. Her articles, book reviews, and short stories have been published in Canadian newspapers and online. She has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma.

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