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Ask Sid

The How-To's of Haggling

Q. I hear that haggling is becoming more acceptable these days, so why do I get dirty looks—and no discount—when I ask for a better deal?

A. Maybe the problem is who, where, when and how you ask. A Consumer Reports  poll finds that two in three shoppers have tried haggling in recent months, most with success.

Who and where: In big-box stores, speak with a manager; a sales clerk has no authority (or incentive) to offer discounts. Owners of independent businesses are in the best position to dicker.

When: You’ll fare best on big-ticket items, especially late in the month when salespeople are often trying to meet quotas, or during off-peak hours when there are fewer customers around.

How: Prime the pump by bringing printouts showing lower prices for the item on eBay or other websites, or a competitor’s flyer or advertisement boasting a lower or equal price. Many retailers will match or beat competitors’ prices. Don’t reveal that you need or love the item; away from other customers, politely make an offer or ask, “Can’t you do better?” And offer cash if possible, noting that the store can avoid credit card transaction fees, which typically range from 2 to 8 percent of your purchase.

Among the Consumer Reports  poll respondents, 83 percent haggled for better deals on hotel rates, 81 percent on a cellphone bill or clothing, 71 percent on electronics or furniture, 62 percent on credit card fees, and 58 percent on medical bills.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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