If you’re in the market for a limited-edition Stern’s Walking Dead pinball machine, Billy Slattery would love to strike a deal.
He is sales manager at Amini’s in Overland Park. The store recently adopted a strategy for selling its merchandise to an emerging U.S. consumer reluctant to pay the list price on anything. Or even the marked sale price.
“No Reasonable Offer Refused!” now read notices sprinkled around the showroom.
Amini’s, featuring high-end items for game rooms, recognizes that more Americans have taken up the age-old habits of consumers overseas.
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They’ve become hagglers, armed with mobile devices, pricing apps and more consumer information than a brick-and-mortar retailer can smite with a mere smile.
“We are seeing tougher buyers all the time,” Slattery said.
Some might not even own up to being buyers.
Millions today haggle in silence, placing bids to online stores from home.
A growing in-store practice is for shoppers to search on their phones for the best online prices and show the results to a passing clerk.
Just before Christmas, Amazon followed eBay’s lead by launching its own “Make an Offer” feature, allowing buyers to bargain with willing sellers rather than accept a fixed price.
It’s all good for the consumer willing to put in the work.
And if you’re not? Or if you just don’t like dickering?
Marketing analyst Stephen Hoch suggests you catch up to a changing economy.
For buyers with the know-how, Hoch said, “you’re a moron if you pay full price.”
Americans have long negotiated, often with dread, the prices of automobiles, homes and used goods. But new cameras? Groceries? Car insurance? Potted plants?
That breed of consumer has risen just in recent years, say economists and market researchers.
During the recession, the convergence of lost jobs, flat wages and in-your-palm technology — plus intense competition among cellular providers to juice those phones — created a new marketplace of shoppers pressing hard-up retailers to cut the asking price to the benefit of both groups.
“The thinking back then was that when the economy started going strong again, shoppers would forget their frugal ways,” said Shelly McVay, a marketing professor at William Jewell College.
“But I think it let loose a seismic shift. This will stay.”
Major chains such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have initiated policies to match or beat the lowest prices of some competitors.
“This last holiday season we saw more of that than ever,” McVay noted. “It’s part of this whole price-haggling phenomenon.”
Buyers will take it.
Merriam health care worker Ginny Rader was surprised when a Wal-Mart cashier took Rader at her word, even though she had brought proof, that another store was selling a grocery item below Wal-Mart’s price.
“Even for groceries,” said Rader. “They just rang it up (the lower price) without batting an eye.”
When recently needing an oil change, Stacy Speltz brought to a tire retailer a receipt from discounted service performed by the car dealer.
“Can’t hurt to ask,” figured Speltz, board president of Kansas City’s Business Marketing Association.
The tire guys cut $25 off their posted price for the oil change.
Haggling, according to Consumer Reports, has become easier than many consumers think.
“A lot of people in this country get sick to their stomachs at the thought,” said senior projects editor Tod Marks. “We know that about 35 percent of consumers absolutely, steadfastly refuse to haggle. Period.”
But for those who did so in 2013, a CR survey found that nearly nine out of 10 were rewarded at least once.
The average furniture buyer saved $300.
Marks says it works, because he too is a haggler.
He convinced an eyeglasses shop to give him a 50 percent discount on frames. After shopping around for home and auto insurance, his findings spurred his agent to slash Marks’ premiums by $1,100 a year.
Even medical doctors are responding more often to patients’ pocketbook concerns, especially those with high insurance deductibles, by offering discounts or discussing less expensive treatments.
“Patients are much more cost-conscious than I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Munger, a doctor of 28 years who is on the board of the Leawood-based American Academy of Family Physicians.
“We’ve heard from physicians across the country, including this market, that in some instances they’re willing to work with the patient and negotiate on price.”
It’s difficult to gauge the extent to which we negotiate.
The South Carolina firm America’s Research Group has been on the case more than 30 years, polling roughly 1,000 households at a time about their retail buying habits. The surveys’ wording has changed in that span as the market research company tries to tease out haggling car buyers — who isn’t one? — from those shopping for everyday items.
By any measure, the 21st century and particularly the recession years upped our inclination to dicker even on small things, said ARG executive Britt Beemer. (He managed to convince a home improvement outlet to knock a whole buck off $2.99 potted flowers, matching a competitor’s price.)
“Through the 1990s, only about a third of Americans would say they had pushed a store to accept a lower price,” Beemer said. “It isn’t nearly as taboo to do that today.”
Last year, 69 percent of consumers reported negotiating with retailers on price, he said. That compares to 62 percent in 2009, 46 percent in 2005 and 41 percent in 2000.
Beemer’s conclusion: “The recession really put people in a mindset of saving money in a much bigger way. … Today’s consumer has been trained to negotiate smaller prices.”
The Internet was the training ground.
