Much money can be saved by price haggling.
SAN FRANCISCO -- For some, haggling on a price is instinctive, while for others it's a game. For many, it means the difference in being able to afford a desired purchase or not.
The consumerism that swept the United States in the 1990s turned haggling from the sign of a cheapskate to the hallmark of an enterprising shopper. And as Americans shed their reluctance to haggle, the price threshold at which we'll ask for a break dropped.
A survey of 1,000 consumers in January by America's Research Group found the point at which most felt comfortable asking for a discount is $200 -- down from $500 in 1990. And more consumers are applying negotiating skills to everyday purchases.
Items with variable pricing such as jewelry, furniture, clothing, hotel rooms and long taxi rides are prime candidates for price-cutting demands, negotiation experts said. "You can haggle for virtually anything," said C. Britt Beemer, the research firm's founder.
No room for it
Goods such as gasoline and products on Wal-Mart's shelves offer little room for negotiation, said Leonard Greenhalgh, a management professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business in Hanover, N.H. "But anything that has a list price and a lot of margin, you ought to be able to haggle for."
Still, most people aren't eager to make a case for a better deal, and younger consumers are especially reticent. Only 28 percent of those 18 to 25 said they feel comfortable haggling all the time compared with 44 percent of consumers 50 and older, Beemer said.
There's good reason to get over a haggling aversion these days, Beemer said. While auto sales have long been conducted through haggling, even traditional retailers who've suffered losses in recent years may be open to entertaining an offer.
"If someone spends more than $200 or $300 at a store, often times they can negotiate something -- it may not be a better price, but it may be added savings or the store waiving some other charge."
It never hurts to ask for a manager with the authority to negotiate a price break, especially for services such as lodging, he said. "You call them up and say, 'Look, this is what I want to do."
Most popular items
Almost nine out of 10 people said they haggled for something last year, Beemer said. Among the items often on the table:
* Major household appliances. Even if you don't get a lower price, a worthy trade-off may be a waived delivery charge, installation fee or a free extended warranty thrown in for good measure. Whether it's a refrigerator or a DVD player, you often can get the price reduced for already marked-down floor models or open box products that still include the full manufacturer's warranty.
* Electronics. If you buy a computer, see if you can get a free printer or upgraded memory at no charge, Beemer said. Consumers also can use the delivery charge as leverage of last resort when bargaining for a big-screen TV.
* Clothes. Some chain stores won't drop below a certain price or mark down anything that's already discounted below cost, but some smaller outfits may be more receptive to bargaining. A store that won't budge on price may be willing to drop the alteration charge.
* Taxi cabs and limousine services. Depending on the city's regulations, the driver may be open to negotiating a fee instead of letting the meter run blindly, Greenhalgh said. That's especially true on long rides from drivers who lease their vehicles.
* Furniture. Most people can haggle prices down, but newlyweds setting up a new house are in a particularly strong position to negotiate a bulk discount if they plan to stick with one supplier, Greenhalgh said, noting that he negotiated 25 percent off his own total tab. "I was kicking myself later because the guy would've probably taken 40 percent."