Seven Strategies for Haggling at Stores (Even Large Chain Stores)

One of my big goals over the last few years was to improve my haggling skills. In the past, I always felt as though it was inappropriate to haggle in many stores, mostly because the whole process felt uncomfortable for me.

Over the last few years, however, I’ve negotiated discounts on a number of items, including a snowblower and a lawnmower. I’ve done this at big chain stores and I’ve saved a surprising amount of money because of it – well over $200 according to my quick math.

One note: you’re going to find a lot more success negotiating for bigger items than negotiating for smaller ones. If you’re negotiating on a $3 item, the employee will look at you like you’re crazy, tell you no, and walk away. Save your negotiating for the $300 items instead.

Everything I’ve done boils down to seven key strategies.

Look for dented or slightly damaged items and ask for a 20% discount.

When I’m looking at buying an item, I’ll first look at whether there are any examples of that item that have any dents, minor scuffs, damaged packaging, or other minor issues that have nothing to do with the actual functionality of the product. Are there a few scrapes in the paint on this lawnmower? Is there a little dent on this snowblower? Is this board game box badly dented?

If I find such minor damage on an item, I’ll usually get ahold of a clerk and offer to buy the item at a 20% discount. I’ll point out the issue with the item and state that I’ll still buy it at that discount level.

More often than not, the employee will say that the offer is just fine and then go elsewhere to get approval for the discount. Sometimes, they’ll come back with a lesser discount or a denial, but they usually just come back with a thumbs up for the purchase and walk me over to the checkout.

If they say no, it’s not a big deal. You can always walk away. Just make sure that if you do ask for that 20% discount, you’re going to buy the item if you get that full discount. Don’t waste their time (and yours) by asking for a discount and then changing your mind if you actually get that discount.

Bundle items.

One great strategy if you’re buying a big item is to ask for items to be bundled with it.

For example, if you’re going to buy a lawnmower or a snowblower, ask the sales associate if you can include a gas can for it for free. Many stores are happy to include these kinds of minor throw-ins just to complete the big sale.

Another approach is to buy two larger items at once and ask for a discount on the second item if you buy it at the same time as the first item. For example, I might want to buy a snowblower and a snow shovel at the same time, so I might ask for a 20% or 25% discount on that snow shovel.

Again, most of the time if you ask the sales associate for something reasonable, they’ll say yes (usually after checking with their manager). Sometimes, they’ll offer a lower discount (maybe you’ll only get a 50% discount on that gas can or a 15% discount on that snow shovel), but it’s still a discount.

Look at floor models and returns.

Don’t shy away from buying a floor model of the item you want. Generally, stores won’t sell floor models unless there aren’t any other versions of the item in the store, but if you happen to find a floor model at the end of a season, you can usually buy it with a pretty good discount. I have never had a significant problem with a floor model.

The same thing applies to returned items. Often, you’ll see returned items with a discount already applied, but there’s no reason not to ask for a bigger discount – and you’ll usually get it. Remember, people return items for all kinds of reasons – it does not mean the item is defective.

If I find a returned item or a floor model with a discount on it, I’ll call over an associate and offer to buy it with a bigger discount. I’ll usually add another 10% or 20% to whatever the discount is, so if an item is 25% off, I’ll offer to buy it if it comes with a 40% discount.

Know the store’s price match policy.

Most major chain stores offer some sort of price matching policy where the store will match the prices of competitors. This can be very valuable, particularly when regarding larger items or items you need quickly.

The best approach is to find the item that you want to price match, then take the item and the evidence of the competitor’s price to the customer service counter. Generally, that’s where most price-matching happens in stores. Assuming you have a valid match, they’ll knock your price down to match it.

Each store has their own variation on a price match policy, so you can’t just assume that you can bring in any price from any other store and they’ll match it. Look up the store’s price match policy online (at the store’s website) and know what you can match before you bother.

If a salesperson is pushing you toward a particular brand or model, offer a lower price on the item.

Many stores – particularly ones with highly expensive items like Best Buy – encourage their sales associates to push people towards certain items that the store marks up highly. Often, the associate will get a good commission off of that sale and the store still makes a healthy profit on the markup.

So, if an associate walks up to you and asks if you need help, let them help you and watch which items they nudge you towards. Once it’s clear which item they’re pushing, say that you’d be willing to buy it if it were, say, 20% cheaper. (Only bother with this, of course, if it were true.) This will almost always trigger the sales associate to go chat with their manager for a minute and then they’ll almost always come back “authorized” to offer you a 10% or 15% discount or so.

This is obviously a strategy that works best for high-end items. I’ve found that on low-cost items, associates usually just push me toward the lowest-cost items, so this strategy is useless.

Ask about upcoming or recent sales or promotions.

Everyone likes it when they discover a sale on an item they’re about to buy anyway. However, just because there isn’t currently a sale on one of the items you’re looking at doesn’t mean that there wasn’t recently a sale on that item or that there won’t be one in the near future.

If you’re about to buy an item, it never hurts to ask the sales associate if there have been recent sales on the item or if there’s a sale coming in the next week or two. Quite often, if there was such a sale (or there’s one coming very soon), that associate will be able to extend that sale to you immediately.

This works as a good tactic on a general class of items, such as high definition televisions, rather than on specific models. If you ask about a specific model, you have a much higher rate of failure, but if you’re looking at a broader range of models, there’s usually one or two that are near a sale period.

Talk to the sales manager.

If these techniques don’t work, don’t hesitate to request to talk to the store manager or the sales manager. In some stores, only the manager can approve negotiated discounts – the sales associates can’t do anything, even if they want to.

Managers are often judged by their sales numbers, so they’ll usually be happy to kick you a small discount to trigger another sale, which improves their store’s numbers.

Final Thoughts

There are a few general tactics that work well with the strategies above.

First, above all else, be polite. It generally requires a bit more work for the people in the store to accomodate your haggling. If you’re rude, you’re reducing the chance that they’ll want to help you out with your problem. After all, you can always just buy the item for full price. There’s no reason to antagonize or alienate the sales staff through rudeness or anger.

Second, if you request a discount, make sure it’s a discount that you’re comfortable with actually paying. If you ask for a 20% discount, make sure that if they say “Sure!” that you’ll actually buy the product at that price. If you won’t, then don’t bother – it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

Finally, if they come back with a lesser offer, you can choose to walk away. Just politely say, “No, I can’t afford it at that price,” and don’t be afraid to walk out of the store. Haggling works best when you’re not personally in a position where you have to buy.

Haggling works surprisingly often even in chain stores, but it tends to work best on more expensive items or items that have damage or other issues. On low cost items that are in good shape, haggling doesn’t usually work and wastes the time of everyone involved, so use it when it makes sense to get value out of it. Still, when haggling works, it means money stays in your pocket.