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Want a better price? Here's how to get it.

By Hayley Kaufman
Globe Staff / April 2, 2009
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For anyone who has blithely paid full price for clothes, appliances, or furnishings, haggling can be difficult. Buying a product becomes a negotiation, which means both parties make (gentle) demands, set boundaries, and compromise - things many of us aren't so good at. So we asked Deborah Kolb, the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership at Simmons School of Management and author of "Everyday Negotiation: Managing the Hidden Agendas of Bargaining," for some how-to tips.

Get out of your own way. If you're uncomfortable asking for a better price, figure out why. "If you frame it as it's not legitimate or 'I'm a terrible person for asking,' you're never going to do it. But if you think of it in terms of they want to get rid of the merchandise, that can make a big difference. And they can always say no."

Set a trap for yourself. Mentally prepare by deciding that you're not leaving until you get a discount, and you're certainly not paying full price. Of course, you'd never say that to the sales associate. "That's a threat," Kolb says. Don't even think about it.

Consider what's in it for the salesperson. "Why is it in their interest to do it?" Kolb asks. "Maybe they have a lot of inventory. Maybe you've been a really good customer. Maybe they haven't met their sales quota. They have an interest in moving the merchandise."

Make sure you're talking to the decision maker. "If they say they can't give you a discount or they're not authorized, ask, 'Who can?' You need to make sure you're speaking to the right person."

Remember, there are lots of ways to get a discount. "You can get cash. You can ask for a discount if you buy two of something, like a sweater, instead of one," Kolb says. "Maybe they can give a discount if you pay cash instead of putting on a card, or discount the delivery fees. I always say, be firm on your needs, be flexible about how you get it. You want a discount, but you may not have to get it directly on price."

Don't make outrageous demands. "You don't ask for 80 percent [off]," Kolb says. "They're not going to listen." Consider realistically how much of a discount you can actually get. Five percent? Ten percent? And then aim a little higher. Remember, the salespeople are going to push back. "If you want 15 percent, you don't start with 15, you ask for 20 percent," Kolb says, "because things move around."

Do your homework. The more information you have, the better off you are when it comes to haggling. If you know what other retailers are charging for a product for and how much the mark-up is, it's much easier to negotiate, Kolb says. But you have to be fair. "I'm not going to go in to a store and say, 'I know you mark this up 100 percent and I want it at [wholesale] cost.' " Stores do have to make a profit.

Think of bargaining as a good thing. "My feeling about stores is that they have merchandise they need to move," Kolb says. "So if they get me into the store, it's good for me, it's good for the store, it's good the economy. There's a positive piece to it, it can mean a little movement" for retailers.

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