Haggling for Bargains
Over 90 percent of shoppers who tried to negotiate a better deal got one, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey. Richard Doble, editor of Savvy-Discounts.com, an online guide for frugal shoppers, says that he once haggled the price of a $700 digital camera down to only $50. The unit was a floor model that the retailer had initially discounted to $200. Sensing an incredible bargain, Doble had driven to the store (an hour's journey away) but found less than he had hoped for. Besides missing a few minor items, including the retail box and a polishing cloth, the camera didn't work. "I then tried the tactic of not saying much but looking very disappointed," writes Doble on his site.
The store manager cut the price to $50, tossed in a one-year warranty and a free AC adapter, and told Doble to send the camera to the manufacturer's repair shop. The store even agreed to give Doble a full refund if the camera still didn't work. "I thought, gosh, how can I lose with that?" says Doble, who sent the camera in for repairs. It turned out that the camera needed only a new fuse--an easy fix--and it now works perfectly.
The key to successful haggling is to be prepared. "I tell people, don't just throw out numbers," says Doble. "When you suggest a number, actually have a reason." Don't focus exclusively on price, either, he advises. "Let's say you buy an HDTV and you need cables. You say, 'Well, I'm spending $800 for this, how about throwing in some cables?'" Similarly, if you're buying a digital camera, ask for a memory card to go with it. And if you're buying a big-screen HDTV or home-theater system, ask the retailer to deliver it for free.
Surf for Sales
The Internet is a great shopper's tool even if you don't buy online. Pricing engines such as PC World's Product Finder (powered by PriceGrabber.com), Bottomdollar.com, Dealtime.com, PriceScan.com, and Shopzilla.com all work in pretty much the same way, allowing you to search by product category, vendor name, or another criterion to find the best deal. Some sites, such as PriceScan, even let you enter a target price and will notify you via e-mail, pager, or cell phone when the service locates a price that hits your target.
Of course, online shoppers need to be attuned to bottom-line pricing--the final price after sales tax and shipping fees factor in. About 85 percent of Web shoppers we surveyed said they consider shipping costs an important factor when deciding where to buy online; state and local taxes rank as somewhat less important. To reduce her shipping fees, Sam Lamp sometimes buys multiple items in a single shopping visit.
Coupon codes are a great resource as well. Sites such as CurrentCodes.com, DealTaker.com, Ebates, GottaDeal.com, and RetailMeNot.com maintain lists of discount codes for retail sites. By entering a coupon code at a retailer's site--usually on the shopping cart page--you'll obtain a percentage or dollar amount off the sale price, or perhaps free shipping or another perk. In addition to offering coupon codes, sites such as DealNews list specials from major retailers.
Don't Fear the Refurb
Another way to unearth a bargain is to purchase refurbished equipment from a product vendor's outlet site. It's natural to feel hesitant about buying repaired or returned goods, but these items are generally safe buys.
"When you buy something that's refurbished, a lot of times you're getting a full warranty, and getting [the product] at a third to half off, and it's been thoroughly tested," says Doble, who adds that manufacturers commonly do not test products that are fresh off the assembly line before shipping them.
Avoid extended warranties, however. These usually cover the product during a period when it's least likely to fail--between the first and third years. If you want added peace of mind, buy the product with a credit card that extends the manufacturer's warranty on the carrier's dime. American Express, for instance, will increase the warranty period for many items by up to a year.
If you're shopping at the online incarnation of a brick-and-mortar retailer, you may avoid shipping charges by having the item sent to the retailer's nearest store for you to pick up.
Finally, when shopping online, it's wise to stick with e-tailers you know. If you buy from an unfamiliar vendor at a very low price, you risk ending up with counterfeit goods, waiting for products that never arrive, or becoming the victim of credit card fraud.