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Bargains Everywhere?

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With the economy being what it is, and with retail sales being what they are, more and more people are bargaining -- for everything. Consumers aren't just haggling over the price of a car; they are haggling over everything from cell phones to underwear. According to Stephen Hoch, a retailing expert at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, when it comes to any kind of shopping," You'd have to be a moron not to ask for a discount." Going with Hoch's definition, I'm a moron.

As I have indicated in previous columns, I hate to bargain, I can't stand coupons, and I avoid sales. For years, I preferred paying a couple of dollars more to standing in line for a bargain.

Bargaining has become huge lately. There are bound to be more and more books on the subject. I think we can expect everything from "Bargaining At The Grocery Store" to "How To Negotiate For Gum." There's already a website called howtohaggle.com. On the site, the potential bargainer is reminded that "it's all a game." That's been my problem with bargaining: it's a game that I don't enjoy playing. I'd rather buy something and then go play something that I like.

Those who love to haggle say, "You've got nothing to lose. All you have to do is ask." For those of us who feel weird about bargaining, asking is a big deal. We feel that somehow we'll perceived as gauche, as boors, as people who aren't even worthy to be in the store. But why should we care what a salesperson thinks of us? After all, salespeople will ask us if we want an extra pair of socks or a belt when we buy a shirt. Why shouldn't we ask them to knock a few bucks off that shirt? Or to throw in the socks and belt for free? But I've just never been able to do that.

However, the word "moron" kept echoing in my head. So armed with some basic instructions from articles and websites, I decided to do some shopping -- with a new attitude.

I needed some cheap sunglasses since, for some reason, my old ones apparently were too flimsy for me to accidentally sit on. So I went to my local drugstore. I picked out a pair, and I tried to have them reduce the price -- by twenty-five cents. They refused. I bought the sunglasses and left a bit humiliated.

Then I headed to "Best Buy." I suggested a proposal that I thought was sure-fire. I wanted a $40 gift card, but I was too wily of a shopper to tell them that. Instead, I told them that I wanted a $20 gift card, but I would be willing to buy two $20 gift cards for a total of $30. I thought it was the perfect deal: I'd save ten dollars, and the store would take in ten dollars more. They looked at me like I was crazy. Again, I made my purchase and slinked out of the store.

I was even less successful at a department store. There, I decided to make a low-ball proposal to get the negotiations going. I offered them $50 for an Armani suit. They didn't even bother to counter-offer. I don't understand why. It's not like I was talking about a suit with a vest.

That ended my bargaining career. It just wasn't me. Others will point out that nobody thinks they should pay sticker price for a car or asking price for a house. So, why shouldn't we expect to pay less for other things? Well, it just seems different to me. I can't ever imagine myself going to a restaurant for dinner, the waiter says the special costs $14.95, and then what am I supposed to say: "I'll give you $14.00 and you can keep the broccoli?" That's just not me. I'm not a bargainer, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'm fine with that. Why should I care if some guy at a business school thinks I'm a moron? Does he care what I think of him for spending his time studying something called, "decision support systems and the psychology of forecasting?"

Obviously, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy bargaining and are good at it, and those who don't and aren't. I'm a "don't and aren't" guy. The "do and are" people love getting a good deal and are willing to go home with nothing if they can't get it. My main goal when I shop is to buy what I want and get out of the store as quickly as possible. And that's non-negotiable.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from Sesame Street to Family Ties to Home Improvement to Frasier. He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at lloydgarver@gmail.com. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.