Try-it Tuesday: Retail Haggling—the art of paying what you want (and not a penny more)

Today’s Try-it Tuesday is a little bit of a left-fielder because it’s neither a craft project, a DIY how-to, nor a recipe.

Instead, today, I’m going to tell you how I use my haggling skills to get amazing deals at retail stores.

Some of you may be scratching your heads, wondering what in tarnation I’m not talking about.  So let’s start with the basics.

Haggle: (verb) to bargain or wrangle (over a price, terms of an agreement, etc).

Did you know you could do that at a retail store? Or have you always assumed that the price on the tag is the price. The end.

To be clear, in most retail scenarios, this is true. I am not recommending that you march into your local GAP, pick up a cute sweater, and say to the closest sales attendant, “I like this, but I’ve only got $20 in my wallet. I know it says $68, but how’s about I give you my twenty, and we call it even?”

You will get nothing from this…except laughed at…or, worst case scenario, tossed out of the store.

However, when it comes to items that a store is motivated to move, there is wiggle room. And sometimes, in very rare cases, it’s more like shake-your-fanny-and-do-the-twist room.

You may be thinking something like, “So…basically what you’re telling me is that if I want some store’s leftover junk, then I might get a bit of an extra discount if I ask for it.”

Sure. Probably.

But what I’m talking about today is getting items that are still available for full-price elsewhere for itsy-bitsy fractions of what you would have to pay for them normally.

Case in point:

Below are pictures of the loot that I scored at the Pottery Barn outlet where we stopped on our way back from San Antonio yesterday:

IMG_7297-1    IMG_7281

So, for $455 worth of retail items, I paid a whopping $75 (tax included).

Most of that was because I was buying items that were already marked at 75% or more off of the retail price.

But that last item…the capiz pendant…oh, baby, did I score there.

Here are my general tips, and then I’ll tell you the story of the light:

1) Find an item on clearance that you actually want and can use. (I’ve definitely been guilty of the, “Hey, it’s cheap, so why not?” attitude and then regretted it).

2) Thoroughly check the item for any defects. If you find any, decide whether you can live with them.

3) Decide how much you want to pay/think the item’s worth.

4) Find a manager and ask him if he can do any better on the price.

5) If he tells you a price you think is worth it…great! Walk out the door with your newly acquired, deeply discounted item.

6) If he tells you a price you’re still not willing to pay, give the item one last lingering look, thank him kindly, and start to walk away…slowly.

7) 9 times out of 10, if that manager is motivated to move the item, he will stop you and ask you to come back and tell him what price you had in mind.

8) Tell him that number. He will often counter with a number that is somewhere between yours and his original “best deal.” Again, if it works for you, take your item to the front and pay happily. If it’s still not low enough to be worth your while, thank him kindly and walk away, for real this time. If the manager really wants the item off the floor, he will stop you again and meet your price. If he thinks he can sell it for more, he won’t, and you will be confident in the knowledge that you tried your best but didn’t spend unnecessary money.

9) When in doubt, play the husband card. Let’s face it: a lot of managers are men. And when they hear a woman saying that she can’t/won’t pay more than X amount for an item, they will usually try to convince you that you really do need/want it more than you say you do. So, I’ve learned to simply say, “I completely understand why you can’t go lower. But my husband would not want me to pay more than__________.” For some reason, this seems to be effective on both male/female managers.

10) Emphasize that you can take it “right now.” Something about those magical words seems to be extra-motivational for managers who might be thinking, “I could probably get more, but how many more conversations like this will I have to have before I finally sell this thing 2 weeks from now. Ugh.”

Here are the specifics of how I got my chandelier (the very chandelier that I had been drooling over every time a new Pottery Barn catalogue showed up in my mailbox for the past year) for 1/7 of the original price.

While happily browsing the Pottery Barn Outlet with Adelaide strapped on the front of me in the Baby Bjorn, my eyes locked onto the box with my beloved capiz pendant inside. There was only one. I checked the tag: $89.99. It was originally $199.

capiz pendant

Proof that it still has a home on the Pottery Barn website for full price.

