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Learning how to bargain can reap big bucks

89 percent of those who haggled were rewarded at least once Consumer Reports magazine: August 2013

Illustration: Christoph Hitz 13 ways to get to yes | Why we haggle less | A tightwad tells you how negotiating pays off Hate to haggle? You’re not alone. Our new national survey found that just 48 percent of shoppers tried bargaining for a better deal on everyday goods and services in the past three years, down from 61 percent in 2007. But if you’re chicken, you lose. Eighty-nine percent of those who haggled were rewarded at least once. Successful furniture hagglers saved $300 on average, as did those who questioned a health-related charge. Those who challenged their cell-phone plans saved $80. Clearly, people who don’t know how to bargain or who don't haggle are leaving money on the table. Among the success stories we’ve heard:

Karen Wessel, a teacher’s aide from Tuckahoe, N.Y ., needed cataract surgery but lacks medical insurance. The receptionist at her optometrist's office, in a wealthy town, gave her an estimate of

and asked if I could get any kind of break. mentioned I understood the surgery would cost around $10.000 for his fee. and you can easily get lost or sidetracked if you do not pay attention. “The health insurance field is like a giant house of smoke and mirrors. home and thought she’d replace an old furnace at the same time. “It would be great if you could throw in a new thermostatâ€—an additional $100—she told him. and because of the total system upgrade. But her optometrist also has an office in a small city and suggested an ophthalmologist there. the salesman lopped off another $140 as credit for the service contract on the old unit.$10. The salesman agreed to $6. anesthesiology. The doctor agreed to operate at a lower-cost clinic instead of a hospital and accepted $1.000. Ohio. but the $6.† • Retired banking executive Ed Detwiler and eight of his Columbus. and offer to pay on the spot.. Harmon got her thermostat.400. but Detwiler persuaded them to join forces and let the contractor move heavy equipment across their lawns. That saved the group a total of about $8. neighbors faced a bill of about $40.636 price tag didn’t sit well. always have my checkbook in hand. but Harman wasn’t done.â€ Harman says. “I explained I had no health insurance. making the job easier—and cheaper.000 for an ophthalmologist to perform the surgery. $300. “I have a slightly apologetic demeanor.000 to have 35 diseased ash trees removed from their properties. The facility fee was $1. The neighbors were acting individually. Angela Harman wanted to upgrade the central air conditioning in her Crestview. “I said we’d really like to have the better model but asked if they could come down on the price. She had second thoughts about her first-choice A/C unit and wanted to trade up.100.â€ the relieved patient says.400. The total: $2. Fla.000.† Wessel says. • .

says that almost everyone in health care—whether physicians. hospitals. Hoch says that many people are reluctant to confront doctors or lawyers. Retailers drop prices all the time and call it a sale. Tell the car dealer if you intend to bring your vehicle back for servicing. and asked the rep to waive the $25 penalty • • • • . pointed out her track record of on-time payments.D. That said. and drown you in information. He approached the admissions officers of his top pick. “It’s not in the seller’s best interest to charge one price to all customers. they’ll try to wait you out. Be willing to bargain for big bucks. president of Massachusetts-based Negotiation Skills. say so. M. Abbie Leibowitz.â€ says Steven Cohen. You can’t win if you don’t try.000 a year). director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. forgot to make a credit-card payment. She contacted customer service to acknowledge the oversight. countered with $33.. Colo. you run the risk of losing face. you are making a profit. “Negotiation isn’t a competitive sport. If you’re a loyal customer.D. The school. which had initially offered $30. or imaging departments—will eventually accept less if you dispute an out-of-pocket charge.â€ Don’t be intimidated by a title. says his company can often cut charges in half for uninsured patients. A 23-year-old college grad (he didn’t want his name used) was accepted into several law schools and was offered generous scholarships by some. and asked for more ($40. a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. he adds.13 ways to get to yes • Savvy negotiators know that politeness. M. “A my-way-or-the-highway approach limits you. co-founder of Health Advocate. knowing it would never agree to that amount. labs.000.. told them that another school had upped the ante. Alice Osner of Denver. but his first choice didn’t. which teaches corporate clients how to sharpen their bargaining techniques. friendliness. because if you then reduce your demands. As his commitment deadline loomed. which specializes in health care advocacy and assistance. and a smile are harder to resist than tough talk. Give sellers a reason to negotiate. and they sealed the deal..â€ says Stephen Hoch. two of the schools increased their offers. But John Santa. say that.â€ Here are other tips for smart bargaining: Assume everything is fair game.000. As long as you sell something for more than your cost. apologized. “You charge different prices to different people based on their willingness to pay. make you feel responsible. If you’re at a mom-and-pop store because you like to shop locally.

