How To Get A Discount Every Time

by Nora Dunn on 20 August 2007 36 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

Discounts. Wouldn't they be great to get every single time you purchase something? Big or small, from new hats to furniture sets?

But when you're in that department store, or grocery store, or whatever store, you don't want to stick your neck out and actually ASK for the discount. Because that would be rude, right? I mean, that sticker price took teams of people ages to come up with; striking that fine balance between meeting their costs and making a meagre profit. Right?


Just by asking for a discount, I almost never pay the sticker price for anything. Car insurance and repairs, clothing, airfare, hotels, all sorts of services from hair cuts to tax preparation, and sometimes even groceries.

Most store managers have the discretionary ability to discount almost any item in the store by up to 15%. All you have to do is ask. It's really that simple.

You still think I'm crazy. Okay, let's start with two easy tactics to get you comfortable with asking for a discount:

1. You have found the shirt of your dreams. The only problem is, upon close inspection, you notice a button is missing, or a pivotal thread is loose, or there is a small hole. Great! March up to the sales desk, show them the defect, and say you'd still be happy to take the defective merchandise off their a discount. All you have to do when you get home is some fancy footwork with your needle and thread and your defective merchandise is like new again.

2. Last week you bought that big ticket item you've been saving up for, be it a camera, home furnishing, tent, or even just a pair of shoes. The general rule of thumb is to stop looking once you've bought right? Wrong! Keep searching the stores, but look specifically for the item that you bought. If the store you originally purchased the item from puts it on sale (usually within 30-90 days from the date of purchase), they should refund you the difference between the sale price and what you paid.

If another store is offering it for less money, try talking to the store you originally bought the item from. If they won't refund you the difference, then just get return the item you bought and march right on over to the other store offering your wares for less. (This obviously wouldn't work for certain consumables, but you'd be surprised what can happen when you ask. Sometimes store credits become available since the place is afraid they'll lose your business to the cheaper store next time).

These are just two ideas for how you can justify asking for a discount (like you need a reason to save money). But once you understand that the worst that can happen is that people might say "no" if you ask, then you'll get into the habit of asking for a discount more often.

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Guest's picture

I appreciate how you're encouraging us to ask for discounts, but I think what would be most helpful would be a kind of script for us to follow. Would you mind doing a follow-up post with some sample dialogue between you and a salesperson at a store? One for each example ("car insurance and repairs, clothing, airfare, hotels, all sorts of services from hair cuts to tax preparation, and sometimes even groceries")?

Jessica Okon's picture

Haggling is definitely an skill that needs to be perfected. I worked for a major dept store, asking for a discount on a damaged good is feasible, and not unusual, but there were several times I was a bit flabbergasted by customers who though the store was a flea market. Me giving them a five dollar discount was not worth losing my job. So if you're ballsy enough to try this folks, just be nice and ask for the manager, don't even attempt to hassle the sales associate. Granted, all stores have their own policies.

Nora Dunn's picture

Absolutely right Jessica, this was not a post intended to send people to stores with a mission to create havoc or be impolite in any way. Most sales clerks who aren't managers in larger stores don't have discretionary authority to give a discount, and shouldn't be hassled for it. If the discount you are asking for isn't because of defective merchandise or a price reduction refund, ask for the manager.

The smaller the store, the easier it is to get a discount too. Please also note that I'm not talking about bargaining or haggling (which you can certainly do - it's not quite my style)'s simply asking for a discount and seeing what they say. The golden rules of negotiation are to have the other person state a number first, and that's what you are doing. Ask for the discount, then see what they say.

And Clancy, I'll see if I can work on that post for you. The dialogue will obviously differ depending on the person you are in front of, but if specific examples would be helpful, I'll give it my best.

The moral of the story, folks, is just to ask. Be nice about it, and ask. You never know what will happen.


