Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

“The price is the price in retail, right?”

The answer might surprise you — sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no.” In fact, there might be significant room in which to negotiate.

So how do you know, and how can you get your best possible deal?

1. Do your homework.

The first step is researching which stores and industries have empowered their front-line folks to negotiate. Interestingly, this is occurring more and more.

According to the New York Times article “Even at Megastores, Hagglers Find No Price is Set in Stone” (March 23), “Savvy consumers … are finding that they can dicker on prices, not just on clearance items or big-ticket products like televisions but also on lower-cost goods like cameras, audio speakers, couches, rugs and even clothing.”

This includes Best Buy, Circuit City and Home Depot.

As I’ve noted before, Consumer Reports has found more than 90 percent of shoppers who tried to negotiate a better deal on goods and services got one — on furniture, electronics, appliances and even medical bills.

So go online and find out who will negotiate. Also ask friends who shop a lot, work in retail or recently bought the item you want to purchase.

If you can find some precedent of a store’s negotiation history, you often can use this to get a better deal. If it was fair to sell X to Pat at a 15 percent discount, it should be fair to sell X to you at that price, too.

You might even ask a professional shopper which stores negotiate and how much flexibility they have.

2. Find a Plan B and C.

The most important negotiation element in many consumer negotiations is to comparison-shop on pricing and availability.

A highly successful businessman friend has a policy in his house: Get at least three bids on every major purchase. It’s a good policy and one that reflects the Internet’s disproportionate empowerment of consumers over retailers.

With this policy, my friend and his wife create leverage in their negotiations by developing a Plan B and C to every initial bid. And while they don’t always go with the lowest bid off the bat, it gives them the power to pick their preferred vendor or store and negotiate.

3. Don’t compromise your ethics.

The New York Times article mentioned an individual who negotiated a better price on some pants at a Polo Ralph Lauren store in part by noting that the pair on the rack looked worn — even though he did not really think so.

Don’t do this. And don’t tell a salesperson you can get an item cheaper elsewhere if it’s not true.

First, these tactics usually are ineffective, as most stores will require proof of their competitors’ prices before matching.

Second, it’s crossing the ethical line. These statements simply are not true, and you don’t want this reputation — in retail or anywhere. It’s too small a world, and your reputation is too important to risk.

4. It costs nothing to ask.

Finally, consider the value of your time and your psychological feelings in determining whether you even want to go down this path.

While it doesn’t technically cost you anything to ask, just asking will generate a feeling of embarrassment in those who don’t feel comfortable negotiating retail prices.

If this is you, weigh that feeling against your price sensitivity and research in how much you might save by negotiating. Then factor in the value of your time and evaluate whether you even want to ask.

One final piece of advice: Don’t wait until you’re at the register to start negotiating. At that point, the store pretty much knows you’re committed at the listed price.

Instead, start while you’re in decision-making mode, when they know you still could walk. That gives the store substantially more incentive to offer you a deal.

I must admit I was a bit surprised by the recently reported prevalence of negotiating in retail environments. But it makes sense: Our sluggish retail economy is making more stores desperate to sell — thus giving consumers increased leverage.

Remember this on your next trip to the mall.

Published April 4, 2008 The Business Journal

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