It's easier than you think to talk your way into a discount. We consulted the pros and came away with six very specific phrases and tactics that will get you the price you want—whether you're in Macy's Herald Square or Morocco.
The savviest budget travelers are ruthless in their quest for value, searching for fare sales and squeezing every last freebie out of loyalty programs. So why is it that once we're actually at a destination, we're so quick to pay the full amount advertised on a price tag? The price is the price is the price—or is it? Market-research firm America's Research Group estimates that consumers who haggle are successful 80 percent of the time, and not just in foreign markets. Winning tactics, like the ones we outline below, can be just as useful in department stores or souvenir shops. To help you up your odds of scoring a bargain, we sourced advice from six people who make a living haggling, including a hostage negotiator, a furniture buyer, and a hotelier. You might be surprised by how much money a few choice words—in just the right order—can save you.
"That looks interesting"
It doesn't matter if the item is the perfect gift for your fiancé or the dreamiest necklace you've ever seen. Curb your enthusiasm by using the adjective interesting, which casually denotes interest, while still indicating some detachment. "Once a vendor sees how much you like something, game over: there's no more bargaining," says Kimberley Yant-Dominguez, a furniture buyer and merchandise manager for World Market, a chain that specializes in international furniture and home accents with more than 260 outlets nationwide. In her 12 years of experience as a buyer in places such India, Hong Kong, and Italy, Yant-Dominguez's best advice is to remain reserved: "Make them sell to you."
"May I speak to the manager?"
In settings where you wouldn't ordinarily expect to haggle, like in small boutiques, department stores, or electronics shops, it's important to find the staff person who has enough authority to bend the rules. Then try to speak to him or her out of earshot of other customers. Busy salespeople will be more likely to budge on prices if they don't fear having to do so for the 15 others who overhear your requests, says Greg Daugherty, who, as the executive editor of Consumer Reports, specializes in arming consumers with the information they need to get the best price. Daugherty suggests taking timing into account—salespeople generally have more time to talk during morning or evening hours, and near the end of the month when they may be trying to meet quotas. "In this economy, stores have heard everything," he says. "You're not going to be the first person to ask for a discount."
"Can you help me on this?"
Don't give the impression that the sale is all about you, says Frank Acuff, author of How to Negotiate Anything With Anyone Anywhere Around the World. "Shrinking your ego by asking for help—people will respond to that," he says. "It's not 'I can't afford that' or 'I need a lower price.' And above all, never start with 'I want to negotiate.'" Acuff advises striking a friendly tone from the beginning to establish the haggling as more of a conversation than a transaction. Greet the seller like a friend, ask about his or her day, compliment the shop. "People may think it's naïve, but establishing a rapport at the beginning allows you to be firm without seeming bullheaded once things get heated," Acuff explains.
Sometimes the most effective thing to say is nothing at all. Professional negotiator Allan Stark, whose company Negotiate4U helps consumers haggle for lower prices on everything from cell phone bills to car insurance, recommends a few simple rules. No. 1: He who talks first loses. "When you reach an impasse, don't say anything—just listen," he advises. The person you're negotiating with will often make a concession just to end the uncomfortable silence. Stark also suggests asking lots of questions. "If someone says, 'How much do you want to pay for this?' respond with, 'How much do you think it's worth?'" he says. That kind of verbal tennis forces the seller to define his or her terms, putting you in a more educated bargaining position.
"Thanks so much for helping me. I'm sorry that we couldn't get together on this"
As a former hostage negotiator and author of You Can Negotiate Anything, Herb Cohen knows how to make the best of a bad situation. He channels Kenny Rogers in advising travelers to "know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, and when to walk away." Cohen suggests saying, "Thanks so much for helping me. I'm sorry that we couldn't get together on this." Calling attention to the good-humored time spent together on the negotiation might soften up a seller and result in a price reduction. Cohen also says that vacationers have an advantage because time is on their side. Being able to negotiate at leisure forces the seller to invest more time in the relationship. Cohen adds, the more energy spent in pursuit of something, the harder it is to give it up.
"Let me give you my phone number"
Imagine that you've fallen in love with a vintage-cut-glass chandelier at a Parisian flea market, but the seller really can't meet you on price. Love it and leave it? Nope. Alex Calderwood, co-owner of the Ace Hotel chain, who has traveled from L.A. to Brooklyn to source objects for the four properties, says you should always leave your number behind. "A lot of times it's easier for sellers to off-load items for less than they'd like at the end of the day instead of having to pack everything back up, transport it home, and store it," he notes. That means late afternoons at flea markets can often be a bargain bonanza. If you don't get the price you want at the end of the day, there may still be hope. Sure enough, Calderwood says he's been contacted after the fact by sellers who had a change of heart.