Monday, June 02, 2008

To Haggle, Or Not To Haggle

I hate haggling. In a perfect world, for me, things would have price tags and people would make buying decisions based on their financial resources and the information presented on those tags - as opposed to some random expectation of flexibility or the ability to cajole some clerk or shopkeeper into offering a better deal.

In some situations - car shopping, for example - haggling is not only presumed, it's required. The Internet has made this process exponentially easier, for buyers, by making a broad array of essential information readily available. Stop by Edmunds or some other similar service and in just a few clicks you can fully research a vehicle and arrive at a pretty good idea of what you "should" be paying. Take that information, get a few dealers working against each other for your business and hopefully things will turn out OK.

In order to get the best deal in any situation, they say, you have to be willing to walk away - and truer words were never spoken. I'll never forget my first trip to an auto dealer, with my Dad, right after college graduation. I was buying my first car, and it was going to be a black Acura Integra. We walked onto the lot, met the salesman and about five seconds after saying "hello," my next words were "I'm buying this car." My Dad cringed, shook his head and threw me an expression that basically said, "nice going, rookie." I had a lot to learn.

I have a good friend who always seems to be buying or leasing a car - you would think all that experience would count for something, maybe make things a little easier - but every time, literally every single time, the transaction has gone off the rails at some point and involved walking away, or threatening to walk away, not to mention the yelling.

Sometimes it's hard to know if you're in a haggling situation or not. How often have you seen someone carry a cup of Stonyfield Farms yogurt marked $1.09 up to the check-out counter in a grocery store and say, "I'll tell you what, how about I give you 85 cents for it?" When haggling is clearly not part of the deal and you go down that road you risk something people usually try to avoid at all costs, namely looking like an idiot in front of strangers.

A few years ago I accompanied my aunt to an Apple store, she was interested in buying an iMac. We found some fresh-faced and helpful kid to talk us through the computer, the options, capabilities, everything we needed to know.

Then it came time to talk turkey and my aunt - who does not have an extensive history of large purchases - said, "OK, so what's the bottom-line price?" The kid looked blankly back and motioned to the little white card sitting next to the machine, with all the relevant information right there for any shopper to see. My aunt didn't get it. "What's the absolute best you can do? The bottom-line price?" she asked.

"Uh, that would be it right there," the kid responded, motioning to the card, confused and in the early stages of being offended. Appropriately shamed, my Aunt proceeded with the acquisition.

All of which brings us to last Saturday. We've decided to finally turn our home office into an actual guest room, with an actual bed, so we packed up the girls and paid a visit to a well-known and reputable bedding chain that had a Main Street storefront in a nearby town. The place was having a blowout Memorial Day sale, so the full-size Sealy mattress and box spring set we liked had already been reduced from something like $1,500 all the way down to $999. Wow!

With delivery, tax and the cheapo frame they were going to throw in as part of the purchase, the full "out the door" quote was $1,173. "OK," we responded, we're going to think about it. I said to Gwen as we walked out of the store that we could be getting totally hosed or the best deal in the world, and we'd never know the difference. If we were under any kind of time constraint or absolutely had to have the bed we could have easily just said, "sure," and surrendered our credit card. We probably would have.

But we were fairly ambivalent about this purchase - at least one of us was - and in a position to air things out a little bit. We had a pleasant Sunday around the house and at some point in the afternoon I called the woman in the bed store. I told her that we'd continued to shop around and were finding comparable beds for significantly less money. In fact, we'd been making pizzas, but that seemed a minor point, and not exactly germane to this conversation. I asked whether they could do any better than the price we'd gotten the day before.

"Well..." she said, hesitating just enough to make me feel dumb for asking. "We could take another $30 off, but that's really the best we can do. The set is already significantly reduced - we've never sold it for that price before!"

OK, so we were down to $1,143 at this point. I said thank you and we'd continue to think about it.

The next day the woman called back, said she'd spoken to her manager and they agreed it was now miraculously possible to knock $100 off the original price, which brought us down to $1,073. I expressed my thanks and almost bought the thing right then, but for some reason I didn't. I responded that I would check with Gwen and be back in touch.

