As I browsed Christmas trees this past holiday season, I decided to finally deploy the tactics I'd seen my own father—and the father from A Christmas Story—use at the lot. I balked. I sighed. I cried austerity. I almost actually cried. I pretended to leave. And finally, the Douglas Fir salesman caved and Christmas was saved—by a fat 30 percent.
Since then, I've been obsessed with the concept of haggling. Can we haggle at major chains? Are the tyrannical prices, laid on items by some unseen executive in an ivory tower, really cast in stone? Will "mom-and-pop" stores at least still barter? I took to the streets to determine how, where, and when you can get stores/vendors to lower their prices. I won't lie—it wasn't easy. But, as I found, after 24 hours and some very threatening gestures, it is certainly not impossible.
Here's what I learned.
I approached the register with a very nice and practical button down in tow. When the seemingly friendly worker told me the price, I calmly asked if there was any way I could just pay less. After a couple “Whats?” and repeats/explanations, she said, “No, we don’t do that,” and she became a solid block of Peruvian granite.
After 10 seconds or so, her poker face was approaching Heisenbergian proportions. Maybe she hated me because I, remaining undaunted, kept trying my moves. Maybe it was because she kept catching our Vice Editor Jeremy Glass semi-blatantly taking pictures of the conversation with my iPhone. At any rate, she was throwing shade that could cover me for days. I felt her laser beams on the back of my head as I left. But I still had my pride. And the shirt I came in with.
Did it work? Nope.
My next stop turned out to be one of the most straightforward convos I had during my haggle sesh. The man in blue was pretty much the one guy who was non-hostile, non-confounded, and didn’t seem like he wanted to punch me in the face. He calmly answered all my questions. Years of working retail must have molded him into some Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque creature of electronic store zen. He told me they will match almost any legit price, and I could even pull up prices from other sites/stores on my phone. He was direct, matter-of-fact, and had the hair of a young John Travolta. 10/10—would bargain again.
Did it work? It could have, in the right circumstances.
I’ve always had good experiences with the staff here, as they are usually top-notch, so I needed to see their take. After perusing some iPhone prices, I told the extremely pleasant/helpful worker that I simply would not pay that much for an iPhone, and that I needed to pay less. I told her I’m a good guy, and that, if anyone, I truly deserve a discount. I kept pressing my point. The only chance you have at succeeding is remaining stubborn, but haggling is one thing, and abuse another. You have to know when you've reached your breaking point.
Somewhere in her complete confusion, I sensed a semblance of hostility, and she actually looked around like she expected to see someone filming her (she was kind of right, I guess). She said all she could offer was a student discount. And no, my four-year-old ID wasn’t valid proof.
Did it work? No.
The barista just laughed in my face, and then suggested I sign up for the rewards program. Thanks.
Did it work? Not at all.
Big retail stores
At this point, I'm thinking haggling in New York City has to be more arduous than in most locations. The workers here (particularly retail) have a zero-tolerance policy on bullsh*t, probably because they've seen it all. Inside a local Kmart, there was no discounting on the fly to be had. No one was particularly mad, or even interested in me asking to pay less than what was listed. It was almost as if this kind of d-baggery was included in the training videos everyone pretended to watch. Apparently, Kmart doesn't price match. Then again, part of this particular store is inside of a subway station...so, you know. Still, I had to admire their no-frills knowledge of the rule book, and the way they so expertly shut my annoying self down.
My fellow Supercompressor staff writer and complainer Ali Drucker said she negotiated for a significant discount at Target for a nightstand with a tiny scratch, and the bigger stores like Walmart have clearly outlined matching policies. So if you're up for it, there's some conniving to be had—just don't expect a ton of wiggle room. Staying informed of competitors' prices is one surefire way to trim the price tags at the large chains.
Did it work? It can, but didn't for me.
Hot dog stand
I purchased two downright dirty water dogs for the price of one to complement my coffee. I only had two dollars left, I (truthfully) told him. He couldn’t turn me down. Cash-in-hand can be one of your prime weapons in haggling. Lesson learned. Lunch is served.
Did it work? Yep.
On my way home, I needed to pick up a prescription at a chain pharmacy. My script price was described as non-negotiable, and I decided not to press the case too hard, because the pharmacist’s eyes narrowed with suspicion that screamed, “Are you trying to get Oxycontin, somehow?” These guys have the cops on speed dial, as well as open clearance to a plethora of tempting pharmaceuticals all day; I didn't want to be on their bad side. I paid in full for my chapstick Q-tip combo pack and sullenly made my exit.
Did it work? Not at all.
The Greek diner owner who served me and my friends dinner doesn't like to play games. I know this, because he very bluntly told me so.
Did it work: No.
Despite the lax environment, the 'tender at a local pub just laughed at me and said "Maybe later." He was kind of like that Starbucks guy. Maybe it's a beverage-hawker thing.
Did it work? Ha, no.
The local hardware store
I was feeling dejected and lost. Then I walked into a neighborhood hardware store, one of the last shining beacons of independent operations on the chain-infested avenue. I was met with some friendly banter, a quick chat with a manager, and a hammer, nearly 90% off. Holy sh*t. It actually worked.
The “good guy” approach (consisting simply of adamantly telling people you are a good guy), along with a little friendly conversation, landed me a quality hammer at a serious discount (talk about the American Dream). I’d be hammering nails in no time if I actually needed a hammer, or had any nails. I now fully understand this is to be a true advantage of independent outfits—long live the local mom-and-pop shop!
Did it work? YES!
Chinatown Souvenir Shop
Feeling empowered, I hit Canal Street early the next morning. This was the crowning achievement of my thrift-beg jaunt. Veteran hagglers approach Chinatown like hungry lions at gazelle conventions, and I considered it a fertile ground to culminate the trip and prove my chops. The exquisite “I Love NY” shirts were selling for a cool $15 a pop. I subtly but firmly demanded five, and flashed a twenty. We honestly went back forth for a good 5-7 minutes. It was a war of words, and I was on the offensive.
With his back against the wall, he wouldn't budge. He did, however, squeeze his price down to 5 for 35. He even tried to sell me a lesser brand of shirt with a stupid taxi drawing on it. Pfff. I was the immovable object—I needed those shirts and only had a twenty. I was willing to compromise a little (and you almost always have to, in these situations), but I was keeping that to myself. After wildly assuring me this was a cheaper price than I could LITERALLY FIND ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET (like he could ever know that), I finally played my last card, and walked away. He yelled at my direction, and I came out of it with four $15 shirts for $20. Compromise reached. I had emerged victorious, and in my triumph, procured a new set of threads for the team.
Did it work? F*ck yeah it worked.