(ABC NEWS) -- Haggling! It sounds aggressive, but in the age of price-matching policies and smartphone shopping, how confrontational is it to ask brick-and-mortar stores to match online prices?
While my support for local stores and our vanishing downtown is real, I also know for many shoppers, price is the ultimate arbiter of where they buy. So I headed out on a shopping trip to haggle. Could I combine real world shopping with online discount hunting without feeling weird about it?
I headed to a mall in Columbus, Ohio. I started in a big national department store chain. I found a pair of sneakers that cost $160 in stores, but is listed for $119 online. When I got to the cashier, I didn't show him the online price, but just asked if he could offer me a discount. He reduced the price by $16, but that wasn't as good as the price online. He was very nice when I asked for a discount and seemed genuinely sorry that he couldn’t offer me a better price.
At the next national department store chain, we tried a different tactic. I found a pair of boots that are $179.99 in the store but listed for $146.95 online. I asked the sales associate if he could match the price. He said he could match any brick-and-mortar store’s price.
“It’s from Amazon," I said, and showed him the exact same model, color, and size boot. He went back to his terminal and returned three minutes later. He is practically high-fiving me with glee that he was able to match the price. I don’t know if he’s a deal-hunter like me or just happy to be able to keep my business, but there were absolutely no weird vibes when I asked for the discount. And for the record, he beat the online price by 5 cents--it seemed like a matter of pride for him.
Next, I headed to a national cosmetics chain and found an expensive facial cream. I’ve had the experience in the past where I asked for a thick moisturizer and was led by a sales associate to a tub of goop costing $163 for 1.5 ounces. My face froze into an expression of horror during that exchange, and it was even worse when I asked for a lower priced option and the associate seemed completely shocked: how was I supposed to know cold cream now seems to cost more per ounce than gold?
In this case, however I find a $110 jar of cream and then find the same exact product online for $68. When I ask the sales associate to price match and show her the listing online, it seems like she got this question a lot, and said, “No we can’t do it.” She went on to explain that they don’t price match because they can’t guarantee the product online isn’t counterfeit or hasn’t expired. She makes a good point, a few years ago I ordered a slew of products online to investigate the counterfeiting of make-up. We ran into products claiming to high-end cosmetics and perfumes, but were ultimately identified as fakes.
While the cosmetics chain wouldn’t match the price online, the clerk gave me a 15 percent discount when I signed up for its email list. Everyone involved in my shopping experience on this day was polite and perfectly nice when I asked for a lower price.
A common online practice now is to offer a code that cuts a percentage off your purchase. I went to two outdoor and sporting goods chains that were offering 20 percent and 25 percent off online. At the checkout, I asked if I could use the online code and both said yes. Once again, I found that in both stores they acted like this is completely common and no one gave me any attitude or pushback.
In the end, I saved $125 on a day’s shopping just by firing up my phone’s web browser and showing the online prices to the in store clerks. Even better, I got to try clothing and shoes on for size, and I got the instant gratification of being able to take my items home that day.
My top tips for modern haggling:
1. If you can’t price-match with a similar product online, it may still be worth it to ask for a discount when you hit the checkout counter.
2. Your best bet to get a price reduction is to show the exact same product online at a lower price.
3. If you see a makeup product at a radically reduced price compared to other sites or in-store products, be aware that it may be a counterfeit.
4. While signing up for an in-store credit card could cost you more down the line, many retailers will give you a discount just for giving them your email address. Make sure it’s your spam address, not your main personal address.
5. Even while you are in the store, use your phone to search code sites like retailmenot.com.