Everyday Negotiation: Principles and Techniques

In our culture the average consumer often limits the use of negotiation to real estate transactions and a few other areas, while paying whatever the stated price is for most things purchased. This is a costly habit, and is based on the faulty idea that most things are not negotiable. But in fact, in a 2007 survey done by the Consumer Reports National Research Center it was found that of those consumers who negotiated, 90% had received discounts during the survey period, on everything from televisions to medical bills and furniture.

This isn’t a small matter. Most saved $50 or more each time they were successful in getting a discount. Along with the results they published online Consumer Reports also related a few true stories, like that of the couple who, after getting several quotes of around $25,000 for siding, negotiated one contractor’s price down to $17,000. For $8,000 it might be worth doing a little haggling.

Fair and Profitable Negotiation

Beyond outright hypnotizing of the salesman, which few of us could do in any case, almost any technique you use to negotiate a better price is most likely ethical. A smile has been proven to be an effective subliminal negotiating tactic, and we are probably all willing to do that. In any case, whatever we try, the salesman or owner of the business should know how low he or she can go while still making a profit, so we can hardly “take advantage” of him.

There are exceptions, of course, and you can use your own judgment as to how far to go. I once offered a desperate book store owner half price for a children’s book in Spanish, and she said yes, followed by going out of business two months later. Now some might think I took advantage of her, but the truth was that I really only wanted the book at that price, and although she made no profit (book seller typically pay 50% for their books), she was failing regardless, and got more than the 20% she probably got closing out the rest of her stock. In other words, I was honest and she had the right to say yes or no according to what she needed (which was cash flow at that moment).


There are dozens of techniques that professional negotiators use. For our purposes – getting consumer items at a discount – we’ll look at just a few.

The most basic way to pay less is to ask. You can start with “Can you do any better on the price of this?” You might also let the salesman know an item is too much and ask if there is a sale coming up anytime soon, which may prompt him to offer a discount.

To make this work better, though, it helps to first establish some rapport. If you can find something you have in common with the sales person (you both fish, read a certain author, live in the same town), you’re more likely to get a discount. So spend some time talking a bit before asking for price reduction. If the owner or sales person likes you it is much more difficult to say no to your request.

Use what knowledge you have. If the item is priced lower at another store, ask if they can match or beat that. If it is a model that will soon be replaced and the store has a large inventory to get rid of, let them know that you know this – but in a nice way. If it is towards the end of the month and you lean that the sales people are paid on commission with monthly bonuses for volume, you know you can push a bit harder.

Be ready to walk away. Unless you absolutely need the item that day, be ready to politely walk away from the deal if you can’t get the discount you want. You can always return the next day and pay full retail if necessary, but walking away will often b the trigger that finally gets the price lowered. Business owners and sales people know that once a customers leave they almost never return to buy the item, so they often will offer whatever discount they can at this point.This most basic of negotiation techniques has always been one of the most powerful.

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