silence can be golden. Conn. When she mentioned those better offers to a Sirius rep. each said that no special deals were available for renewing customers. or know the ins and outs of foreign coins. “They’ll think. $99 contract. are geeky about gaming systems. the company would bombard her with offers to return at a lower. ‘Maybe what I said didn’t sound appealing.â€ he says. Initially. The price of the service was $195 per year. When it’s expensive to attract new customers. share that expertise and curiosity with the interest. her call was bumped up to several supervisors. there’s a price in the morning. that if she didn’t renew her contract with SiriusXM satellite radio. Print out or take screen shots of website pages or request written quotes from competitors. ask about free shipping. Say you want a 60-inch television but can afford only a 52-inch model. If you’re versed in Federal-style furniture. offering a one-year. Cohen suggests: “I’ve got the perfect space for a 60-inch TV. Because it creates awkwardness.â€ Find flaws. when reality sets in. Research the cost of any product before buying. Show your knowledge. In cultures where bargaining is common. rate. or installation. but the financial issue is a challenge.’ and they may repackage the offer into a more attractive one. but Glasspiegel had seen promotions for a six-month subscription for $25. Ask about a refund of the difference if there’s a drop within a reasonable period of time. • Ask open-ended questions. If you see a sweater with a smudge or a dishwasher with • • • • • • . Experience taught Susan Glasspiegel of Simsbury. when hope springs eternal. Anxious sellers might include someone who has bought a new house but hasn’t sold the old one or a car dealer with a car that has sat on the lot for months. and use it to determine what you’re willing to pay. It’s easy to be turned down if you ask a yes-or-no question. If you can’t get a discount. You’ll come across as a qualified buyer. He did. and the company relented. “They’ll wonder if they’ve offended you. How can you can help me?â€ See whether the seller is anxious. Stay mum. Decide on a fair price. delivery. Be willing to walk away. Call the store to confirm that it will match the lowest price you’ve found. companies may work hard to retain existing ones. and another that kicks in close to closing. Cohen advises remaining poker-faced after sellers give you their initial proposition. but she persisted.. albeit temporary.

a ding. point it out. That way. says retail consultant Jack Abelson. It’s easier to negotiate with independent stores than with chains. • • Seek a discount for cash. sellers won’t need to pay transaction fees to a credit-card company. because the seller can’t return flawed products to their maker for credit. . Sellers may not want to make your great deal public. Be discreet. and for private-label products than for big brands.

“The polarization of side A vs. the economic downturn should have spawned an army of bargain hunters. “It’s like going out on a date. After all. including the requirement that banks give 45 days’ notice of fee changes.. looking cheap. bargaining strategy consultants. There was also a big dive in the number and success rate of those who tried to negotiate for medical charges. The steepest drop involved bank and credit-card fees: Twenty-five percent fewer Americans challenged them than in 2007.â€ Steven Cohen.† A tightwad tells you how negotiating pays off I am such a persnickety shopper that I once returned a watermelon that wasn’t sweet enough. or hearing the word no. M. “Some people just won’t ask out of fear of rejection. a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.C. There could be a positive reason for less haggling over financial fees. suggests it might be due in part to the ongoing shift from small medical practices to large ones affiliated with hospitals. they end up with egg on their face. As for the falloff in medical negotiation. Consumer Reports’ associate medical editor. Stephen Hoch. attributes the reluctance in part to fear of embarrassment.† he says. president of Negotiation Skills. haggling rates have fallen for every product and service category except appliances. But it’s hard to explain the decrease in haggling for other products and services. The Credit Card Act of 2009 put in place sweeping pro-consumer rules.D. side B is such that if side B negotiates with side A.â€ Hoch says.â€ Avitzur says. Orly Avitzur. “It may have been easier to negotiate with your physician who owned the practice than with someone who is an employee of a large health care system. wonders whether Americans are taking their cue from today’s negative political tone. “People see that negotiating isn’t working among their elected officials in D.Since our 2007 survey. No surprise that haggling is part of my daily . And doctors in large groups often have no authority to negotiate financial issues..

“Horribly. —Tod Marks Editor's Note: A version of this article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Let’s Make a Deal. Rather than press the salesperson. even if it’s a minor victory. I e-mailed Harry & David. Doing our best  “good cop. I told him. She said yes.) At an  A&P. a bad idea. $5 off the regular price.routine. we said we wanted time to think and wandered the store so that the salesperson could talk to the owner. I noticed a $2-off sticker on a bag of rolls that felt hard as rocks. I joked with an employee that the rolls were perfect because I was off to play baseball. To save money. we lamented that a few cheaper frames weren’t as nice." . (Find out how to save on eyeglasses. since it was after 6 p. By mixing moxie and humor with a laid-back style. they offered a 50 percent discount. The cost for my combined home and auto insurance kept rising. (That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unsafe or inedible. I seem to win more often than not. Catalog merchant Harry & David offered a discount based on the amount of an order. but I said that didn’t cut it. beyond our budget.m. supermarkets may cut the price of foods that have reached their  “sell byâ€ date or that look past their peak. and they were unlikely to be sold. Insurance.) Perishables. (Learn how to save on auto andhomeowners insurance. who slashed the premium by $1. Late in the day. The agent suddenly perked up and within 24 hours matched the quote. I presented my current agent with the counterproposal and told her I was ready to walk. The car had been sputtering. fresher rolls. Hertz credited me $25 for a partial tank of gas. and that made me nervous. my wife concluded that she wanted the pricey pair. Here are some recent wins: Eyeglasses. and asked whether the company would waive or reduce it because I was buying two items. and know what constitutes a fair price. my agent offered few suggestions to reduce the bill.100. When she chuckled. Aside from decreasing coverage. I politely asked whether there was any way I could get a similar discount on the same number of loose. be polite.90. said the fee was a deal breaker. but the rental wasn’t a bargain: The transmission worked so poorly that I was worried the car would conk out on the interstate.† He apologized. But shipping was $19. It didn’t acknowledge the request but sent a coupon code for 20 percent off my next order.) Rental car. My wife and I visited an independent shop and found her a pair of frames for $500. So I consulted a highly rated competitor. When I returned and a service rep asked how everything went. My guidelines: Nothing is off limits. Mail-order food. After about 15 minutes of back and forth. I booked a compact car from Hertz. When we returned. I wanted two gift packages at $35 each. bad copâ€ routine in front of the salesperson. I responded.