Haggling is my favorite way to score discounts. Over the years, I've saved thousands of dollars at outlet stores, boutiques, farmers markets — even online. But just the idea of dickering over a price can make some people cringe. Whenever I start haggling in a store, my husband heads for the exit.
So how do you get started if you love bargains but hate to bargain? Start online. You're spared the awkward silences, and if someone says no, at least it's not to your face.
You might even save more online than in stores. According to a 2017 Consumer Reports survey, online shoppers who haggled over electronics scored an average discount of $94, compared with $84 for walk-in hagglers.
Here's how to get in the game:
- Start a conversation. If you're shopping online and the website offers live chat, get the attention of a customer-service rep by typing in a question about a product you like. Or call the site's toll-free number. In either case, remember you're talking to a person, and a little rapport goes a long way. After you've engaged in some conversation, go in for the kill: Politely ask whether there's any “wiggle room in terms of price,” says Kyle James, founder of rather-be-shopping.com, a deal-finding site. The rep might offer you a discount just for asking. James says he used live chat at dell.com to haggle down the price of a computer by $52 “with just a couple minutes of effort."
- Look for reasons to get a break. Whenever I'm interested in buying more than one item—say, a few pairs of shoes or a second appliance—I ask if I can get a “volume discount.” I've also asked sales reps if they can give me a discount when I see slight damage, such as a scratch or missing button. George Siedel, the author of Negotiating for Success: Essential Strategies and Skills, advises letting the salesperson throw out the first price before you make an offer; she might come in lower than you expect. And always ask, of course, if there's a discount for AARP members.
- Research prices. Use sites like joinhoney.com and camelcamelcamel.com to see an item's price history. That might tell you how low the seller will go, says Tercius Bufete, commerce editor at the Inventory, a product-review website. Also, check for price-match guarantees on sites. After a quick price check of rival sellers, I recently slashed my contact lens tab by 46 percent with a call to 1800contacts.com. Not all retailers advertise price matching, and policies tend to have lots of restrictions. Don't let that deter you! James says he called kohls.com's customer service number and asked a rep to match a competitor's online price on a mixer, even though it was contrary to the retailer's policy. Since he had Kohl's store credits to spend, James says, “I politely asked if they'd match the Amazon price. Sure enough, they did.” It saved him $25. “I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the willingness of many online retailers to price-match items directly over the phone,” he says.
- Don't give up. If the first phone rep says no, call back; maybe the next one will say yes. “Keep calling until you get someone who agrees with you,” says Ed Brodow, author of Negotiation Boot Camp. “You might get 10 people who don't give a darn until you get the person who will give you a positive response.” Also, you can try asking for a manager. That worked for me when I haggled down my cable bill and even the price of a dress at T.J. Maxx.
Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for the Dr. Oz Show.