By Emma Johnson
Why we're reluctant to negotiate and how to get over it.
Americans are loath to haggle. While other cultures expect the price of every tomato and taxi ride to be negotiated, Americans like to stick to numbers on price tags.
This appears to be changing. Market research firm America 's Research Group found that 72% of American consumers had recently haggled, compared with 33% two years earlier. Nonetheless, women tend to be far less likely to negotiate than men.
Co-authors of Women Don't Ask: Negotiating and the Gender Divide, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, report that women are 2.5 times more likely than men to feel "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiating and are even willing to overpay as much as $1,000 or more to avoid haggling over a car.
Bargaining doesn't have to be hard, say experts and experienced hagglers alike. The down economy paired with a few tips means you can effortlessly sweep up great deals.
"All off the sudden 'some' cash is better than nothing at all," says Lila Delilah, who runs a shopping blog called MadisonAvenueSpy.com. "Retailers are more open to negotiation." The opportunity is there. Here's how to seize it:
Haggling does not require the same skill set used for multi-national peace talks, says Richard Shell, author of Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People and professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, where he teaches a negotiating class. So relax and be yourself.
"I think people with really good relationship skills do this [haggling] the best," Shell says. "They're tactful yet persistent, and they enlist the sales person as their champion and ally."
In short, they're nice.
Ask for what you want, share how you feel
Delilah notes a friend who barges into boutiques and asks for the "recession price"--and gets it. Delilah herself recently employed a slightly different tactic: She said how she felt.
While shopping for her young daughter, she spotted a beautiful embroidered winter coat which was already marked down by 30% from its $360 price tag. Instead of asking what the sales associate could do for her, she was honest.
"I just told her that it was more than I wanted to spend, and that opened up the negotiation," she says. "In the old economy everyone assumed everyone could afford everything because they were putting it all on their credit cards. It's humbling yet liberating to say, 'This is too much.'" The associate then offered 50% off the original price.
Shell used a similar tactic when he and his wife vacationed at a favorite resort and were disappointed by the room. He politely told the desk person about their experience and was upgraded to an "anniversary package" that included chocolates, champaign and a per-night fee that was $150 less than the original one.
Be flexible, be creative
If you open the transaction to negotiation, the salesperson may offer a discount on something slightly different than you originally planned: for example, a floor model, a lower price on multiple purchases or services on a different date. Alternatively, as you haggle you can also ask for something slightly different than what most people want.
Gina Panettieri, a Milford, Conn.-based literary agent, haggles for all kinds of things--from cars and houses to groceries. But she knows not to bargain when you're in crisis, like when her heating system was on the fritz several years ago.
Instead of jumping into the project in the fall when it first showed signs of disaster, she shopped around for quotes and recommendations. Keeping her fingers crossed through the long New England winter, she initiated the project in June when contractors' business was slow. She scored an additional $1,000 off the lowest bid. She also got a new heating system in just five days--as opposed to the two-month wait required during the busy season.
"I've found that to be really successful at bargaining, both parties have to feel they are winning," Panettieri says. "It never works well if someone feels taken advantage of."
Cathy Tinsley, professor of Georgetown University 's McDonough Business School , specializes in research on gender and negotiation. She's found that while women are often looked at sideways when they negotiate, this is mitigated when she is perceived to have high status. "This doesn't mean attractiveness, per se," Tinsley says. "It means dressing the part, looking pulled together and like you have resources, means and achievement."
Whether or not you feel like you're 100% confident in the haggling process, all experts interviewed echoed the same mantra: "Just ask. The worst they can say is 'no.'"
--Be nice. People who are calm and use a soft, friendly voice are most likely to have success negotiating.
--Dress nice. Women especially are more likely to get what they want if they are perceived as successful and well groomed.
--Be humble. Instead of putting on airs, simply say what you want and where you are coming from. Insincerity is easy to spot.
--It's a two-way street. Approach haggling as a way for both parties to get what they want--you get your goods at a great price, the seller unloads merchandise and makes a sale.
--Think outside the box. Offer to pay cash or upfront, commit to a longer service contract, be willing to take a floor model, or last year's design.
--Just do it.
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