Flea markets, garage sales, and antique stores all scream “let’s make a deal,” but rare is the shopper who tries to haggle at a traditional retail store. That means we’re probably missing out on a great bargain, says Janet F. Williams, author of You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get. “A lot of people have an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, but even at a big-box retailer, the salesperson wants to make a sale and you want the sale to happen,” she says. “We tend to self-censor, but if you speak up—and you’re prepared—a great deal might come your way.” Consider this your get-prepped guide:
1. FIND THE RIGHT MARK.
Try to negotiate at the register when there’s a long line of customers behind you and you’re more likely to garner dirty looks than a deep discount. But don’t assume the salesperson has no power (if the timing is right). Ask to talk to the manager, who might be busy in the back office, and you run the risk of annoying her right out of the gate. “Instead, find someone on the floor,” says Williams. “Ask them, can you help me with this? Or: Who can help me with this?”
2. ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS.
The least awkward way to ask for a deal without looking like a penny-pincher, Williams says, is to say, "Are there any ongoing specials or discounts available?" “People aren’t mind readers, so unless the register applies an automatic discount they probably won’t suggest a way to save,” she says. There might be a student or teacher discount that shaves 10 percent off your total, or a special for shoppers who join the new loyalty program.
3. BE BRAND AGNOSTIC.
If that Kate Spade clutch is the only thing that will make your heart sing, have at it. But if you’re flexible on the brand, ask the sales associate if there are any similar items that have been marked-down. She might point you to a sale—and savings—that you would have overlooked.
4. POINT OUT ANY DEFECTS.
A TV stand with scuff marks along the bottom, a shirt with a button missing, a box that’s seen better days. Anything that mars an item’s once-pristine condition is worth mentioning, because it means the store will be more likely to part with it for a song. “At one big-box store, I needed fishing line, but the package was in bad shape,” says Williams. “I told the sales person, ‘I would like this, because it’s your only one, but this is obviously damaged. What can you do for me?’” That one question saved her more than 30 percent off the sticker price. “It didn’t require arguing or getting ramped up—just asking,” she says.
5. EMBRACE CASH.
Merchants that don’t want to pay credit card processing fees might be open to cutting you a deal if you pay in cash, particularly for big-ticket items, like furniture, bicycles, or jewelry. Williams suggests asking, "If I pay with cash, would you be able to extend some of your savings to me?"
6. DON'T NAME NUMBERS.
“As soon as you ask for a specific deal—10 percent off, $50 off—you set a limit,” says Williams. And if the sales associate can’t give you that exact discount, it’s often a conversation killer. So whether you’re pointing out a makeup stain or asking about the best way to save on a pair of pumps, avoid using hard numbers. “If you make it clear you’re looking to save but don’t say anything specific, it allows the salesperson the space to come up with their own creative way to help you,” says Williams. And those suggestions—say, free delivery on that scuffed-up furniture or telling you about a half-off shoe sale that starts tomorrow—can mean even bigger discounts than the number you had in mind.