Can You Negotiate Your Way to a Shopping Bargain?

I 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. The changes are numerous and have benefited both the retailer and us, the consumers.

Man opening wallet to pay after negotiate prices

But one thing hasn’t ever changed in all my years in the business: the desire that all shoppers have to get a great deal on whatever they buy! When we go into a store, we are all bargain hunters and that is our goal. One big way to get that bargain is to try to negotiate prices and deals. But can you really do that in 2021?

Shopping for Bargains and Negotiating

You can often spend hours scouring the ads and finding “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 know that you can haggle over purchasing a car and we’ve probably all done that in our shopping experiences. That’s something we feel comfortable doing and is also an accepted practice. However, did you know that negotiations have become part of the general shopping experience in many other instances?

Some people actually negotiate almost everything they purchase and although it’s not 100% guaranteed to get you always what you want, more often than not it winds up as the best deal you’ll ever get simply by following a few basic guidelines. They are:

1. 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 to any online purchase. If you don’t do the homework, you’re shopping blindly because you can’t know the true “bargain” price without doing it.

I can’t tell you how many times I have come across people who don’t do it. 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.

That 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 and yes, I did have to explain that to him!

Of course in this case, our “regular” price was the better deal. Believe it or not, he still wanted an explanation of how that could possibly be. I finally just had to tell him 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 15 years later and counting!

2. Negotiate the extras

When making a purchase of some 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, for example.

All of them will be offered to you at prices that are huge profit makers for the stores and may even be required in order to make the purchase work in your home. Delivering your furniture to your front door for free and then having to lug it inside yourself to unpack and set it up may be impossible for you, but no problem for a team of furniture delivery people, so you will need help with that in almost every case! Negotiations here can save you time, money, and a backache, too!

Know what the fees and options are at their competitors and ask them to match the best 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 they 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. Think of it this way: if you’re making a really big purchase then it’s worth a concession from the store to close that deal.

3. Bundle items for bigger savings

Just as a lot of people do with their cable TV, phone, and internet services (yes people still have those), you can bundle your purchases. You may already be using this method when it comes to insurance when you bundle auto and homeowner’s policies and get a discount when you do.

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 get them a pat on the back from store management.

4. Buying floor samples, open boxes, and damaged packaging

This is an easy one. In almost every retailer, you’ll find all of types of items in their store that are no longer in perfect packaging. 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 when you spot these items. If you don’t see them, then ask about them because they are there in the stock area somewhere!

This is merchandise the stores don’t really want and are willing to practically give away. As long as it actually works, it is still fully warrantied (if applicable), and you know what it will and won’t do with its impairment, you should consider buying such items. The savings may be legendary.

5. 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 more room for incoming new arrivals. When you’re shopping in November and you see the Halloween leftovers at regular price or only slightly reduced, ask for a markdown from management that will move it from their problem to your shopping bargain.

Those kinds of items often can be had for pennies on the dollar. I make a habit of buying my holiday merchandise after the holiday for personal use or for next year’s gifts and parties.

Look around at these items and you will see that almost always they are the same year after year, so why not buy now and use later if it saves you a ton?

6. Will supermarkets negotiate?

Yes, they will! The obvious items are usually something like a dented can you can find in a small clearance corner in any market or discontinued item (again, shelf space is at a premium), like dated fresh goods which are also marked down and cleared out yet still good to consume.

But this one isn’t as obvious: There is a big treasure when shopping for meats out there and supermarkets will almost always reduce the price of something that’s dated with a sell-by date of today if you spot it and ask (sometimes even the day before the “best if sold by” 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.

7. Understand the 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 their inventory.

Inventory must “turn over” at a rate that allows them good cash flow to keep buying new stock. If you can find out the secret to that coding, you can initiate a conversation about buying slow movers and you can get 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 one of them to explain what the codes mean while shopping, they often will tell you about it in detail.

8. Missed 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 ten 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. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. You are a good loyal customer and they want to keep you happy and you aren’t asking for something that hundreds of others haven’t already gotten.

9. Cash is king

Stores pay fees for extending credit and letting you use a credit card to make purchases. Those fees can be 2% or 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 a good long while (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. If that is offered, give it strong consideration. You don’t have to use their credit all the time, but to get a better deal and save on this purchase, why not?

10. 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. 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. Spend an extra 20 minutes negotiating and you will see it’s worth your time!

11. Finally, walk away if need be

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.

If the item or items are not a “must have”, then you can actually walk away until a better deal comes along. Salespeople want to make sales just as much as you want to buy the item.

Final Thoughts

As our country evolves, many people coming into the U.S. are used to negotiating prices from where they came from and that has been slowly evolving in our society now for years. I think it will continue to be part of the buying and selling process, so why not learn the skills involved and take advantage of them?

Just remember, as always, to only buy items you need or want, not just because they are bargains. You don’t want to fall prey to “bargain brain”.

And 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. No one wants to help you save if you aren’t being nice and friendly.

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

Related Post:
13 Principles of Negotiation That Save You Money

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