The Fine Art of Haggling
By Tom Ryan
While common in many foreign countries, haggling for most Americans is reserved for major purchases such as cars and houses. However some are finding better deals by haggling over credit card rates, hotel rooms, medical bills, gym membership fees, as well as at retail.
A survey by Consumer Reports found that 90 percent of those who haggled over furniture, electronics, appliances and even medical bills had received a lower price on at least one purchase in the last three years. Most of the bargainers said they saved $50 or more. In the case of cell phone deals and medical fees, more than a quarter saved at least $100.
Writing in The New York Times, Alina Tugend said many consumers don’t like to haggle because they worry about appearing cheap or being turned down. But hagglers claim the practice is not about looking for a favor; it’s more about earning a minor discount for being a good customer.
“I’ve spent many, many thousands at my dentist,” Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, told The New York Times. So when she needed an expensive procedure, she asked what his actual cost was versus what she was being charged – and negotiated a lower price.
Ms. Greenberg, who calls herself the queen of haggling, estimates that she gets a lower price 90 percent of the time. Like most profitable dealmakers, she never acts aggressive, self-righteous or angry.
“You want to be polite and say ‘could you’ and ‘I’d be grateful,'” she said. “You have to have a fine-tuned sense of what’s fair. Don’t chisel people out of things if they can’t afford it.”
Ms. Greenberg said that department stores are not off-limits to haggling, noting that it’s possible to ask for coupons or find out if the item is going on sale soon or just came off sale. Sometimes, expired coupons are accepted through haggling.
Herb Cohen, author of the best seller, You Can Negotiate Anything, said it helps to think of the practice as negotiating rather than haggling.
“You don’t have to be a phony,” he told the Times. “You can tell the truth. Come in in a genial way, smiling with a low-key pose of calculated incompetence. The key words are, ‘Can you help me?'”
Discussion Question: Is haggling more common than thought across retail? Do you think haggling is positive or negative for retail?