Low End Theory: Talk is Cheap

By Brendan I. Koerner

I can definitely see the wisdom in having excised negotiation from most of our daily commerce. Imagine if every time you had to buy a roll of toilet paper from CVS, the cashier tried to highball you: "That'll be $3.99, sir...What? You don't want to pay that much? Okay, gimme two bucks...Wait, don't walk out that door—special price for you! A buck fifty!" Not only would our economy grind to a halt, but working retail would become one of the nation's most dangerous jobs—when haggling reaches an impasse, too many folks still see fit to resort to fists, guns and machetes.

On the other hand, when dealing with your (ahem) less formal retail operations, there's often some wiggle room built into their pricing. That's certainly true for many purveyors of low-end technology, of the sort that sell three-packs of tube socks alongside their cordless phones and faux Discmen. As a general rule of thumb, if a store's prices are noted only by Magic Markered signs, and they're blasting Ne-Yo onto the sidewalk through coffin-sized speakers, you can probably negotiate a slightly better deal for yourself. Just wield your geek knowledge like a club, and exploit your opponent's weaknesses. Four tips after the jump. PLUS: The keys to plus-five commenting?

Bamboozle With Wisdom Low-end salesman tend to be hilariously uninformed about specs; I'd wager that less than half can tell a bit from a byte, let alone explain the nuances of speaker wattage. Use this to your advantage—make it clear early on that you're not to be lied to. Bandy about the technical jargon, and make a point of dismissing their products as so-three-years-ago. Provided you're not dealing with a grump who'll simply toss you out of the store, your logorrheic ramblings should flummox the salesman to the point he gets his manager. And it's the manager who has the authority to cut on-the-spot deals. (Caveat: this technique works best with items in the clearance bin. It may also result in a physical altercation; not recommended with any salesman wearing a Stop Snitching T-shirt.)

Ask for the Stash Supply management isn't a strength of low-end stores. A lot of their goods have fallen off the proverbial truck, and they can have a hard time keeping up with the inflow (partly because they might track their stock in spiral-bound notebooks). As a result, there's often a backlog of superior merchandise languishing in the stockroom. So if you come across a last-gen product that's not quite up to your standards, ask if they have something better on hand; be specific about what you want, though, because there's a good chance the salesman won't know what constitutes "better." When he emerges with the superior product—say, a 256 MB MP3 player, as opposed to its 128MB predecssor—make a lowball offer. Since there's no set price for not-yet-displayed merch, there's a good chance you'll get what you want (or close to it).

Package Deals Turnover is the way low-end stores stay in business—they need to get rid of stuff fast, to make way for the next off-the-truck shipment. That opens up all sorts of opportunities for cheapskates to suggest package deals, along the lines of, "Throw in a four-pack of AAA batteries and a 900 MHz cordless phone, and I'll take this Coby radio off your hands." The more complicated you make the package, the more likely you are to save some loot; most fly-by-night stores don't spend much time calculating accurate break-even points. But this isn't easy on the customer's noggin', either—might be worth making a recon visit to the store ahead of time, then pricing out your package against an identical basket of goods on the Web. (Yes, I realize this sounds like a lot of effort to save a few bucks—please keep in mind that this column is called Low End Theory, not Time Savers.)ShadySalesman.jpg

Take It Off the Floor Unlike big chains, which hold off on moving their floor models until they've sold through a product line, low-end retailers typically love selling demos. Odds are they were just going to end up giving them away to salesmen, anyway, or offering them to friends at ridiculously low prices. (Subhint: Befriend the manager of a low-end electronics store.) So offer to take that floor-model 13-inch Daewoo TV off their hands for half-price. They'll probably try and bargain you up a few bucks, but stick to your guns on this one. Maybe even engage in a little mendacity, by insisting that the warranty's been voided by virtue of the TV having been a demo unit. (As if you're really going to send in a $35 TV for repairs.)

More negotiation tips in comments, please. Just don't mention the one about trying to flatter the salesman—doesn't work, at least if you lack double Ds.

PLUS-FIVE COMMENTING: Let me abuse my position for a second here, and appeal to y'all for help. I'm working on an article about the keys to making much-admired comments at social-content sites. Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda, of Slashdot fame, has been kind enough to offer some feedback, as have some veteran commenters. (Boo to Digg, though—per their flack, they were too busy to send me a two-sentence e-mail reply.)

Now it's time for Gizmodo Nation to chime in: what's the secret to making a plus-five Slashdot comment, or an enthusiastically Dugg comment on Digg? Being first and being funny obviously matter, but there's gotta be something beyond that, right? Fittingly, leave any ideas in comments, happy in the knowledge that you shall be the recipient of my eternal gratitude.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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