We were still back and forth on getting the bed, and even at this "reduced" rate it was a good amount of money. That night we went online and did a little comparison shopping at another well known mattress retailer. We took advantage of a "live chat" function on the company's Web site and - long story still relatively long - got an out-the-door quote of $932 for the comparable Sealy (bed manufacturers change their "model" names from store to store, clearly to make comparison shopping easier for the consumer), frame, tax and delivery in about two weeks.

Again, we came close to saying yes right then, but didn't. We were playing with house money at this point, and doing better all the time, why end the run now? There was also something just a tad disconcerting about doing business with a small dialogue box on a computer screen, as opposed to a real live person in a retail location we were able to visit, with beds we could see and experience for ourselves.

A couple days later, I tried to reach our original sales clerk by phone, she was off. I got her manager - who we had met on that first shopping trip - and with the end of the month at hand let's just say he was determined to close out the sale, whatever it took. He downplayed the competitor's quote, "that's a telemarketing version of the bed, not the one you saw here, different fabric and not as nice, I can sell you that same bed, but you won't be happy," he said.

Ultimately, he matched the online quote - applied to the bed we saw and liked in the store, threw in a much nicer frame than the one we were going to get as part of the earlier deal, even did next-day delivery to get everything wrapped up in May. As a result of all the back-and-forth we cut our price by more than $240 - 20 percent. Not exactly peanuts.

This is fairly long-winded and not particularly revelatory, I know, but our little bed-buying experience this week really did amaze me. Too often, I think, we're the people who jump at the first price, lead with our chins all the way through the transaction, and wind up with the $1,173 bed, as opposed to the $932 bed. Same bed. Same buyers. Same vendor. Less money.

Sometimes, it would seem, it pays to haggle.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed, you saved. But remember time is money, and you spent a bunch of it fiddling with this bed purchase. Now if shopping is something you want to spend your time on, then you came out ahead. Some of us, would rather be sleeping on said mattress- ha!

12:01 PM  
Blogger Alison Wonderland said...

I know, I know but honestly I hate it so much I'd almost rather pay more just to not have to do it.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Anonymous - I get it and, believe me, I'm usually with you. I'm not a fan of shopping or wasting time, but we weren't exactly wandering from store to store here like a band of traveling gypsies. I'm talking about a couple of phone calls and one 5-minute online chat to save $240 on a bed we didn't immediately need. Are you saying you honestly wouldn't make that trade?

If so, we'll agree to disagree on this one, and please remind me again where you park your G-V.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Lydia said...

This post is so ripe with chortles that I must first thank you for such delight here in my home office!

I applaud you! You did great, and I agree that the savings were worth the time/energy you spent. About ten years ago my husband and I decided to grow up and get rid of our futon. We went to one of those national mattress stores and found the mattress for us: firm but with a cushy pillowtop. We also needed a twin mattress for a small room upstairs that we'd decided should become a guest room instead of a storage unit. I told the salesman that we'd buy the queen-size mattress if he'd throw the twin in for free. He took 75% off the twin and we shook hands.

3:21 PM  
Blogger rae said...

The ridiculous feeling of accomplishment TOTALLY makes up for any time lost. Especially when you save money, to boot!

PS: I love this blog.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with rae totally. I mean, who doesn't feel good to outsmart someone else?! Hey, you did good, haggling over the price of that can 'sleep' easy now! It'd be torture if you had bought the mattress for the initial quote and then found out that they were selling it for much less a week later!

12:16 AM  
Blogger LiteralDan said...

I'm with you all the way-- I hate haggling, for lack of experience mostly, but I know it's totally worth it when it's expected or at least accepted.

I even got $20 taken off the already-way-reduced price of our car! (pat, pat, pat)

1:22 PM  
Blogger Meredreth! said...

Best haggling advice I ever got ... "say little or nothing" ... the sales person typically get ancy and will start filling in the rest, with all kinds of Extras.

11:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home