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Don't Pay List: Negotiating the Best Deal for Your Money
by Ed Brodow

The typical American consumer has been reluctant to challenge that retail icon, the list price. When I urge participants in my Negotiation Boot Camp™ seminars to bargain for goods and services, you'd think I was asking them to commit a felony. "You can't negotiate set prices." "People will think I'm cheap." "That's not ethical." While it is acceptable to haggle with car dealers, the prevailing wisdom is that the same approach will not work in a department store or with your accountant. In fact, a certain car manufacturer has advertised that they have only one price so you won't have to be bothered with the unpleasant task of negotiating. Isn't that thoughtful of them?

Well, guess what, now that the economy has gone south on us, these rigid attitudes about wheeling and dealing are loosening up. The notion that you can stretch your paycheck by negotiating better purchases is enjoying wider acceptance. My suggestions for making deals were featured recently in Smart Money magazine ("Let's Make a Deal," December, 2001), and KRON-TV4 in San Francisco just followed me around with hidden cameras for an entire day as I bargained for consumer products, furniture, hotel rooms, and clothing.

The following tips sum up my approach to getting the best deal for your money:
  1. Before you negotiate, do your homework.
    Read up on the dealer's cost for the car you want to buy. Comparison shop to see what different stores are asking for the same piece of furniture or for similar items. Ask your friends what their dentist charges for a porcelain crown. Do research to determine which products are hot and which are not; the best deals can be made on those that are less in demand.
  2. Lower the seller's expectations by asking for concessions.
    The only way to get a better deal is to ask for one. Challenge everything they say. The more assertive you are in pursuing a better deal, the more they will be inclined to cave in and offer concessions. Remember that the seller is under pressure to make the sale. Especially in a down economy, sellers are desperate to find new business. In many stores, the salespeople are actually instructed to give a discount if the customer merely asks for one.
  3. Try the Flinch.
    "What! You want how much for that refrigerator? Are you crazy?" Flinching is a good way to find out if the seller's expectations are low. It may turn out that the salesperson shares your view that the price is excessive. When you flinch, he may respond with a discount.
  4. Tell a Sob Story.
    "I like your sofa, but I don't have enough money in my budget. I didn't plan to spend so much." This is not a lie. You have a right to set your own budget. It is the seller's choice either to meet that budget or to test your resolve by holding firm on price. The Sob Story is your way of testing how much they want to make a sale.
  5. Execute the Squeeze.
    "I like your hotel, but I can get a better room rate elsewhere." This is also called the power of competition. Many sellers will do somersaults in order to match or beat competitive offers. Simply mentioning the competition will often lower the seller's expectations.
  6. Nibble a little.
    "If I buy this dress, will you throw in a pair of shoes?" The seller may not be able to discount the dress, but they can sweeten the deal by throwing in other items for free or at a reduced cost.
  7. Buy in quantity.
    "What discount will you give me if I buy three suits instead of just one?" Most sellers are accustomed to giving quantity discounts. If you can, get your friend to buy a couple of suits at the same time.
  8. Don't limit your bargaining to price.
    Deals can also be made for non-price items such as better terms (a discount for paying cash; postponed billing), waiving the delivery charge, and warranty (including the extended warranty in the purchase price).
  9. Be patient and persistent.
    If they say no, don't give up. Sometimes the best deal will come only after you have devoted some time to the quest, which convinces the buyer that you are serious. A friend of mine spends four hours or more when he buys a new car. He wears them down.
  10. Be prepared to walk away.
    I call this Brodow's Law: Your willingness to walk out and either buy somewhere else or buy an alternative product is your greatest asset in any bargaining situation. You must behave as though you don't need to buy it. Many great deals occur when you return the second or third time.
  11. Wait for the seller's big sale or slow season.
    Many clothing, appliance, and furniture stores substantially slash prices at least once a year, usually after January 1. When buying a car, consider visiting the dealer on a rainy day at the end of the month. Or buy at the end of the model year, after next year's models have been introduced.
  12. Ask for their advice.
    If you politely ask the salesperson for suggestions on how you can do better, she may surprise you with ideas you never thought of, such as how the store has given concessions in the past, or the dates of an upcoming sale. Even if she doesn't have the authority to deal, her ideas can help you to bargain with the manager.
  13. Go to a higher level.
    If the salesperson can't or won't give you the deal you want, ask to see the manager or owner. Higher ups are more likely to bargain because they have more authority, they don't have time to haggle, and they are more inclined to look at big picture issues such as customer good will and, "How many of these items do we need to move?" Also, the amount of your requested discount may seem less significant to a manager, who is looking at overall sales figures, than to the salesperson, who is focused on her commission.
  14. Find a way for the seller to save face.
    They may be reluctant to give you a discount because then they can't refuse to do the same for the next customer. They need to maintain the integrity of their pricing structure. You can give them a way out by accepting a product with a defect, or by choosing the floor model, last year's model, or a repossession. Any good reason you can suggest, such as a Sob Story or the Squeeze, can help them to justify making an exception.
  15. Be funny.
    The use of humor can lighten up the atmosphere, weaken the seller's defenses, and make it easier for you to assume a tough bargaining position without alienating the salesperson. One of my favorite gambits is to ask, "Do you give veteran's discounts?" It usually gets a laugh or a chuckle, often followed by a discount.
Remember: None of these techniques will work unless you convince yourself that it is okay to negotiate. When you bargain for goods and services, you are participating in one of the oldest human activities. The people who founded this country were traders who wheeled and dealed all the time, and in most other parts of the world, bargaining is a respected art form that is enjoyed by both buyer and seller.

Although it won't work every time, bargaining is usually successful often enough to make it worthwhile and a whole lot of fun. The bottom line is that if you don't negotiate, you are unnecessarily leaving much of your hard-earned money on the table. If you don't ask, you don't get. Good luck!

Ed Brodow is a motivational speaker, negotiation guru on PBS, and author of Negotiate with Confidence and Beating the Success Trap.

Copyright © 2005 Ed Brodow Seminars, Inc. All rights reserved.

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