Around the world, small merchantslove to see Americans coming. No,it isn't owed to our political stance; it'sbecause we have a lot of disposableincome and we hate to bargain. So theshop owners rub their hands and lookfor a good payday. Bargaining is thetime-honored, worldwide ,except in the United States, wherepeople consistently say that their leastfavorite purchasing experiences are the2 that usually require bargaining, carsand real estate.
In this country, we have developed ashopping system that is quaint, if youstep back and think about it. Sellerstake a rigid position on the price of agood or service and spend a lot ofmoney telling people about it. Thenthey periodically spend even moremoney advertising the existence of anew, lower fixed price called a sale,effective only between set dates.
Whatever the virtues of these practices,it does guarantee that on any day,many of the people who are ready tospend money are virtually sent away toa competitor for a comparison insteadof gaining the incremental revenue thatan on the spot, negotiated sale wouldproduce. For the consumer, the operativetechnique is either to put in time,gas, shoe leather, and aggravation orpay some significant premium in a higherprice to avoid the time and hassle ofcomparison shopping.
Contrast this frenetic activity withentering a known establishment, sittingdown, and relaxing with a hot beverage,while the merchant parades theirwares, fashion-show style. You exchangepleasantries and engage in aformulaic banter on the merits or problemswith whatever is being offered andsought. You usually emerge with whatyou want, at a fair price, satisfied, if notalso mildly entertained. And you mayhave saved the time you would otherwisehave spent running around to tendto your other affairs.
But Main Street, USA, is not somenative market, you say. True enough, buta small change in attitude could make ahelpful compromise possible, particularlyfor big-ticket items. Depending onyour inclination and how your nervoussystem is wired, your threshold for askingto speak to the proprietor in a storemay be $100, $1000, etc.
Be polite, be friendly, and ask whatyou want in the way of a discount andwhy. It costs nothing, and if you don'thear a happy counteroffer, you still havethe options of paying full price or tryingthe guy next door. It's a down economy,folks, what have you got to lose?
I recently walked into a well-knownstore to buy a suit. As an opening lineafter the greeting, I asked when theirnext sale was scheduled. The salesmansaid with a wink, "Next week; why don'tyou come back then?" I don't know if Iwill or not, but I do know 2 things. One,they lost a customer ready for a sale.Two, the next time I'm going to ask themanager, "When's your next sale andwhy don't you give me the discountnow to save me some time from havingto go to the competition?"
Jeff Brown, a partner on the
Stanford Graduate School of
Business Alumni Consulting
Team, teaches in the Stanford
School of Medicine Family
Practice Program. He welcomes questions
or comments at email@example.com.