9 Tricks to Negotiate Anything

shaking hands

My husband was on the phone with a nursing home he and his siblings had chosen for their parents, when I heard him ask, “Can you do anything for me on the price?”

My jaw dropped. My husband—who’s a nice guy, by the way—has a mantra: Everything’s negotiable. But really, a nursing home? I was shocked that he took on a big company like that—but I can’t quibble with the 5% discount he got on the room rate.

Many women (like me) recoil from negotiating, whether it’s big-ticket items—i.e. $200 and up, from necklaces and cameras to couches (to nursing-home rooms)—or their own salaries. You’re either afraid of looking like a tightwad, or haggling seems too mysteriously hard to do. Right?

But your instincts are off. Negotiating the price of big-ticket items is a reasonable thing to do and one that you can become reasonably successful at. (And think how much of your hard-earned dough you’d save.)

The truth is, even with bigger purchases “companies often build room into the price to negotiate,” says Lee E. Miller, co-author with his daughter Jessica Miller of A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating: How to Convince, Collaborate and Create Your Way To Agreement.

  • Furniture is marked-up 80% or more over what the store paid for it.
  • Jewelry is marked-up at least 100%, and often more than twice that.
  • Nursing homes have many clients whose care after a certain point is paid by Medicare/Medicaid, so many homes are willing to compromise on price for a private client, who will be paying more for the room.

This doesn’t guarantee you a discount at every store, or every time you shop. Computers, notes Miller, have a slimmer profit margin now, so you would likely have to purchase other items at the same time (like a printer) to be able to bargain.

And a few stores (hello, Tiffany; hello, Apple) will tell you they just don’t negotiate.

Most other stores—and car dealers–presume a customer will try to bargain them down a bit.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a win-win stance. You’re not begging, so start assertively. The store will get the sale and you’ll save money—money you might even spend on something else at that shop.
  2. Use your people skills. “Women are good at getting people to like them,” says Miller, and that rapport can lead to deals. Ask the salesperson to show you several pieces of jewelry, say, and build camaraderie by chatting about what looks best. (Side bonus: taking time to look at an array of items will help you to look less eager for that one you have your eye on—a good strategy anyway.)
  3. Negotiate with the right person. You’re at a camera shop and you ask the salesperson if he can give you a better price on the item you want, and he says he can’t negotiate. All that means, says Miller, is that you need to ask to speak to the manager (or owner, if it’s a small shop)—whoever does have that authority.

    The manager wants to move the merchandise; just like a salesperson who works on commission, she’s got an incentive to cut a deal with you.

  4. Play the loyalty card. A store is going to be interested in someone who can bring it repeat business. So it’s worth saying, “I saw a comparable couch priced $500 lower online. I’d prefer to stay local and buy from you. Can you give me a price closer to that?”
  5. Ask for the sale price. A manager may compromise and give you the sale price before the actual sale. And a salesperson that works on commission may cut you a deal so that he doesn’t personally miss out on the commission when you return during the sale two weeks later.
  6. Offer to pay by check. See if, by saving the store the credit-card transaction fee, they’ll deduct a comparable amount from the price.
  7. Request a discount for buying a floor sample or a slightly damaged product. If you covet a chair on display, offer less than what’s on the price tag. If the item is being discontinued, you may well have a deal.

    Also, if you notice the tiniest button missing or other little flaw on a piece of clothing, show the manager, says Miller. Even at a large store like Macy’s, she’ll likely give you a 10% to 20% discount, as her other option is paying to ship the damaged item back to the manufacturer.

  8. Be ready to leave. Sometimes, says Miller, a manager will tell a woman he can’t cut her a deal when, in the same situation, he would have given her husband a deal. “They know the man will really leave, but with the woman, they decide to wait and see.”

    Miller’s advice: “Just leave.” The manager may stop you before you get to the door. If not, “You can always come back another day. If some place won’t negotiate with you, others will.”

  9. Use this little secret. A recent study showed that women were excellent at negotiating their salary when they were told that they were expected to do so. So you can be excellent at this kind of negotiating, too. Remember, it’s expected.