The view from our 10th floor hotel room overlooked the tip of a small peninsula in northern Cancun. The sea was beautiful. It was clear as glass and the brightest blue I had ever seen. The air was hot but the swift coastal wind cooled us off enough to be comfortable. I instantly fell in love with the Caribbean. I never wanted to leave.
A few weeks ago I found a small gold ring I bought while in Mexico several years back. The memory of how I acquired it instantly made me smile. It was one of my first tastes of haggling.
The story goes that one night a few of my girlfriends and I were out walking, exploring the city. At some point we came upon an outdoor mall of sorts. There were small boutique type retailers, bicycle rentals, small cafes and jewelry stores scattered throughout the open air shopping center.
Instantly my friends and I were being called to come over and visit stand after stand. I’m sure the shop owners saw us as a bunch of Gringos who they could jack up the prices of their wares for. Items that cost only a few pesos magically rose to 50-60% more once we started browsing.
One after the other my friends started picking out pieces they wanted. I knew haggling over price was the norm in Mexico and I was excited to try it for the first time. After lazily browsing I asked, “Cuanto cuesta?” hoping my Spanish was passable. I knew my first reaction had to be a frown and a shake of the head no matter what price the shop owner said.
The man replied with a price lower than what I was expecting. My excitement took over and I whipped out my pesos in exchange for a shiny gold bauble to decorate my finger.
That’s probably not the ending you expected. The penny pinching Nancy Patterson accepted a first offer? Sadly it’s true. I was only 19 at the time this story occurred though. I hadn’t perfected my frugal ways.
And that’s the other part of the memory that always comes to mind when I think of that tiny gold ring resting at the bottom of my jewelry box. I wish I had haggled and negotiated with the shop owner a bit more. I know I could have gotten him down another 20-30% with just a little bit of effort.
Haggling doesn’t seem to be a skill Americans naturally possess. Most likely it is because our country is not built upon the practice. It’s something we must work at to be good. Through the years I’ve gotten better at negotiating prices. I haven’t been back to Mexico yet to avenge my younger self, but when I do here are some of the tactics I will employ…
First thing I will remember to do is never accept the first offer. Retailers never reveal the lowest price they will accept on the first offer. No matter what a retailer says their first offer is not their best offer.
Knowing this your first reaction should always be a surprised reaction followed by a shaking of the head or a frown. Let the clerk know non-verbally that you will not pay that price. Your body language should back up your words. Patting your hair, shifting from one foot to the other, excessively fidgeting will come across as nervous energy and will lower your ability to get the price you want.
Never let the clerk know you really want an item. This lowers your leverage in the bargaining process. Try to give off the impression you are just browsing. Walk away from an item you want, don’t touch it too much and keep a poker face. If a clerk knows you want an item they will not give you their best price.
If after a few rounds you feel you aren’t getting the price you want be prepared to walk away. You must show the salesperson you’re willing to walk out without the item if they don’t come down in price. 9 out of 10 times the clerk will stop you before you get out the door with another offer.
Never let a “No” dissuade you. If you don’t get the price down to what you want to pay leave and come back when another salesperson is on duty. That salesperson might be more willing to make a deal and meet your price.
Once you’ve gotten the price down to around where you want it, ask the salesperson if they give further discounts for cash payments. Credit card companies charge retailers approximately 2-4% of the purchase price for their services. Some retailers will pass this savings onto you if you ask.
Also often time’s retailers won’t claim cash sales when it comes time for them to pay sales taxes. Depending on the area that can be close to 10%, try to get that off the price as well. Remember it is often the merchants’ responsibility to collect and pay those. Technically most states have a use tax. Though let’s be serious when is the last time you sent a check to Uncle Sam for something you bought at a yard sale.
Another tactic you can try is “Beat this deal.” Show an advertisement from another competitor for the same item and ask them to do better. Price matching isn’t good enough if the competition is an online retailer. However, if you get a brick and mortar store to match an online price then you will save on shipping and handling fees.
Part of your success will come from picking the right items to negotiate price on. Don’t go for items that have just made their way onto the showroom floor. Look for items that have minor flaws or are out of their boxes. Ask if you can get a discount if you buy the floor model.
Items that have already been marked down several times are prime targets for hagglers and negotiators. Chances are items that have already been marked down are taking up usable space on a showroom that retailers want to dedicate to newer, more expensive models. Look for items that have multiple price tags or are in the clearance section for this approach.
Big ticket items are prime candidates for price negotiation. Things like furniture, televisions, cars, appliances, mattresses, and of course housing are routinely haggled over. The higher the price the more likely a salesperson will be willing to work with you to make the sale!
For most people, asking for a discount is the hardest part. It can be intimidating or embarrassing. Just remember the very worst thing that can happen is that the clerk says “no.” It doesn’t get worse than that!
As long you ask in a polite, reasonable manner and can explain why you think the discount is justified, you will have a pleasant negotiating experience. Always remember that you are in control. You have money in the bank that shop owners desperately want. Most will be willing to work with you to achieve a sale. So as Nike says, “Just Do It!”
Keeping money in your pocket,