Asking for a Discount, Anywhere

03 Mar 2018

Asking for a Discount, Anywhere


First things first: Read that title again. I did not say you could get a discount anywhere, just that you can ask, preferably in a way that doesn’t get you kicked out. 

When I was moving into my first apartment, my father came to Montreal to help me buy furniture, which seemed less expensive than shipping everything from South Carolina. We had a blast. I introduced him to local eccentricities like poutine, hot chicken sandwiches, and milk in bags. He had never seen an Ikea before and, as someone with a deep respect for well-designed goods at reasonable prices, found the experience exhilarating. We bought almost everything there, but he wanted me to have a higher quality mattress because students need to sleep well to do their homework. Though I can’t say I did all that well at homework, it was a good theory. But I digress.

We headed to a big department store, La Baie on St. Catherine, and I watched him negotiate a discount on a mattress in a heavy southern accent, with a salesperson who spoke French and only a smattering of English. They both seemed to enjoy it. Later that day, he splurged and let me buy a beautiful dhurrie rug that, 25 years later, covers our guest room floor. He negotiated that one, too, netting a small discount and a free, thick rug pad, that has also survived.

These are the rules:

  1. Never ask in earshot of another customer. This is a no-brainer. They can’t give you a discount if they have to do it for everyone.
  2. Your opening gambit, or any gambit, should never be an insult. You want a discount because the rug and everything else in the shop is trash? Why do you want trash? Shop elsewhere.
  3. Always ask in a way that allows your new friend to say no, without fearing you’ll leave them a horrible review on Yelp.
  4. If you can, get specific.

When Dad scored a deal on my rug, he followed all the rules. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the shop, and everyone else was working, so there was no one around to catch wind of the deal. He opened by telling the proprietor what a great selection he had. He took time to get to know the man while I browsed, asking where he was from and how long he’d been in the rug business. (My dad also had the advantage of being genuinely interested in the life story of literally everyone he ever met, or at least a short version of it.) I made my choice and quietly indicated it to Dad. He turned back to his new friend and said something along the lines of, “You know, I really like this rug, and I want something nice for my daughter. Any chance you offer discounts for locals? Or would it help if I paid cash?”

The answer was a resounding “no.” I didn’t interject, because I’d learned to sit back and watch the master. A fisherman, Dad knew how to give the line a little slack before reeling in again. They chatted some more, maybe comparing notes on child rearing. Dad went in again, and I realized he’d been thinking about his next move.

“I tell you what. I can see you’re offering a fair price, but dhurrie rugs are thin, and it’s cold up here. Could you throw in a thick rug pad?”

The deal was all but done. The salesman offered a low-end pad, but Dad knew he could reel him all the way in, and went for the best, thickest one. His friend lasted maybe another 10 seconds before shaking on it. At the register, the guy ended up throwing in a discount for cash. (By then, this may have also been a friends and family discount.)

As an aside, Dad handed everyone he met in Montreal his business card, just in case they were ever in the market for a little Carolina real estate. As a realtor, he knew a negotiation wasn’t a fight. In an ideal world, everyone walks away happy. A little discretion, a lot of respect and reasonable expectations go a long way. And that’s all there is to it!

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