Fourteen readers in 14 cities negotiated discounts on their pricey beauty treatments. Wow, did they score. Here’s what they learned—and how you can do the same yourself. Ca-ching!
1. Share your vulnerability
What she wanted: For 20 years, Christine Clifford paid about $250 monthly to get her hair cut and colored by a Minneapolis stylist. But after the recession and a divorce, she could no longer afford the services. Clifford called her stylist, explained her current circumstances and asked if he might be willing to reduce his price. “What do you think you can afford?” he asked. “How about $130?” she ventured. The stylist’s response: “Done.” He explained that he’d rather give her a discount than lose her as a customer.
How you can do it: “Be honest about your position without playing the violin and looking like the victim,” suggests Lisa Gates, cofounder of SheNegotiates.com, a company that offers negotiation training and coaching for women. “Say, ‘This is really what my budget is. How can you work with me?’ ” The person you’re dealing with will most likely respond to your authenticity. But don’t exaggerate or make things up. “If you’re not being truthful, they will feel it,” she says.
2. Ask for a new-customer deal
What she wanted: When Cynthia Nagrath of Hyannis, Massachusetts, tried a new salon, she made sure to tell the owner she was a first-time customer. Then, as she was settling up, she asked if she could have the treatments she’d received—wash, color, blowout—for $40 instead of the usual $55. “I’ll give you a discount to $45 because we want you to come back,” the owner told her.
How you can do it: Everyone likes a loyal customer, so let the company know if you plan to become a repeat shopper. “But be flexible,” says Gates. “They might need to cut your 45-minute massage to 35 minutes to meet your budget.”
3. Ask for freebies
What she wanted: Litty Mathew of Los Angeles called a cosmetic-surgery practice to inquire about laser hair removal for her legs. “The owner recommended I start with five sessions for a total of $2,000,” she says. Thinking she’d need one more, she asked if he could throw it in for free. He countered that he’d already thrown in the fifth session but that he would reduce the extra session to $400. Then Mathew mentioned that she would love to become a regular. “I asked if I could have my upper lip done for free, and he agreed,” saving her $500, she says.
How you can do it: When you’re about to make a big purchase, ask the manager or owner to sweeten the deal. “If you’re buying skin care, ask to try another product in the regimen that suits your complexion,” says Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail.
4. Barter your skills
What she wanted: Philadelphia-based social media specialist Lee Romano Sequeira was dying to try microdermabrasion, which her aesthetician’s office offered for $175 per session. “Every time I went in for a facial, I would mention that their Facebook page was a little lacking,” she says. “I told them the truth: that it needed some help and that’s what I do professionally. And then I just asked, ‘Could we barter our services?’ ” The office manager agreed, and Romano Sequeira drew up a contract. “I said, ‘Here’s what I normally charge, and here’s what I can do for you.’ ” She started managing the office’s social media—spending about two and a half hours a week on its Facebook and Twitter accounts—and banking credits to put toward services. She now does enough work to get bimonthly microdermabrasion, a supply of eye and face lotions and even eyebrow tattoos (normally $600).
How you can do it: Be explicit about what you’ll be providing. Just don’t overdeliver, says Gates: “Consider your real costs, the time it will take, and make sure you’re setting up an equal trade. Then create a contract that specifies what you’ll do, in what time frame and what exactly you will get in return.”
5. Bide your time
What she wanted: Sara Tetreault of Portland, Oregon, needed a dental crown, but it cost $1,070. “I thought, This isn’t an emergency; I’m going to wait on it,” she says. Three months after her initial visit, she got a letter from her dentist offering 15 percent off the procedure. Emboldened, Tetreault waited two more months, then called the office to see if she could get an even better price. “I told the receptionist that $909 is still a lot of money,” she says, and offered $750. The receptionist replied that the number was a little low but, after checking with the dentist, said they would take an additional 5 percent off the already discounted price, bringing the total to about $860. “I got it done, and I’m thrilled with the results,” says Tetreault.
How you can do it: It’s important to connect with someone who has the authority to make decisions, says Stuart Diamond, a Wharton business professor and the author of Getting More. “Ask about their day, compliment their shoes,” he says. “When you make a human connection with someone, they’re six times more likely to give you what you ask for.”
6. Bring in more customers
What she wanted: Ginny Scales--Medeiros of Santa Rosa, California, got $300 knocked off the original $1,700 quote for CoolSculpting, a fat-reducing procedure. “I exercise every day, but as I got older I started gaining around the waist,” she says. She told the office staffer at the cosmetic surgeon’s office what she was willing to pay and pitched her social media experience, saying she would hype the company on Facebook and Twitter (as long as she liked the results, of course). After she made her offer, she fell silent. “The first person who talks gives something up,” she says. The staffer agreed to the discount, and Scales-Medeiros, delighted with her results, praised the company all over the Internet. “It was the best money I ever spent,” she says.
How you can do it: Say you will recommend the business on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn if you’re pleased with your purchase, says Gates. Or say you’ll use good old-fashioned word of mouth. “This is how women make decisions anyway,” she points out. “We ask one another, ‘Who cuts your hair? Who does your nails?’ ”
Rebecca Webber is a freelance writer who lives in New York City.