Haggling. It’s a word that conjures up exotic imagery of wet markets and distant locations around the globe….you know, the kind of thing you expect to do on vacation.
Unless you’re shopping for a car, or traveling overseas, “haggling” just isn’t a word that comes up frequently in the “first world”. Most people walk into a store, restaurant, or other place of business, and assume that prices are just fixed.
I’ve got news for you — Everybody doesn’t pay the same amount. Not even close. Prices can vary significantly from city to city, region to region, and person to person. Not only that, but for people willing to work just a little bit harder, there are big discounts to be had.
Usually, all it takes is a simple phone call.
Probably the single most frequently asked question I get on this blog is, “How do you get your internet service so cheap?”
Many people pay significantly more to their friendly neighborhood monopolistic cable provider — so it comes as quite a shock when they see our low monthly cable internet bill.
Currently, I’m paying $39.99 per month for 25Mbit service, which is cheap and reasonably fast. Good enough for my needs at least.
This package was a promotional price for new customers and was only limited to one year… Except I wasn’t a new customer. I’ve had the same ISP for 8 years now.
Next month, when my old promotional package ends, my next one year promotional package starts. This time, the package is $49.99 per month for 100Mbit internet service. A slight increase, but significantly faster and still less than full price.
How do I score these great deals on internet service year after year? I simply call and ask. No magic tricks. No under-the-table handjobs.
I’m polite and straightforward with the customer service reps — I simply let them know what I want.
My recent conversation with the cable company went something like this…
Mike: “Hello, this is Mike in the Customer Retention department, what can I do for you today?”.
Mr. Tako: “Hi Mike, Mr. Tako here. My internet service price is set to increase next month, and I’m looking to make some changes. I’d like to stick with your company, if possible. I’m hoping to get that new promotional package of $49.99 per month for Performance Pro internet. It’s up on your website.”
Mike: “Yes, well that package is for new customers only….”
Mr. Tako: “Yes, I’m aware of that Mike. I was on a promotional packages last year and I’ve been a loyal customer since 2009. I already know it’s possible for existing customers like me to get these promotions. Can you help get me that package?”
Mike: “Yeah Mr. Tako, I can do that for you. It’ll be a 12 month promotional again…”
That’s it. It’s really that easy. A simple 5 minute phone call that saves me hundreds of dollars a year…and I do it year after year. I’ve probably saved over a thousand dollars on internet service with this simple tactic alone.
What’s the downside? Well, the package does vary from year to year. Some years I’ll have really fast internet service. Some years it’ll be slower service. Some years it’ll include cable TV.
You have to be willing to continually put up with changes to your internet service. For our family, as long as the bits flow at 10Mb or higher, we’re fine with the changes. We never watch cable TV, and don’t hedonically adapt to higher levels of service.
Other Places To “Haggle”
Believe it or not, a huge number of businesses in the United States are willing to work with you on price…if you ask.
Last year, I negotiated 70% off some fancy Samsonite luggage for my visiting in-laws at a fancy department store. Yes, 70% off…because I bothered to ask for discounts! The price ended-up being cheaper than Amazon, and I think I may have scored a few extra points with my in-laws.
Remember that bathroom sink repair fiasco from February? I scored free replacement parts for my broken sink, just talking to a customer service rep.
Pfister hooked-me-up with free sink parts despite the fact that I didn’t have a receipt or even a serial number. I was just some random guy calling for free parts…and they gave them to me.
Brand loyalty really matters to companies, and more often than not they really do want to keep your business. The key to unlocking these discounts is doing your homework ahead of time. Find out if online promotions exist. Determine what prices competitors sell the product at.
If it’s a brick and mortar retailer, make printouts or take photos of the discount you want. Bring them with you. Then, talk to the manager or a senior sales person. Be extra nice.
It won’t work 100% of the time, but you can often get at least a matching price.
The Insurance Game
Insurance companies are sometimes willing to move on prices, but it isn’t nearly as easy. Before calling, I do my research ahead of time and get quotes from all the major competitors. I think of it as ammunition for the upcoming battle.
When I do call, it’s always a difficult conversation… insurance companies never seem to admit that their prices have some flexibility. But they do…
Mr. Tako: “So, yeah, I’m looking to renew my insurance next month, and your competitor [XYZ company] is offering a better price. Can you do something to help me out? I’d like to stick with your company”.
Jenny: “Well, our rates are fixed so I really can’t help you. But, would you be willing to walk through your existing coverage to make sure you have the right package?”
Mr. Tako: “Sure Jenny, let’s do that.”
More often than not, the insurance rep finds something to tweak and is able to reduce my bill. If they don’t, I’m completely willing to play The Insurance Game and jump ship to another insurer. I let them know it too.
Insurance companies will often start out new customers with slightly discounted service — designed to win over new customers. Then, on the eve of the second year, they’ll bump-up rates on you. Usually a considerable increase (8% to 12%).
When that happens, it’s time to play The Insurance Game and make that annual phone call.
Places Not To Haggle
Unfortunately not every business is going to be willing to work with you on price. Businesses in low-margin mass-market industries are probably the least likely to have room (if any) to modify the price. I recommend not trying to haggle with these guys.
Well, you can try…but don’t expect discounts.
In my experience, grocery stores, airlines, Costco, government services, and even online retailers fall into this category. There may be others, but these are the ones I’m most aware of from personal experience.
Your efforts are better spent finding discounts elsewhere — Find coupons using RetailMeNot. Get free shipping promotions (like Amazon’s 30 day free Prime trial), or use services like Ebates to lower the price.
Conventional thinking might have you believing that haggling just isn’t done in first world countries.
Ignore the conventional thinking — it’s totally wrong. Haggling is actually alive and well in the first world… it just takes a slightly different form.
It’s not for the lazy either. You have to be willing to make a phone call, or do an extra little bit research…but there are good discounts to be had.
Many people won’t even bother. “That’s too much work for $10” they might say…
OK, you go ahead and take that easy route. Me? I’m going to be making those phone calls.