Honestly, my initial thought was, “I’d be soooo tempted if I had a specific place for it, but $90 for something that I don’t need is too much.”

Then, the guy working that section walked up and asked if I needed help.

Per #3 from my list from above, I made a quick mental note of what I would be willing to pay ($50, btw) for the dream light I didn’t technically need but could think of at least 5 places I’d love to put it and asked him if he could do any better on the price. He looked at the tag and said he could do $69.99.

Better, but still too high for me and my chintzy self.

Did I want to look at it?

Yes. I did. If only to see what I couldn’t have in person and run my fingers along its loveliness.

Well, lo and behold, when we took it out of the box, some of the petals were damaged. Not the kind of damage you could really see without looking closely, and it was almost all at the top where someone had taken it out of the box and then smooshed it back down.  And nobody sees the top of a light fixture like this one anyway. So, per #2 on my list, I decided I could live with it.

He looked over the damage and said, “Well, because of this, I could come down to $49.99.”

Well, my goodness. There was the $50 price I had decided on in my head. But that price had been for an undamaged item and a total “wish” price since I hadn’t expected him to come down to it to begin with.

Did I want to see it lit up?

Why, certainly. (This guy was super-nice, by the way; maybe I should always have cute baby girls strapped to the front of me when I go shopping).

By the time he had put a bulb in it and plugged it in, I had adjusted the price-in-my-head for the damage and decided on a plan of action.

I gazed lovingly at the beautiful, glowing light and said, “I love it. I really do. But unless you can do something crazy low like $30, I think I’ll have to pass. I don’t think my husband will go for my buying a damaged light we don’t need unless it’s an absolute steal. If you can do $30, I will walk out with it right this second.” 

And then I shut. my. mouth.

That poor man spent the next 5 minutes talking himself into giving me that light for $30, and the only things I said were, “Mm hmm,” “I totally understand,” and “You’re absolutely right.”

This is important. If you want a price, and you sense that a manager might come down to it, do not argue with him about why you should only have to pay what you want. Just put it out there, be quiet, and be kind (which is pretty good life advice too, now that I think about it).

If they’re going to meet your price, they will respond to your politeness. If they aren’t, no amount of wheedling or bickering will change their minds, and you will have made a bad impression for future battles discussions if it’s a place you frequent.

True story: when we were building our house, we got everything from wool rugs to light fixtures to faucets to toilets to…you name it…from our local Lowe’s for anywhere from 75-90% off—all things we needed and would have paid oodles more for elsewhere and usually with much nicer brand-names than we would have normally chosen because of the original price-tags—because we haunted the clearance aisles on a biweekly basis, and we got to know the manager. Really well. In fact, I’m pretty sure every time he saw me coming, his first reaction was to groan and his second was to wrack his brain for things he might be able to sell me at rock-bottom prices so that they weren’t sitting around his store floor.

His name was Ben. He was professional, he was honest, and in a very platonic, non-husband-threatening kind of way, I loved him.

But even if you never meet your Ben, don’t be afraid to ask for great deals.

Yes, you will run into the occasional manager who acts like you’re trying to rob them simply by asking, but most of the time, these are reasonable individuals who would rather sell at a lower price to you, the nice, polite, smiley lady with the cute baby today than at their top price to a less motivated customer a week from now.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed my novel (I might have gotten a little carried away) on retail haggling and find the courage to “try-it” sometime soon.

I would love to know…have you ever scored an awesome retail deal using nothing but your wits, your determination, and maybe a few eyelash flutters?

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30 thoughts on “Try-it Tuesday: Retail Haggling—the art of paying what you want (and not a penny more)

  1. I’ve haggled with mall clothing stores. How much for this suit? I’m needing a new one for church. Really, do you have any dress shirts? Where are your ties? Etc… How much of a discount for all? 30%? Can you do 35? You can awesome. Can you throw in one of those garment bags? Great! Thanks!

