Haggling Really Works When You Buy a New TV, Laptop, or Other Device

If you’re planning to buy an ultrathin laptop or a 4K TV in the next few months, you may want to brush up on your negotiation skills. According to Consumer Reports' annual electronics retailer survey, a little haggling often pays off in a big way.

Only 16 percent of the in-store shoppers who participated in our survey actually tried to negotiate when purchasing TVs, computers, cameras, wireless speakers, and other digital goods, but those who did were frequently successful. In fact, 64 percent got a price reduction.

The average savings? $81.

For online shoppers, the success rate was even higher (69 percent). The savings, too ($93).

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Those results are based on 156,999 electronics purchases made by 94,983 subscribers. They include transactions at 31 walk-in stores and 30 online retailers. In addition to revealing how they did when haggling, readers weighed in on prices, selection, customer service, and, of course, money-saving strategies.

In case you're wondering, approximately 70 percent of those who asked for a discount on a television were successful. The in-store group saved an average of $124, the online group closer to $145.

Ready to give haggling a go? Here’s what you should know:

How to Negotiate

It’s perfectly natural to feel uncomfortable about haggling for a lower price, says Jeff A. Weiss, who wrote the Harvard Business Review's "Guide to Negotiating" and is now president of Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. Many people find it distasteful because they falsely assume most items are fairly priced and they don't want to offend anyone. They also worry about going toe-to-toe with a salesperson who is more skilled at such transactions and better informed about products.

But don't let that stop you. There’s really nothing to it. Twenty-eight percent of the in-store shoppers in our survey who did negotiate say they did nothing more than ask for a better price.

“In some cultures, shoppers are expected to haggle," says Michael Wheeler, who teaches negotiation at Harvard Business School. But, traditionally, the U.S. has not been one of them. "The no-haggle norm may be changing here, however," he adds, "as online competition forces traditional stores to compete on price and new apps make it easier for customers to comparison shop.”

Wheeler, who recently wrote "The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World," offers a few suggestions on how to negotiate without sounding rude or aggressive. Try something like this, he says: "‘Thanks for your explanation. I can see why this printer really fits my needs. But I really should check the pricing elsewhere. If you’ve got some flexibility, and can save me that trouble....’"

If that doesn’t work, casually let it be known that you are prepared to shop at other retailers. Or, better yet, go shopping armed with prices from those retailers or special offers from the manufacturer's website. Retailers will often match the best price you've found.

The best time to haggle is in the morning or the evening, when the sales staff is less busy. Try to bargain out of earshot of other customers, so you don't put the sales clerk on the spot. And, as a bargaining chip, offer to pay in cash. Merchants don't like to pay credit card transaction fees.

If a discount isn’t possible, try asking for perks such as free installation, free shipping, or an extended warranty.

“You can really ask for anything," says Weiss, "if you ask for it respectfully, take a ‘Let’s get creative’ approach, demonstrate that you've done your homework and you're willing to get a no. Make it in the seller’s interest to negotiate and you will often get a yes.”

Extended warranties may be particularly easy to acquire in a negotiation. In most cases, Consumer Reports doesn't recommend that you pay for one, but there's nothing wrong with getting one free. Karen Jaffe, a manager in Consumer Reports’ survey research department, says: “We found that more than 70 percent of shoppers who negotiated for a free warranty or warranty extension at an independent retailer were successful."

More Survey Takeaways

  • Websites as a whole scored significantly higher than walk-in stores in categories such as ease of checkout, product quality, selection, customer support, and price—with BHPhotovideo.com and Crutchfield.com leading the pack in overall satisfaction.
  • Consumers, though, haven’t given up on walk-in retailers—almost 60 percent of the electronics purchases in our survey were made at these stores, and customers were very satisfied with the experience overall. In general, the best walk-in stores scored about as well as the top websites.
  • BHPhotovideo.com and Crutchfield.com are among the highest-rated online electronic retailers. Both received top marks in all the categories. Adorama.com and Amazon.com, with reader scores of 94 out of 100, also received high marks in all categories.
  • Apple.com was also near the top of the Ratings, with high scores in product quality and customer service, but received a below-average rating for price and only an average rating for selection. Dell.com and Lenovo.com are among the lowest-rated online stores in the survey, recording average scores in each category.
  • Abt Electronics and Appliances, B&H Photo, Navy Exchange, and Nebraska Furniture Mart are among the highest-rated walk-in retailers for overall customer satisfaction. In fact, all four received high marks for product quality, customer service, price, selection, and checkout ease.
  • Walmart and Kmart are among the lowest-rated walk-in retailers, earning low to average marks across the board. Fry’s Electronics received mixed ratings.

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