Haggle Your Way to Holiday Savings

When Consumer Reports surveyed shoppers about their bargaining experiences, 89 percent of those who dickered—on everything from jewelry to home electronics—were rewarded for their tenacity at least once in the last few years. And the savings were often substantial: Furniture buyers, for instance, saved $250 on average.

Continue Reading Below

Unfortunately, fewer people are giving haggling a whirl. With such great odds of success, why do so many of us—more than a third of those surveyed, and notably women—balk? A University of Pennsylvania marketing professor, Stephen Hoch, attributed the reluctance in part to fear of embarrassment, looking cheap, being thought of as poor, and mortification at the prospect of hearing the word no.

Successful haggling starts with casting aside fears and insecurities. From there, savvy negotiators use various tricks to get to yes. People skills are paramount. Politeness, friendliness, and a smile are tougher to resist than bullying and tough talk. Negotiating isn’t a competition; it’s a zero-sum game. When one party wins and one loses, odds are the deal won’t work.

What tactics work?

Survey respondents tried playing merchants against one another, threatening to take their business elsewhere, sifting through user reviews for the best prices, and using flattery or sharing a sob story. Here are the most frequently used tactics among successful hagglers.

Other tips

Explain why you deserve a break. Because negotiation is a two-way street, the seller needs an incentive to bargain. Explain to your counterpart that you’re a loyal customer who likes to shop locally (a good tactic at mom-and-pop stores); tell the car dealer you intend to bring your vehicle back for servicing.

Ask open-ended questions. It’s easy to dismiss a proposal outright if you ask a question that can be answered with a blunt yes or no. For instance, say you want a 60-inch television but can only afford a 52-inch model. Try a little diplomacy and couch your request: “I’ve got the perfect space for a 60-inch TV, but the financial issue is a challenge. Is there any way you can help me?”

Show your smarts.  If you’re tech savvy about gaming systems or well-versed in vintage die-cast toys, share that wisdom and curiosity with the seller. By demonstrating product knowledge of where and how something was made, its history, or the technology behind it, you come across as a qualified buyer.

Harness the power of silence. Because of the awkwardness it creates, a brief pause can be golden when bargaining. Steven Cohen of the Negotiations Skills Co., advises consumers to remain poker faced and silent after the seller responds to your initial proposition. “They’ll wonder if they’ve offended you,” Cohen said. “They’ll think, ‘maybe what I said didn’t sound so good,’ and repackage the offer into a more attractive one.”

Find flaws. Cosmetic blemishes are negotiating gold. If you see a handbag with a bad buckle, a sweater with a smudge, or shoe with a scuff, point out those flaws. Independent stores tend to be more flexible than chains, and it’s easier to negotiate a discount involving private-label products than big brands because the retailer cannot return the flawed products to the manufacturer for credit.

Seek a cash discount.  If you’re willing to pay in cash, some merchants may be willing to cut the price because they can avoid forking over a transaction fee, of as much as 4 percent, to the credit card company.

Be discrete. Even if the other side is willing to deal, they don’t want to make it public. If there’s a crowd around you, others might demand a break, too.

—Tod Marks

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.