10 Shopping Tips for Bargain Hunters

Does anyone really think it's smart to pay full price anymore? No! If you’re as proudly penny pinching as we are, read Mark Ellwood’s new book, Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World. To get you started, here are his 10 tips to help you save on everything from groceries to hotel rooms

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Don’t be afraid to just ask if there’s a discount. One expert negotiation coach calls it “the Flinch.” The Flinch involves sputtering a single word: “What???!!!” The message you're conveying is twofold: Either you're saying it's too expensive, or you're saying it sounds like a great deal. Regardless, the salesperson hears that your ultimate focus is that you're sensitive to price. Another, even simpler approach: Ask the sales assistant, "Excuse me, are there any sales today?" (I know someone who nabbed 15 percent off a $50 frame at Pottery Barn recently simply by saying that as she stood at the register.)

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How do you sniff out that a sale might be happening unannounced? Create a Twitter handle for deals and follow some savvy shopping bloggers like @slickdeals and @dealnews, to name two. Watch and see when they tweet about certain brands; a cluster of #coach tweets means you should start Googling for some good but unheralded Coach handbag deals. Also, sign up for a service like Shopittome, which will alert you when certain brands go on sale without your having to trawl through endless email newsletters.

Photo courtesy of Twitter

Avoid the middleman

Companies that don’t sell to stores but rather sell directly to consumers can cut out the middleman and pass on the money saved as a discount. Take Everlane, which makes men’s and women’s tops and accessories, and Project Gravitas, which sells stylish, American-made Victoria Beckham–like sheath dresses with built-in, Spanx-like shapewear. Both firms directly sell to consumers products that would cost more than double were they on sale at a conventional department store. 

Photo courtesy of Everlane

Be Coy

Think of online shopping as having cocktails with someone new and cute: Never put out on the first meeting (i.e., make a purchase too quickly). My advice? Buy items in a two-stage process: Log onto a site, place a purchase in your cart and close the browser window. Then wait 24 to 48 hours. You can expect a coupon or promo of some kind in your email inbox enticing you to make the purchase (users reported Levis, Coastal, ThinkGeek and Coldwater Creek as all using this trick, while Overstock has been reported to send prompting promo emails within 20 minutes).

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Make friends . . . with a sales assistant

Befriend a sales assistant at every one of your favorite stores and always buy from her. Learn her name, ask for her when you shop, make sure to check her schedule. After all, sales assistants are on commission most of the time, and a regular buyer is a reliable income source. Once you’re recognized, the assistant will most likely start inviting you to the presale period—the week before the sale signs go up when insiders can shop at discounted prices in secret—and including you in friends-and-family promo periods.

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Beware of outlet mall–itis

What is it? That strange disease we contract where everything at the outlet seems an irresistible deal. Look at the price tags on merchandise there, which usually provides a higher reference price to make the deal look even juicier. Beware, though, if that higher price is flagged anything other than original price. Phrases like compared to or retail value are legalese, workarounds to avoid admitting that this merchandise was produced specially for the outlet.

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Learn the lingo

What is the magic code word to get the cheapest rate on a hotel room? Call and ask for the BAR: best available rate. That's the lowest dollar amount at which the computer pricing programs will allow that room to be sold.

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Be tech savvy

Install the PoachIt button in your browser, and you’ll never have egg on your face at an online checkout again. Every time you find an item you want to buy online, hit that button while on that product’s page: It will generate a coupon code if any are live and valid anywhere on the Internet. 


Think ahead

At the supermarket, watch for grocery specials where there is a per-customer limit: This is a hint that the item is likely being sold at a loss, and so is worth the effort of multiple trips to bypass that cap on buyers.

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Pay in cash

Cash is king every time. Ask for a discount in exchange for paying in cash, thereby saving a store what it pays on credit card transactions (about 3 to 5 percent). 


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Next: Fabulous Finds That Give Back

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First Published Thu, 2013-10-10 10:58

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