Opinion

My bargain-hunting backlash

Frenzied dickering just adds to my holiday stress. Paying full price is easier – and it supports local jobs.

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"Is that your best price?" I mumbled, unable to look the salesman in the eye.

"Wait a minute," he said, leaving me stranded in a showroom filled with flat-screen TVs. He walked over to a computer, checked a few figures, and returned with a lower price. I told him I would talk to my husband.

"What? That's all you did?" exclaimed a friend at my local coffeehouse. "You only asked once for a better price?" So my friend, a salesman, offered me a short course on how to land a deal.

I practiced my lines:

1. "Is that your best price?"

2. "Sorry. That's still way too high."

3. "Great. Now you're in the ballpark."

4. "Almost, but I like rounded numbers."

Then you clinch the deal.

I left the coffee shop and embarked on my shopping spree. I would buy a flat-screen TV, the sole Christmas present for my family, and I would get a deal. I started at Costco, quickly deciding on a 37-inch LCD television. "We already carry the lowest price," the salesman said. I looked into his eyes, forgetting everything my friend had taught me, and said, "I'll take it."

Just then an elderly couple rounded the corner. The wife pulled me aside and whispered, "You can get it cheaper at Sears." She told me to search for the lowest online price, bring it to Sears, and start negotiating. She said she saved a bundle this way.

Please, oh please, couldn't we return to a more traditional way of shopping? Where the price on the label is the price you pay. Sure, you might ask once for a lower price – that's tradition. But this new bargaining frenzy means every purchase will be like buying a car. Note to sales-people: We consumers know there are several prices for each product, and only the very skilled among us will get the lowest. Why waste so much of our time?

And what about those of us not comfortable in the methods of bargaining? Perhaps, in this bad economy, we must hone skills we never knew we had. It's not just the growing number of unemployed who are fumbling around in their wallets for coupons. Upscale stores such as Macy's are seeing this trend, too.

"A lot of customers are bargaining by combining coupons that don't go together," a saleswoman at Macy's complained. "I tell them they can't do that. Because then Macy's won't pay me."

Oh yeah, the salespeople. Remember them? They need to make a living, too. Would my newly discovered talent in the art of negotiation mean fewer holiday gifts for their families – or even a layoffs?

Besides, pursuing the best deal was ratcheting up my already high holiday stress level. I felt responsible for the TV salesman's kids and their college tuition. I also started to distrust every salesperson I met: "Is this guy giving me the very best deal possible or am I just lousy at this game?" I would ask myself with each new purchase.

I pity shoppers who don't know about multitiered pricing. Did they simply pay the highest price and nobody was the worse off for it? A game of deception is being played in stores across America. It makes us all a bit less honest with one another, a bit more suspicious.

I returned home and talked to my husband. "Buy the cheap set at Costco," he said. "Who cares if no one has ever heard of the brand."

Then the phone rang.

"You can do better," my friend told me. Go to Best Buy. They negotiate there. She told me, in great detail, how she negotiated her way to a very large flat-screen TV for under $900.

Back at the coffee shop, my friends were calling me a cheapskate, a procrastinator, someone who reads Consumer Reports just for fun. I thought, yes, it's all true. A new TV would never sit under our Christmas tree, which, by the way, wasn't up yet.

Humiliated, I left the coffee shop, drove to Best Buy, paid full price, and brought home a small, but very expensive Sony television. Now I just need to find a cable provider. Any deals out there?

Janine Wood is a homemaker and writer in Deerfield, Ill.

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