Pay no attention to the price on that tag.
Or even the markdown.
This year, some shoppers are quietly taking the art of bargaining up the escalator to the floors selling cashmere or over-the-knee leather boots, building on the haggling skills they acquired in the past few years getting big-box store deals on TVs and the like.
Armed with increasingly sophisticated price-tracking tools on their smartphones and other devices, consumers have become bolder, and they know that they often have the upper hand during a tough season for retailers. Recognizing the new reality, some retailers, desperate for sales and customer loyalty, have begun training their employees in the art of bargaining with customers.
Last month, Best Buy essentially invited consumers to bargain when it announced that it would match the prices of any competitor this holiday season if customers showed proof of the lower price.
But other retailers are doing the same with less fanfare, or even making steeper concessions. DealScience, a new website that collects, compares and ranks online deals from thousands of retail brands, discovered that at least 20 percent of big box retailers had price-matching policies, though many do not advertise them.
The site’s co-founders, Brandon Hunt and Cory O’Daniel, said that they had been surprised to find that at least a half-dozen merchants – including some of the original haggling stages, such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s – now permit managers to go a step better and offer 10 percent below a competitor’s price.
The bargaining practices are more commonplace for home and sporting goods or electronics, but even higher-end retailers like Nordstrom have price-matching guidelines – though they usually do not broadcast the terms.
There was nearly universal recognition among guests at a private round-table dinner with retail executives in Dallas that their stores had better accept regular give-and-take with customers, according to Alison Kenny Paul, vice chairwoman and leader of U.S. retail and distribution at Deloitte.
“Some talked about their epiphanies and said the world has changed, we really have to do this,” she said.
As a result, Paul said, some retailers are training employees on the rules of bargaining. Instead of price discounts, those deals may be add-ons, like an extended warranty, free delivery or free installation.
Employees are now being coached to “recognize when a consumer needs to negotiate” and to “spot the consumer” getting ready to walk out the door, she said.
When a sales clerk at Kohl’s in Kennewick, Wash., recently asked Siobhan Shaw if she would like to open a store credit card, Shaw recalled that she replied firmly: “No.”
“But,” she said she quickly asked, “can I get the same discount she got?” She was referring to the woman ahead of her in line, who had asked for a discount and received 15 percent off. The answer was yes.
Retailers panicked a few years ago when they realized that some consumers were using brick-and-mortar stores to view products, only to walk out and order them at a lower price online. Now, Paul said, they are trying to “turn lemons into lemonade” by using that model as an opportunity to work with customers and even cement their loyalty.
There are several unwritten rules about negotiating with a retailer.
It has to be “consumer initiated,” said Virginia Morris, vice president for consumer strategy and insights at Daymon Worldwide, a consulting firm. She said the customer must ask for a deal. Do not, she said, expect the retailer to offer it.
It has to be a reasonable offer, made politely – either a request to match a price or to offer a slim discount.
“The key is to be polite and confident,” said Kyle James of Redding, Calif., who writes a blog about personal finance and frugal living.