Sites such as Priceline.com led the way by letting travelers name their price on hotels. Later the gush of online retail and auction sites offered comparative pricing and buying options.
Social media enabled users to spread the word about deals they found.
“You had this ability to tap your inner circle and larger than that for your purchasing decisions,” said Ramsey Mohsen, 31, blogger and chief executive of the local entrepreneural group Everhance.
Electronic “price alerts” came along. Mobile apps now allow consumers to scan bar codes and find the nearest low price.
The app Slice lets you know when there’s a sale on something you recently bought so you might ask for some of your money back.
Add up the tech developments and you get the kind of bargain shopping that Mohsen and his wife, Alison, do. They buy practically all their stuff online from Amazon Prime, so long as they can wait two days for delivery.
The Web may be a reason that one survey finds shoppers negotiating less than they did eight years ago. Consumers know the best price around, and fewer sellers are fighting them.
“No retailer these days can afford to have artificially high prices,” said Beemer. “Those days are gone. Too much information out there.”
And in other ways too little information.
Most in-store haggling happens under the radar. Clerks may tell you they can’t change the sticker price, but would you care to speak to the manager?
Then you might get somewhere.
Or you might not. But even a high-end retailer such as Nordstrom, which prides itself on customer service, will match similar stores’ prices on most goods if the prices aren’t lifted from Web auction sites.
Still, many department stores “don’t want everyone to know they’ll negotiate,” said Hoch of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who credits some of the bargaining trends to consumers from foreign cultures expecting it.
“The customer who is price-sensitive? They want that person to know.”
How does the new dealmaking affect the larger economy?
A University of Oxford study in 2007 titled “Too Many Bargainers Spoil the Broth” determined that as more and more people succeed at bargaining, costs eventually rise on both those who pay list prices and those who dicker. It’s how the seller still profits.
But it’s all hard to know. Even the data crunchers at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks inflation, wonder how accurate and up-to-date its consumer price index is, said BLS economist Steve Reed. Most of the numbers that inflation calculators gather are in-store sticker prices.
Sprint in December threw down the gauntlet at wireless rivals with its limited-time offer to “cut your bill in half.” For Verizon and AT&T customers willing to bring in their monthly bills, Sprint pledged 50 percent savings on their rate plans for as long as an account remains in good standing and customers stick with the same device.
“We’ve had very positive response,” Sprint said.
But every service contract, Sprint’s included, carries a lot of terms and conditions. Consumer groups can’t stress enough to check the fine print (even when a new phone you may get with some promotions is free).
“Competitive offers and plans may not always be as advantageous as they appear at first glance,” Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Hill said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing.”
Anything cellular is a haggler’s playground. But it can also overwhelm, Hill said, leaving even the most skilled bargainer with almost too many options to weigh and the non-bargainer too confused to try.
It’s all a bit much for retirees Dorothy and Tom Housh. They’re among the many who would rather shop as we used to — looking for advertised bargains, paying sticker price for items they need and waiting for a favorite outlet to host a storewide sale.
“I’m uncomfortable haggling,” said Dorothy, a mall walker briskly stepping with her husband through Ward Parkway Center. “We don’t really want that many things.”
The couple know someone who won’t even negotiate the price of a new car. He doesn’t want to be perceived by the dealer or his neighbors as unable to afford such a purchase, the Houshes suspect.
Researchers say Americans who still resist wheeling and dealing on price do so for lots of reasons — among them, fear of rejection and respect for the seller.
As for the sellers, they ought to forget about satisfying the roughly one in five consumers who expect the lowest price possible every time, said Mark Hunter, motivational speaker and author of “High-Profit Selling.”
“Their phones become their haggler,” which puts the salesperson in a no-win position, he said. And if a sale is made to someone thinking only about cheap, be prepared.
That person and maybe his friends will be back to lowball again, Hunter said: “They’re going to bug you, bug you, bug you.”
At Amini’s, Slattery just wants a conversation.
The point of the store’s “no reasonable offer refused” tactic is not so much to attract the fiery negotiator. It’s to engage with the silent haggler “showrooming” to check out something she intends to buy online and tax-free.
“They’ll stand here right in front of us working their phones,” Slattery said.
He walked to a fancy swivel chair on display and worked his own phone.
The tag said $1,599. The phone said $1,469.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I’d match that.”
Successful price hunters polled by Consumer Reports offered a variety of strategies they used to get the right deal. Here were the most common:
▪ Told salesperson I would check competitors’ prices: 57%
▪ Looked for lower prices at a walk-in store: 57%
▪ Chatted with salesperson to make a personal connection: 46%
▪ Used other stores’ circulars or coupons as leverage: 44%
▪ Checked user reviews to see what others paid: 39%
Source: Consumer Reports, August 2013