1. Don’t be afraid to ask
In an uncertain economy, it pays to shop smart. “Haggling is the new black,” says Rita Zekas, who covers shopping trends for the Toronto Star. Indeed, the hardest part of negotiating is simply getting past the perceived decorum of paying the full sticker price. You don’t have to play hardball with the sales clerk at your favourite shop by suggesting that her retail space might soon be occupied by a breadline, but keep in mind that these days, people are increasingly willing to strike up a deal. Use an opener such as: Can we try to find a better price? To show interest in a mutually beneficial conclusion, “you want to use working-together kind of language,” says Amanda Walker, senior project editor at Consumer Reports.
2. Do your price checks
Stores are often eager to match or beat the prices of their competitors, so check flyers, newspaper ads, internet auction and shopping sites (including eBay, Amazon and Yahoo) and bargain aggregators (such as RedFlagDeals.com) for comparisons. Print or cut out the information and take it on your shopping trip; it will provide a useful tool and show that you know your stuff.
3. Plot your strategy
Negotiating the price of a house or car seems obvious, but try extending those same tactics to department stores, travel centres, home contractors and cellphone providers. Haggling can work almost anywhere. Think like a vendor: If you were going to have to throw away those flowers or ship back those floor models, wouldn’t you rather sell them at a discounted price? You may want to look for a manager, advises Kristina Matisic, co-host of The Shopping Bags, a W Network program that ran for seven seasons, offering viewers product reviews and shopping tips. “It’s always easier to go to the decision makers,” she says. You’ll also have more success when you build a rapport, so try bargaining in person rather than over the phone. To give yourself ample time to strike a deal, shop when a store is less busy and make sure that you’re friendly, patient and discreet.
4. Play the right card
Offering to pay cash in return for a discount doesn’t mean you’re helping someone skirt taxation; there’s no need to slap down $20 for dishware and make a run for the nearest border. Many retailers prefer cash payments because they pay a fee for credit- or debit-card transactions. A card you will want to play, though, is the loyal customer: When Matisic mentioned her long relationship with her cellphone company, she landed a free BlackBerry. In addition to deals for cash and loyalty, some stores may be willing to give you a break for buying in bulk. Zekas says she and a friend each received a deal when they bought shoes at the same boutique.
5. Think outside the box
If you find a flaw on an item that you can live with or fix – such as a missing button on a blouse or a scratch on a leather couch – ask for a better price. “Give everything a good once-over,” says Matisic, who recently received an additional 10 percent off an on-sale T-shirt because of an almost invisible hole. And don’t limit yourself by asking for a specific discount. “You never know when they might be willing to go further,” says Matisic. With home furnishings and appliances, look into floor models. And keep in mind that discounts don’t have to mean money off. A store might not budge on the price, but managers could be willing to throw in extras – a tripod for your new camera or the removal of the washing machine you just replaced. Free installation and assembly or an extended warranty are also worthy add-ons.
6. Keep an eye out for sales
Nathalie Atkinson, who writes about shopping for The National Post, describes herself as a “tantric shopper”: someone who enjoys browsing even if it doesn’t end in a purchase. Her patience is worth it. “If you want to get the best price, you have to pay attention,” she says. Ask when an item will be marked down: January and July are prime times to buy carpeting and refrigerators because that’s when new models come in, while cars often go on sale in November and December. If you let clerks know that you’re prepared to wait, they might just give you the sale price there and then. But whatever deal you’re able to score, be sure not to gloat. No one likes a sore winner, even if she is wearing a fabulous new skirt.