Guest's picture

I am a store owner and am so tired of people promoting asking for discounts. I'm thisclose to putting up a "No Haggling" sign in my window. I place what I feel is a fair price on my products, both for myself and my customers, and I am getting SO tired of people coming in and haggling me to give them a discount. When I say I cannot, more often than not I'm told "So you're willing to lose a sale?" and "Oh, well, I guess I don't need it." People, there is a reason for the price tag - that is what the item is worth. If you want a discount, wait for a sale. I have often given a discount just to get the person out of my store because they're giving me a headache and you'd better believe they aren't going to get a discount out of me again (whereas we've given loyal customer discounts to people who shop with us on a regular basis). I find it very insulting. I have bills to pay, too and if I give everyone who walks in a discount then I'm not going to make any money. I'm seeing so many news stories/blogs encouraging people to go into the smaller boutiques and ask for discounts. Excuse me, but just because the owner is often on premises doesn't mean that we should be targeted. I have to pay not only my suppliers, but rent, utilities, sales tax, staff salaries, advertising, office supplies, etc. I have a number of sales throughout the year for my customers, and I'd appreciate people having respect for me as a business owner to not expect me to make less money just so you can save $10. Go shop at Walmart or ebay. Watch for sales. Leave store owners/managers alone.

Andrea Karim's picture

I dated a guy once who asked for discounts on EVERYTHING. It just about made me weep with embarrassment, but you know what? He got a discount on almost everything.

Here are some things he used to say:

"Man, I like this, I really do, but I can get one just like it at [insert store name here]. Can you knock the price down a bit?"

"How about this - you give me 10% off, and not only will I send all my friends here to shop, but I'll come back when I need my next stereo/set of tires/laptop." He would then follow this up by taking a bunch of the guy's business cards and sincerely recommending a good sales person to everyone he knew.

"I think you can give me a better deal on this. You can, right?" This was always aimed at the manager.

Jessica Okon's picture

I worked with a girl who "never used a coupon" and refused to use a coupon at lunch. I wasn't sure if it was beyond her, or if she didn't know what to do. I pretended she wasn't a snob and I told her "It is easy, you just hand it to the cashier when you pay." Ha! Preppy bitch.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I almost never pay full price for anything anymore.

Although, I have to admit I'm not always comfortable asking for a no-reason-just-because discount on a perfectly good item. So sometimes I'll ask if they have a military discount, (since that applies to us still) or if they have a sale coming up when and item might be lower. But definitely the tip about the smaller stores applies. Many times, if the owner is there at the specialty shop, they'll offer to "do better" on the price before I even ask.

For large items at chain stores the asking about upcoming sales technique works every time. They know in advance when the sales are coming up. For example, I went in to a store one time at the end of a major sale for custom blinds. I knew I wanted the 80 percent off because we were doing a large section of the house prior to selling it. But I just couldn't come up with the cash that week and still meet our savings goals. So I asked when the next time was they were having that sale, and she was able to tell me, as well as what brands would be on sale. So I had time to look and pick out specific colors and take measurements at home. I saved well over a thousand dollars. We are also starting to look ahead at kitchen appliances and the same technique worked. I now know that this particular store we are looking in has at least a 20 percent off sale every month. On a 2 thousand dollar fridge, that's pretty significant.

Good post, Nora.

Guest's picture

My wife's aunt now works for a fur sales company as a salesperson. This particular fur company partners with a large department store. She let me in on a little secret. There is always an unadvertised sale of 40% off on all furs. But the customer does not get the discount unless they ask for it. There are customers who are buying furs for $8000 when then could be buying the same fur for $4800 if only they would ask.

It made me think about what else was discounted...

Guest's picture

in photo labs i had the authority to knock up to 1.50 off anyone who asked for in store 1 - hour photos.

But this only applied to One hour photos, the others are at a pre-negotiated price and we cant change those prices

But this was @ Target; 1.50 off a 7-9 dollar item is a good discount.

Guest's picture

I worked at Target last year over the holidays, and everyone wanted to haggle prices. Target's policy is if a guest says an item is at a lower price, than the sticker, then they get it at that price as long as the item isn't over $20, and the price difference is reasonable.

