Haggling like a pro: 10 tips on getting a discount almost anywhere

person shopping
Hold that card until you get a discount.
Credit: Colourbox

Americans aren’t used to haggling, but it’s a habit that can save you a pretty penny, whether you’re bargaining at a department store or at a doctor’s office. We talked to a few savvy shoppers who say you can get a discount on pretty much anything — you just have to ask. Here are our top tips for getting a price cut almost anywhere.

1. Ask for the “good guy discount.” Sonari Glinton, a reporter at NPR, discovered the “good guy discount” a year ago. Glinton’s trick, which was featured on an episode of “This American Life” earlier this month, is to ask if there’s a “good guy discount” and say something along the lines of “You’re a good guy, I’m a good guy — come on, just, you know, a good guy discount.” Glinton told us that this tactic has saved him as much as hundreds of dollars, and he uses it on anything from clothes to tires. “The more I cover retail, the more I realize that just because it says it on the sticker does not mean that’s written in stone,” he says. He picked up this technique from Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, who told him that he had gotten free car repairs and other discounted items simply by asking for a good guy discount.

Glinton says it’s not just guys who can apply this idea. “The ‘good guy’ line is just an opening gambit,” he says. “A woman can use it, too. You can ask, ‘Can you work with me on this?’ ‘Do you have a friendly person discount?’ The only thing is to A. disarm them and B. see if the prices are negotiable.” Glinton says the good guy discount works for him about one out of five times — he says some stores even have a scannable code for people who ask for discounts.

2. Ask for a price match. All of the bargain hunters we spoke with say it’s key to ask for a price match. Glinton says he will often tell the salesperson he might just buy the product online in order to get the salesperson to respond. Lilliana Vazquez, author of “The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style,” says she pulls up prices on her smartphone to check the price online. She says just last weekend, she got a store to match the coupon code on its website. “Get on your phone and go to their website first, because they’re going to honor 100 percent of what they see on their website,” she says. Vazquez says she also checks competitors’ websites and shows the prices to sales associates as well. “Bloomingdales is 50/50 for me — I’ll show them Nordstrom’s prices and they’ll match it half the time,” she says. “Nordstrom will match 100 percent of the time.”

3. Be flexible. Ed Brodow, author of “Negotiation Boot Camp,” says flexibility is key when haggling for a product. If you’re willing to make minor concessions, you’ll save a lot more. “You have to be willing to walk away from any negotiation, and when you say I have to have this car and I have to have it in red and in this model, you’re really stabbing yourself in the foot,” he says. “You have to say, ‘If I can’t get the deal I want on this product, I’ll buy something else.’”

4. Ask them to call you later. Vazquez says it’s worth playing the waiting game. “I saw a Moncler coat marked down by 40 percent, which was still way out of my budget, and I said, ‘If this is still here when it’s 50 percent off or more, call me,’” she says. Not too long after, Vazquez got her call and she bought the coat. “It’s not about instant gratification,” she says.

5. Buy floor samples. Even the slightest wear and tear is a good jumping off point for asking for a discount. “Usually a sales associate or manager will give you an instant 10 to 20 percent off — they know it’s been on the floor for three months at this point,” says Vazquez. Brodow agrees and says buying a floor sample gives sales associates a way to save face when handing out discounts. “They can still protect the credibility of their price point,” he says.

6. Bargain at unlikely places. Bargaining for clothes or shoes might be a no-brainer, but Brodow says you can apply these techniques almost anywhere. “Doctors and dentists and other professionals — people don’t realize their prices are negotiable,” explains Brodow. “My friends who are professionals tell me there’s always a number of clients who never pay their bills, and they’d rather get something than nothing so they’d rather settle and reduce their price if you come up with some credible reason.” Brodow says he himself saved $1,300 on one trip to the doctor’s office that way.

Brodow says you can even bargain with the IRS and banks. “If the IRS says you owe $10,000, you can work with them and lower it,” he says. “It’s the same thing with loan rates and mortgages. Just because your bank turns you down for a mortgage doesn’t mean you have to accept it. You can argue with them and explain why you think you should get it.”

7. Ask for the manager. The salesperson on the floor may not be in the position to give you a discount, but someone else at the store is. “Very often in stores, a salesperson has been trained to say, ‘I don’t have the authority to give you this concession,’” says Brodow. He says to find out who does have the authority, whether it’s the manager or the owner, and ask them directly.

8. Know the best time to buy. Certain times of the year are better than others when asking for a discount. Vazquez says the best time to ask for a discount is the end of a season. “This is the most opportune time to ask for an additional discount,” she says. “Everyone is trying to get rid of their winter inventory and they’re very limited for real estate in their stores.”

9. Ask for freebies. If you can’t get a price break, ask for a freebie add-on, like samples or small items. “They may not be able to negotiate on that item, but there may be something else they can give you,” says Brodow. “If they can’t negotiate on this item, they may be able to give you something else that’s related to the item.” Makeup counters are especially known for giving out samples for customers who ask.

10. Don’t be scared of rejection. All of the expert hagglers agree: You can’t win if you don’t play. What happens if you get rejected? “It’s three seconds of your life,” says Glinton. “I still get nervous asking for it sometimes because our culture tells us not to. Americans don’t like haggling.” But the potential reward is worth it.


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