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It's all about using the correct approach when bargaining for a break on prices

By Rivkela Brodsky
Journal Staff Writer
          Bargaining for a car or home is a given.
        But in the retail world, where items come with suggested retail prices, it's hard to know if you can make the seller an offer.
        In this economy, there is more of a bargaining culture, says Thelma Domenici, etiquette columnist for the Journal and CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates.
        It's even happening at local stores, says Randy Sanchez, general manager of Coronado Center and president of the New Mexico Retail Association.
        "National retailers are pretty much set in stone," he said. "Mom and pops are ones where you can get the best value."
        Marylin Moquino, from Santa Domingo Pueblo, has been selling her American Indian jewelry for years at Old Town. She said she often gets offers from customers on her handmade items but that she stays pretty firm on items priced $20 or less.
        Customers often don't realize that the items merchants are selling in Old Town are handmade. Jewelry makers have to cover the cost of silver, gems and their workmanship, as well as try to make a profit, she said.
        "You get a lot of people who come out here and say, 'I can get this cheaper,'" she said. "But it's not the same product."
        Respect for the retailer cannot be stressed enough when it comes to bargaining, said Domenici and Michelle Arthur, associate dean for enrollment management at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management.
        Domenici says buyers should take advantage of the market, but not of the sellers themselves. It all boils down to the "heartsense," she said; the situation should be a "win-win" for both parties.
        Arthur, who teaches negotiation at the school, said the first step in bargaining is being prepared and going in with a positive attitude.
        She said customers shouldn't beat up a product in the hopes the price will get knocked down. Sellers will only get defensive, she said.
        "What I tell people is that it's not what you say, but how you say it that offends people," she said. "You need to back up your argument with facts."
        It is more difficult to bargain at chain stores, Arthur said, encouraging customers to think beyond the product. Perhaps you could get free installation or delivery, or maybe up the discount if you apply for a credit card from a chain store.
        She called this tactic "the nibble" and says it's usually successful in a bad economy.
        For example, Arthur said she was looking at an expensive leather bag at a department store and told the saleswoman, "I like that bag, but it's out of my price range. What can you offer me?"
        After some discussion, the woman agreed that if Arthur applied for a credit card, she would receive a 50 percent discount.
        "I tell students to frame things to what's important to the other party, not what's important to you," she said. "In that case, it was the commission."
        The biggest barrier to bargaining, Arthur says, is that most people just don't ask.
        "The fear of rejection is what keeps them from asking," she said. "A 'no' isn't the end of your life."
        She gives students in her negotiation classes an assignment every semester to "collect 'no's." They must ask for anything and everything from people in the hopes that the response will be 'no'. Students ask for free food, free cell phones and more.
        "I tell my students, always assume you can negotiate until someone tells you no," she said.
        Arthur said one way to have an advantage over other customers is by building a relationship with a sales associate. Look for a dealer, not a car, she said. Ask for recommendations from friends and ask for those people by name when you enter the store.
        This way, she said, people will be more mindful of ethics during the negotiations. The customer also needs to approach the deal ethically, Arthur said. Don't cite fake facts or invent scenarios. If you find an ad for a cheaper price on something, take it with you.
        Sales associates will be more willing to spend time on you when you build a relationship with them — time is expensive, too, she said.
        She reminds consumers to keep their time in mind as well. It may not be worth it to negotiate on any or every item.
        "I just can't imagine negotiating at a grocery store," she said. "You're not going to see me haggling at Smith's."
        Tips to bargaining
        • Just ask. A lot of people don't.
        • It's not what you say but how you say it. Consider your tone of voice, your reason and your attitude.
        • Back up your arguments with facts. Do your research.
        • Be respectful of the product and the seller.
        • There is more wiggle room with local or independent shops than with national retailers.
        • Think about the whole package and think outside the box. Maybe you can get free installation or delivery.
        • Think about what is important to the other party and frame things in their terms.
        • Try to connect and build a relationship with the person you are dealing with.
        • Be ethical.
        • Consider the cost of your time.
        • Be optimistic that you can come up with a deal.
        — Source: Michelle Arthur, associate dean for enrollment management at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management, and Thelma Domenici of Thelma Domenici and Associates

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