Also if there's an item without a price tag, and another one can't be found, then they'll usually have the cashiers ask the customer what they think a reasonable price is, and give it to them at that price. They also give a 10% discount on damaged merchandise.

At the See.Spot.Save area (aka dollar area at the front of the store) most of the stuff that they're selling for $1 or $2 will be marked down to either 50 or 75% within 1-2 weeks.

Guest's picture

Okay, I work in retail in the SF bay area and can tell you that this is one of the ways rich people stay rich. But after hearing it from almost 2/3 of our customers I can tell you it gets OLD fast. It's not a flea market and it's so annoying to have people ask for random discounts on everything. If you can't afford to pay for it- DON'T BUY IT! When people tell me that they found a similar item for less money at another store I always tell them that they should have bought it there. One of the things my store is known for is its liberal return policy and people like that they can bring things back at any time for any reason but are not willing to pay a little extra for that convenience.

Guest's picture

Great post Nora.

You are one frugal woman. You fancy me as a person that would get up and leave a very profitable business to tour the world. On a shoe string budget of course.

Any tips on how to get a discount on flights?

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Ermos: Air miles my dear, of course!

But I'll save that for another post....

Oh and if you want to know how to get upgraded to first class, check out this article written by yours truly:

Guest's picture

This site you suggested is so powerful, I always check the for the good bargains and coupons. CouponAlbum too give discounts and coupons.just check it out!!!!!!!

Guest's picture

Smile while you say--

Can you do a little better on this price?

Is this your best price?

Is there a discount I can have?

If I take two [--which I meant to do anyway--], can you give me a discount?

Clothing: Can you get your manager to give me a discount?

In flea markets: Don't buy right away. Leave. Come back. Offer to buy in terms of what you will give: I'll give you ten dollars for this.

I almost always receive a discount.

Guest's picture

Yes. I can do a little better on the price. I could get 5% more. (If I was willing to sell it for less I would have priced it accordingly.)

No. My best price is 3 times that. (Oh. You meant for you?)

Yes. I offer lower level services at a cheaper price.

Point is, consider carefully what message you are sending when asking for a discount. It is one thing when asking for a discount on merchandise but quite another when asking for a discount on a service. The service takes a specific amount of time. By asking for a discount you are really telling the person that you don't respect them. It is quite insulting when people ask for a discount that equates to me working for nearly minimum wage after covering my expenses. If I wanted to work for that amount I would go work for someone else and drop the risks and headaches associated with being a business owner.

What all these people don't realize is that companies learn the game and still come out ahead. That $100 dress is really valued at $50 but if they put it in their store for 2 months at $100 then put in on sale for $60 they laugh all the way to the bank because they got you to spend more than the value because you thought is was a bargain.

Also, make sure you compare apples to apples. In my industry I have some of the highest prices in my area. I know this. Telling me that my "competition" will do it for less makes me laugh. I know what my competitors charge and what they deliver for that price. You are getting a better deal with me. All the customers who come to me AFTER being dissatisfied with the service by my competitor happily tell me so.

"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten" - President Benjamin Franklin

"I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process." - President Benjamin Harrison

Guest's picture

Great advice, Nora. I love you!

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Whoever you are, guest, I love you too! Glad you like the advice.

Guest's picture

As a former retail worker, if you do try this, PLEASE don't try it when there's a line behind you and the sales associates are scurrying around. There's a line between asking politely and demanding/taking up time by playing "hesitant" just to get a discount.

Also, many stores have a 7- or 14-day limit on their price adjustment policy. (Where you can bring in your receipt and the item to get a price adjustment if it goes on sale later on.)

Guest's picture
frugally boogley

When accompanying my parents on a furniture shopping trip my wife and I decided we would like a table for our new house. As my parents were buying a suite and expensive coffe table I jumped in on their negotiations and asked if I could get the table onto that order and an extra 10% off. The sales clerk was very obliging and thats how I got 60% off in a half-price sale.