  2. I like to use the buy in bulk from the clearance section method. I pick out 3 or more items from the clearance section and ask if they’d be willing to let these go for X dollars, making sure that X is significantly less than the marked price for all my items. This often works and my theory is that because X sounds like a lot of money they’re willing to take it and ignore the fact that I’m walking out of the store with half the clearance section in my cart or maybe they’re just glad to get rid of a bunch of stuff that they’re afraid no one else will be dumb enough to buy.

  3. I never think about asking for a lower price, but my husband ALWAYS does….at first it kind of embarrassed me but he is so good at it and pretty much always gets his way! He is very kind and nice but also determined (in a non threatening way) and it almost always works! He’s amazing like that and we’ve been able to get some amazing deals for our home, as well. I don’t think I’ll ever be good at it, but he says what can it hurt? Love is confidence! Great post!

  4. Oh my goodness! I never thought of bartering with a manager. I really thought it was against the rules. That is amazing. I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do it though.

  5. I love these tips! I live in Greece, where haggling is expected in many places, and even after 2 years here, it still doesn’t really come naturally to me. I still feel a little shy/embarrassed – but I can say I have been getting better. You’re absolutely right about the husband line. I used to use that line in the US all the time when stores would try to get me to sign up for their store credit card. “Oh I’d love to, but my husband would be so mad!” hehe. My husband wouldn’t care of course, but they don’t know that, and it got them off my back :D

  6. Great blog!
    Now about bargains if you like it, you should check in first hand this new site that’s poping:

    Click here for the > Bargains Connection All I can tell you is not just what it will look at first make sure you check “other auctions” when it’s fully running…

  7. Love this! I so enjoy your blog. I have asked at Target on several occasions if they can do something because an item is damaged (ever so slightly–i.e., a mark on a shirt that I feel confident I’ll get out, but don’t feel I should pay full price due to) and they’ve always given me an additional 10% off. Usually the clerks just go ahead & give the discount without even getting a manager. I recently tried it at Kohl’s for the same reason & they gave me 10% off too. Yay! Now, to try it on an item that is not damaged… Thanks for the tips and courage.

  8. Awesome! I’m going to try this! First, though, I’m going to try haggling down my hospital bill from a couple of surgeries I had to have!

  9. I’m a terrible haggler, truly awful! However, I do have a favorite score…well, it’s actually my husband’s. He was able to get the price of my engagement ring down to under 1/3 of the original price. So I get the best of both worlds: a ring that was selling at a price high enough to get yourself a used car, and a genius husband who’s great with money and wouldn’t have spent that much on a ring.
    I’m lucky :) I’ll just have to start bringing him with me when I go shopping…

  10. I’ve done this at WalMart but never anywhere else. I’m just too chicken. WalMart is so willing to price match and move inventory they will practically give you their clearance items. I’ve got to get the courage to do it elsewhere. Thanks for the tips.

  11. I never bartered until I moved to Africa. Now I have come to enjoy it. Here people state the price, but it’s always negotiable. Even prices that are marked on things can be bartered. I’ll have to keep these tips in mind the next time I’m in the States.

  12. This is great info! Just haven’t ever thought of it. Definitely gonna have to give it a go now. And BRAVO for such a steal on that light! Can’t wait to see how ya’ use it :) I’m really envious (in a good way) of such a pretty stylish find!

  13. Great advice! I used to work at Home Depot, and every employee can mark down items up to $50 without any manager approval, just to make the customer happy. Some employees can do up to $100. If you have a decent reason, ask, and you shall receive! It’s cheaper for them to get rid of a clearance item for any amount than have it sit on their shelf, it’s all about turns!

  14. I love this! I am always looking for some “damage” to items, which really isn’t damage at all. Something’s a little loose, but can easily be tightened with a screw.:) But, of course, in that moment, I never tell them that! Also, I’m a huge fan of the shut-your-mouth method–this works wonders in the business world.

  15. I knew i Liked you! This is my type of shopping! I love the that the children’s place offers free shipping on most holiday weekends and it is easy to find 30% off coupon codes…online shopping means I never pay more than 2.00 for a brand new shirt!

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