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How to haggle your way to holiday deals

Dec. 17, 2013 at 10:38 AM ET

Yeah, but did they haggle for them? Holiday shoppers line up with televisions on discount at the Target retail store in Chicago, Illinois, November 28...
JEFF HAYNES / Reuters
Yeah, but did they haggle for them? Holiday shoppers line up with televisions on discount at the Target retail store in Chicago, Illinois, November 28, 2013.

Haggling is back for the holidays this year and it's not just at big-box stores and car lots. Even higher-end retailers Nordstrom's and Bloomingdale's are up for playing "Let's make a deal," according to a recent New York Times article.

Though they don't advertise it, quietly behind the scenes the stores have been training their employees in the art of competitor price-matching. Best Buy last month said it would price-match any competitor if the customer can show up with an ad showing a lower price. And with "Black Friday" spending down 2.9 percent and store visits down 4 percent, retailers are eager to hold on to the customers they do get walking through the door.

All that means the holidays are up for negotiation. As they say, it doesn't hurt to ask. But it does hurt if you don't ask the right way.

"Make it easy for people to say yes," said Carol Frohlinger, Managing Director of Negotiating Women, Inc., and a negotiations expert. Be polite. Approach the counter when the coast is relatively clear, not when there's five people in line behind you. 

Then, start things off gently, she advises. 

Say something like, "I really like this, I'm just wondering if there's anything you can do for me on it relative to the price."

"If you annoy them or ask in a way that signals you feel as though you're entitled to it... or that they are lower status than you, then that's not going to be appealing," Frohlinger said.

It's all about opening up the conversation, rather than getting into a tussle over price tags. 

Try saying, "Have you ever been able to do more for anyone?" said Frohlinger. "That kind of opens up the conversation with what the salesperson may offer you that you never thought about." 

If the deals aren't forthcoming, ask for something reasonable, like a small discount. Shoot too low and you risk getting written off.

Another "open sesame" kind of phrase is, "I really have to think about it because it's really more than I wanted to spend." That can start the deal-making process, especially as retailers fear losing customers who browse their stores in-person only to get merchandise cheaper online.

All this of course assumes a certain level of moxy. Should you find that in short supply, try asking yourself, "How will my family benefit if I'm able to negotiate a better price?" People who have trouble negotiating for themselves can suddenly muster the gumption when they think of well-deserving others, said Frohlinger.

But even this master wrangler has things she won't bother haggling over. "I don't know if I'd be trying to negotiate at the cosmetics counter for Lancome makeup," said Frohlinger.

Contact Ben Popken via ben.popken@nbcuni.com, @bpopken, or benpopkenwrites.com.

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