Guest's picture

I have a friend who is quite well of and she can get a disount on anything! She is amazing, always polite, but never pays full price. I am hopeless at asking for discounts. I think it is one of those skills that is very subtle and some people have a knack for it. She learned from her parents and they were wealthy too.

Guest's picture

I just came upon your site. That is great advice thanks! Another thing that I sometimes do is ask for a display model discount. If I am reasonably sure that the display model is in good condition then I ask if i get a discount. Of course it'd have to be the last one left.

Or the open box discount. Someone returned it without the package. That is always good discount too ;)

Guest's picture

Ok, im a sophmore in High school. I was in my business class and we were watching a movie on how to get discounts on prices. This lady wuold go into a store. Or man. and would ask for a SALES DISCOUNT. The store associate hshe would ask would say "Im sorry but i cannot do that". You then ask for the manager. You then ask the manager and he/she would say usually "alright i can give you a discount". usually around 10-20% off.

Guest's picture

I love going to coupon sites on the internet like and

Guest's picture

I used to manage a chain clothing store. We managers had the authority to give discounts within reason. We had a huge list of reasons on our register, one of which was 'damaged'. One of our orientation speeches for new employees was about the employee discount--don't misuse your discounts to buy stuff for your buddies. We can give them a 10-15% discount if they just ASK.

Our store had a 7-day refund policy, too--you don't even have to bring in the item, just the receipt that shows the price you paid, and we would refund the difference in your original payment method. Just ask nicely. Most stores don't advertise it, but many have this policy.

One of the greatest ways to get discounts without seeming to be greedy/cheap is to talk to the employees. If Sally remembers you telling her that your son loves X, she'll call you when X goes on sale, or make sure you know about the 'secret sale', or remind you to cash in your reward points/use your preferred shopper card/tell you about the coupon, etc. As a manager, I would give 5-10% discounts to a certain customer because she shopped our store regularly, and always brought a friend. Chat up the cashier, compliment the manager on something, tell them you'll be coming in next week to buy Y--and just ASK. POLITELY.

Guest's picture


Nice work. The info you have given was really very useful for me.

Thank for the effort you have put in.

Guest's picture
Michael Dell

As the founder and current COE of Dell Inc, I can tell you from a macroeconomic perspective that constant haggling is a economic weakness that lies at heart of our country in the 21st century. The foundation of our economic superiority is built unpon the massive spending of our people, which satisifies and encourages both small and large businesses. Businesses, in turn, expands and hires more workers to accelerate production and innovations. The demolishing of such key structure will not only result in a national depression but also have a critical impact among the rest of the world.

Taking advantage of far fetched discounts for yourselves such as haggling is both selfish and morrally wrong. Furthermore, it has an significant negative impact among everyone else.

Guest's picture

Wow what a pompous statement. You have obviously lived in a box for too long. Almost every country in the world except the USA haggles. I bet you too have haggled on selling your product. Are you saying that you give your customers the price and thats the end of negotiations? Or are you saying that by changing the word to negotiations instead of haggling it justifies your rant? I too am a business person and when someone asks me for a discount I typically give them one. Most products have a large markup to start with, so there is some wiggle room. To say that we are demolishing the economy and starting a depression by negotiating the price is incorrect. If you sell a product, any product you have a bottom line. As long as you don't go below that bottom line then as a seller you make money, and the economy grows. By the way I'm writing this on a MAC with a spellcheck option. Maybe you could incorporate that option on your dell.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Michael Dell - Thank you so much for your perspective on haggling. It is my stance that if a business can afford to negotiate, they will. If they authentically set their profit margins so there is no leeway, then they will not budge on price (but most businesses do indeed have that margin). So although I don't believe that haggling will lead to depression, I may be naive.

Goodness knows, most of the rest of the world outside of North America EXPECTS to haggle, and paying the asking price is almost never done.

