Name Your Price Shopping Gains Popularity

By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com

In the art of negotiation the question of whether to state your bottom line first is a frequent topic of discussion. During most shopping excursions there's really no issue because the price is the price. But that tradition is changing. "Name your price" shopping is in, and oftentimes consumers can name the price they're willing to pay for things like concert tickets, electric guitars, and hotel rooms. It's up to the seller to decide whether to accept the offer.

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Merchandise. A new member of the "name your price" crowd, Greentoe lets users place an offer on new merchandise and retailers decide whether the offer is good enough. Greentoe currently features products from five categories: baby, home theater, appliances, music (instruments, headphones, and microphones), and photo. Select the item desired -- a dryer, say, or Fender guitar -- and enter a price that includes the cost of the item, tax, and shipping. Greentoe uses a color-coded meter to advise whether or not an offer will be accepted by a retailer. Users are usually notified within one to three days if they scored at their named price. All products come with a guaranteed 14-day return period that may be extended depending on the retailer.

We spoke with Joe Marrapodi, a co-founder of Greentoe, who told us that users often place winning bids that are 7-12 percent less than the asking price for the product on Amazon and 18-22 percent less than the average price at the top 10 retailers. Although shoppers don't know who the seller is until the transaction has been completed, Marrapodi says "they are reputable companies" known to consumers. Often these retail stores cannot legally advertise an item for less than a set price but are willing to sell it for less and make a small profit.

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Travel. Priceline invites travelers to name their own price when booking hotel rooms, rental cars, and airplane tickets. The catch: The buyer doesn't know which hotel, rental company, or airline will bite until the bid is accepted. For rental cars this is a smart way to save because the vehicles are generally of very recent vintage and in good condition no matter the company. When bidding on airplane tickets travelers can only choose a departure date (takeoff is guaranteed between 6am and 10pm) so they must be extremely flexible to make bidding worthwhile. For lodging, users specify a region and a star-rating for the hotel they desire before entering a bid. If the bid is accepted the deal is locked in, but a counteroffer may be possible if the bid is rejected; otherwise, users must wait 24 hours before bidding again on the same selection.

Naming a price for hotel rooms is a relatively safe proposition thanks to the proliferation of online resources that take the mystery out of the bidding process. Sites such as Better Bidding help travelers get the best deals on hotels (or cars) using Priceline or Hotwire, the latter a site where bids aren't accepted but hotels and rental cars are offered at a discount and the company name remains hidden until after booking. Forums on Better Bidding are broken down by state, and commenters offer productive strategies and tips, as well as past winning bids. With the correct technique Priceline bidders often can know in advance which hotel they will be assigned (or at least narrow the options to just a few). The Bidding Traveler lets users search for hotels by city or town and check-in/check-out dates and see hotel retail prices, which Priceline bids have been accepted, and which hotels are available given the specified region and star rating. A post on the travel forum Flyer Talk suggests best practices for naming your price for hotel rooms via Priceline.

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Shows and Sporting Events. Lastly, Score Big features tickets or sports games, concerts, and theater shows with prices set by the buyer. Spectators can search by city and event type and available tickets pop up in tiers depending on proximity to the stage or field. Prices vary depending on the popularity of the event, and are accompanied by a 10- to 60-percent-off sign indicating the expected deal. Users choose an event, an approximate ticket location, required number of tickets, and the per ticket offer price. In addition to indicators for the accepted price range, a color-coded meter shows the likelihood of an offer being accepted. Once an offer is placed, it is immediately accepted, countered, or turned down. Bidders must wait 24 hours to place another offer on tickets in the same location if a deal isn't reached.

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