Don’t stick to sticker prices – ask for discounts

We all go out of our way to find a cheap gas station and clip coupons to shave pennies off grocery bills. But when it comes to big stuff like furniture and flat-screen TVs, most of us pay whatever the price tag says, according to ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports.

“Odds are that shoppers can save a lot more, maybe hundreds or thousands of dollars more,” says Lisa Lee Freeman, ShopSmart’s editor. “The trick is knowing how to ask for a better price.”

In a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, the vast majority of people who haggled over furniture, electronics, appliances and even doctor bills said they had snagged at least one discount in the past three years. But in the same survey, 40 percent of respondents admitted that they rarely, if ever, even try to talk down a price.

But many retailers expect shoppers to try to negotiate, owing at least in part to the Internet, where it’s easy to research the price of just about anything. And with the economy slowing, sellers should be even more eager to give shoppers a break in the months ahead.

To rack up some great discounts, all that’s required is learning a few tricks to get started. ShopSmart suggests the following tips:

¢ Appliances. If the price isn’t right the first time, walk away and try again another time. Also try asking for a volume discount. Someone who’s redoing an entire kitchen and is buying two or more appliances should ask what the salesperson can do.

¢ Furniture. ShopSmart’s editors advise always asking about upcoming sales before plunking down any money. And time it right. The best haggling opportunities for furniture are around Presidents Day and the Fourth of July, when stores need to make room for new merchandise they order at the High Point Market, held each spring and fall in High Point, N.C. Those who can’t wait for that sofa should shop at the end of the month, when storeowners are balancing their books.

¢ Clothing. It often pays to make friends with salespeople, since it might be possible to wrangle a discount the night before a sale. Look for imperfections. It’s easier to haggle if buttons are missing.

¢ Hotel rooms. According to ShopSmart, shoppers should take advantage when the timing is right – for example, checking into a chic inn at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday when it needs warm bodies. Also try asking the front desk for a price break. Asking, “Do you have a room that’s not quite so nice?” is a good way to start.

¢ Salons and spas. A customer in hand is worth two in the parking lot, so try asking for discounted services while preparing to leave a salon or spa. Also ask for discounts for referring customers, and go during the slow season.

¢ Cars. Information is power, so be sure to research car prices online and then use that information to negotiate with dealers by e-mail. Ignore the sticker price. Find out what the dealer paid for the car and negotiate from there. Figure this out by getting the “dealer invoice price” and subtracting any dealer incentives or rebates.

¢ Contractors, doctors and other service providers. Cash talks, says ShopSmart. At a doctor’s office, offer to pay on the spot to get a discount. Ask contractors, “Is there a cash discount?” They often knock off 10 percent because they don’t want to wonder when they’ll get paid.

¢ TVs, computers and other electronics. Use a flaw that’s not really bothersome, such as a missing box, to get a better price. Come armed. Don’t leave for an electronics store without newspaper ads and printouts of the product information and prices offered online. Some stores may be willing to beat an online price.