Negotiate Your Way to Shopping Bargains

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around the retail world. Over the years I have seen many changes such as the consolidation of many of the department store names of the 1970’s through the 2000’s, and all of the technology that helps to control inventory, track sales, and speed services, among many other changes. But one thing hasn’t ever changed in all my years in this business, and that’s the desire that all shoppers have to get a great deal on whatever they buy!

Negotiate Your Way to Shopping Bargains

You can often scour the ads and find “sales”, special values, price breaks, etc.  But do you always feel like you got the best deal?

Today, I’m going to tell you some of the ways that you can get what you want when you negotiate prices wherever you shop. We all have heard that you can haggle over purchasing a car and we’ve probably all done that in our shopping experience. That’s something we feel we can do and is an accepted practice. However, did you know that negotiation has become part of the general shopping experience in many other instances? Some of us negotiate almost everything we purchase and although it’s not 100% guaranteed to get you what you want, more often than not it winds up as the best deal you’ll ever get simply by following a few guidelines.

Do your homework

Make sure you know what a good price is for the item you want to purchase. Look online, comparison shop, read the weekly ads, whatever it takes to get a leg up on the best deal before you zero in on a store or commit online to a purchase.

I can’t tell you how many times I have come across people who really don’t do that. One funny story I experienced was with a customer who had “comparison shopped” a big screen TV purchase at the mall I was working in. He noted that the TV was shown on a competitor’s sales floor at a regular price of $800 and now was on sale for $599, a savings of 25%! Our store had the same model TV on our floor at a price of $549. That was our regular price. The customer wanted to know why we didn’t have that same TV at a savings of 25% like our competitor. Laughingly, I had to take the time to explain that it’s not necessarily the percentage of savings that should concern anyone. It’s about the bottom line price that you pay. Hence our “regular” price was the better deal. Believe it or not, he still wanted an explanation of how that could be. I finally just said that he should buy where he feels like the price and the service are best. I’m not certain he actually bought the TV from us, but it certainly left me with a story to tell some 10 years later and counting!

Negotiate the extras

When making a purchase of the bigger items in your life, things like furniture, appliances, and other expensive buys, it is always easier once you get the price agreed upon to negotiate the “extras”. Things like delivery charges, extended warranties, installation fees, haul away fees, and service contracts. They all will be offered to you at prices that are huge profit makers for the stores, and may be required to make the item actually work in your home. Know what the fees and options are at their competitors and ask them to match the lowest ones you can find (bring a printout of those deals with you when you shop). No retail salesperson worth his salt will lose your sale if the point of contention is a delivery fee or installation charge. If he or she won’t adjust that charge, make sure you ask to see the person who can do just that. It’s almost a guaranteed savings for you.

Bundle items for savings

Just as a lot of people do with their cable TV, phone and internet services, bundling a purchase of big ticket items can save you money in a lot of retail stores. Are you buying both a washer and dryer? Carpeting several rooms in your house? Buying a new TV and a computer? When purchasing, always ask for a discount if you buy more than one item. The bundled sale is worth an awful lot to an aggressive salesperson and he wants that sale. Shaving off a few dollars will get you a deal and them a pat on the back from store management.

Floor samples, open boxes, and damaged packaging

This is an easy one. In almost every retailer, you’ll find all of those types of items in their store. It is merchandise that a customer returned or dented or scratched, for example, and already may be reduced. Believe me, you can haggle the price down even further. This is merchandise the stores don’t really want…and are willing to practically give away. As long as it works, it is still fully warrantied (if applicable), and you know what it will and don’t do with its impairment, you should consider buying such items. The savings may be legendary.

Look for overstocks and out-of-season items

Some retailers miss, or are slow to act upon, goods that should be sold off to give them room for incoming arrivals. When you’re shopping in November and you see the Halloween leftovers at regular price or slightly reduced, ask for a markdown that will move it from their problem to your bargain. Those kinds of items often can be had for pennies on the dollar. I make a habit of buying holiday merchandise right after the holiday for personal use or for next year’s gifts and parties.

Supermarkets will negotiate?

Yes, they will! The obvious is something like a dented can or discontinued item (again, shelf space is at a premium), but dated fresh goods is the big treasure here. When shopping for meats or baked goods, supermarkets will almost always reduce the price of something that’s dated with a sell-by date of today, sometimes even the day before the expiration date. Those items are still perfectly good if used quickly or frozen, and will save you big money on your weekly shopping bill. The stores have to discard many expired items if not sold, and that’s money down the drain for them.

Understand store codes

Many retailers, particularly large chains, mark their price tickets with store codes to help their employees track and sell items as well as know how long they have been in inventory. Inventory must “turn over” at a rate that allows them cash flow to keep buying new stock. If you can find out the secret to that coding, you can initiate a conversation about selling slow movers to you at a bigger discount. Stores like Target and Costco mark their prices in codes such as $xx.97 or $xx.88 indicating that they will soon be targeted for price reductions. Ask while they’re still at those prices and you will get the deal before the ad or clearance breaks. If you know a store employee or even if you ask them to explain what the codes mean while shopping, they often will tell you about it in detail.

Miss the sale? Ask if you can still get the deal

You were visiting your sick aunt in Cleveland and missed out on that bathing suit sale last weekend? You’ve been a loyal customer for 10 years and you so wanted to be there, but just couldn’t. Can you have the same deal today, pretty please? Nine times out of ten the answer will be yes, you just need to ask.

Cash is king

Stores pay fees for extending credit and letting you use a credit card to make purchases. Those fees can be 3% or more of the purchase price. Sometimes, on a large purchase, you can get an extra discount if you offer to pay cash for it. Now, that may not be practical for you to do, but if it is a reputable company and they have been around for awhile (and you get a receipt to insure a record of the purchase), it can work for you. Ironically, when stores promote “their own” credit services, they may actually give you an incentive to finance your purchase through them with things like an extra 5% discount to use their card or an extra $25 gift card or no interest for an extended period of time.

Timing is everything

Buying at negotiated prices is definitely easier at certain times of the year, month, or week. The end of a sales season is the best time to buy because of the turn of inventory. As in the auto business, salespeople are rated on their sales production, and if they haven’t had a good week or month, the pressure to close sales grows toward the end of the period. Shopping on those kinds of days will help you better your chances. Just make sure you talk to the right person who can adjust the price to close a sale.

Walk away

Consider walking away if the deal you really want isn’t going to happen. Losing you after making their sales pitch is the worst thing a salesperson can think of and if you actually turn around and say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do that deal,” you may hear a change in tune. Salespeople want to make sales just as much as you want to buy the item.

One final word of advice: when you are negotiating (as you would in anything you do), please be polite and friendly. Understand that reasonableness works better than anything else you can do or say. Be firm and persistent, but always be courteous.

Have you tried to negotiate when shopping recently? If so, what successes have you had and what would you recommend to help get that super deal?

Image courtesy of nongpimmy at (with changes)


  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Research skill is really important and some charisma, which is really learned. But, have you noticed Gary that women can negotiate better than men?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *