Holiday advice: Name your price

LITTLE PLEASES a pundit more than being able to claim he got the future right. And let’s be honest, if you’ve foreseen wholesale change — if, say, you predicted the bursting of the dotcom bubble or the rise of e-commerce or the recent financial crisis — you’ve earned some serious bragging rights.

My own peer-around-the-corner contribution has been a little more on the, um, retail level.


Let me take you back to the 1990s. CDs came out, and then CD boom boxes arrived. I wanted to get one as a Christmas gift for my father, a classical music enthusiast whose listening was languishing in the cassette age. But I also wanted one for myself. Problem: At around $90 apiece, they cost more than I wanted to pay.

Would there be a discount if I got two, I asked the Circuit City salesman.

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“I could probably go $170,” he said.

“How about $225 for three?” I countered.

“Buddy,” he said, “you’re buying a couple of boom boxes, not a car.”


But fortune favors the bold, or so the ancient bargain-hunters tell us, and so I persisted. We came to agreement somewhere north of $250, thereby establishing a principle that has guided me ever since: A store’s price shouldn’t be seen as the final word, but rather as the starting point in negotiations.

Or, as Honest Abe might have put it if he’d been a price-chopper rather than a rail-splitter, it’s altogether fitting and proper to wrangle over the appropriate cost of retail goods.

Yes, it took the Great Recession for retailers to see the (shopping) world my way, but now they have. “Recognizing the new reality, some retailers, desperate for sales and customer loyalty, have begun training their employees in the art of bargaining with customers,” reports The New York Times.

Think about it. You wouldn’t offer the asking price for a house. Haggling is a time-honored part of purchasing a car. The entire idea behind eBay, meanwhile, is making a bid in search of a deal.

So why meekly accede to the price tag on something you want at Macy’s or Lord & Taylor or the Gap, or even, for that matter, Target? There are deals to be had almost everywhere. Just ask and you shall receive.

Granted, what you receive won’t always be a lower price. Sometimes, you have to endure a strange look. The putative geniuses at the Apple store, for example, don’t seem to realize bargaining is basic to human nature. And though I’ve long tried to get that nifty Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Quadricopter that buzzes around Brookstone for $200, the sales folk insist they need $299.95 before it flies out the door. And, frankly, it doesn’t work at grocery stores. The operative assumption there seems to be that you’ve pretty much agreed to the store’s idea of the proper price at the point where you unload your foodstuffs at the register.

But elsewhere, try, try, and try again. When, a few years back, the fashion gods decreed that you could no longer wear Levis to formal parties, I found myself in a fancy-pants jeans place. I liked the Italian denim, but the price left me stunned.

Why meekly accede to the price tag on something you want at Macy’s or Lord & Taylor or the Gap, or even, for that matter, Target? There are deals to be had almost everywhere. Just ask and you shall receive.

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“Could you give me the employee discount?” I asked, while my wife looked on in mortification. (Note from Marcia: This is why it’s good to keep your maiden name.)

“Are you an employee?” the saleswoman inquired. (Why, exactly, should that matter, when all you’re asking for is equal treatment?)

No, I allowed, I wasn’t.

No, she said, she couldn’t.

But then, seeing my crestfallen look — and the regretful way I put the jeans back on the shelf — she offered me $12 off.

Which just goes to prove my point: Salesfolk usually have a pricing-code sticker right there at the counter that will impart a lovely 10 or 15 percent or even 20 percent discount — if you can just persuade them to zap it with their hand-held price-taser.

They won’t offer if you don’t ask, though. That’s advice you can take to the bank.

Meanwhile, here’s one final tip for this Christmas shopping season: He who bargains brashest shops alone.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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