Guest's picture

I work for a national furniture store. Daily I get asked for discounts, sales, wanting to buy off the floor, you name it, I have heard it. I can respect asking for a discount, but when the answer is "no", leave it at that. In my company asking the manager is not going to get you anything. Also as a salesperson that works on commission, just remember that you are taking money out of my pocket, and let me tell you that it is not easy as it is. I could try to be like a used car salesman, but I am proud of the fact that I treat all of my customers the same without showing favortism because someone says "I don't pay full price for anything"...I must ask if you ask for a discount for toilet paper too?...Oh and I love the sleaze bags that ask if I will buy them furniture on my discount....get real! like I'm going to loose my job for you...Oh and don't go asking to be part of a friends and family discount either! I know that Oprah says "ask for that discount"...I can tell you that she has promoted merch from my company, and guess what...she paid full price.

Guest's picture

i work at a clothing importing company and the difference between the price we sell to retailers and they price they charge is often over $100. (And generally they are only buying 6units at a time - so are small stores.) This shows there is always margain for discounts!!!

Guest's picture

You mention that store managers have some discretion when it comes to discounts and that certainly was true where I worked. I worked in retail furniture for 7 years, and the markup was very high. There was always room for a discount and nearly anyone that asked for one in order to complete the sale was given something.

Guest's picture

What happens when you continue the discount mind set. Companies go out of business. Simple economics. More people get the brand because they want it for a discount then everyone will own it then nobody will want it because everyone has it. Shoppers should aspire to own not cheapen a brand because they can't afford it. Some things are not meant for everyone. Sure people like a deal but I will not lose my business because someone begs for a discount. I will simply say "We will always be here when you are ready to make a purchase" A funny side note. Customers who always ask for discounts never seem to realize that they can be disrespectful when they ask. As soon as I ask "what price range would you like to be in so I can better meet your needs" they get completely offended or will not disclose what they are willing to pay. Strange.

Guest's picture

I enjoy your reply. Great responses to a difficult request. Unfortunately not enough of the general public comprehend the concept of supply and demand. I was recently asked, "it looks like this is your last one of these. What kind of discount are you gonna give me on it?" I desperately wanted to reply "based on it popularity and sell through rate perhaps i should increase the price". Maybe someday I will decide to go along with the haggle and increase my price. If the price is up for debate why can't I adjust it to my benefit since thats what the haggler is doing. Everyone complains about a dramatic markup. I once asked a customer where they think such a large profit margin goes. They replied "your pocket". Yes my pocket and from my pocket to overhead(rent of space,electricity,water,etc), labor wages, purchase of new product to keep the business going,advertising, the list goes on. Don't haggle it is rude.

Guest's picture
David Ryan

I really hesitate to ask for a discount really. But every time it is great to have discount.Thanks to you for the two steps tips how to remove this. I am now practicing

Guest's picture

I manage a clothing retailer. Your suggestion to ask for discounts, and the manner you suggest to go about is passive aggressive and I would find such an approach rude and be less willing to offer any price reduction. At a high end botique this may work for those who have the money to be spending on such items why would you haggle anyways? However, at smaller businesses or low end mall based chains you will just come off as selfish and rude. Please support a local business do not haggle with the owner. Please do not ask a sales associate to put their job on the line to save you 10% on a $20 item ($2) at any mall based chain. Even if the manager gives you a discount he has risked being flagged for internal theft as it applies to "sweetheart discount" policies. Trust me those transactions are audited. It is not as win win as you imply. Generally a vendor can recieve a refund by sending back a defective item to the manufacturer with minimal costs in shipping. Moreover, most stores now have te capability to order you the exact same item in perfect condition and have it shipped to you. Nora, you may have good intentions at helping shoppers, but I'd wager 8/10 people will abuse this advice and either damage an item to get a discount or cause a scene to get a discount. If the item is too expensive for your budget DON'T BUY IT. The way economics works will eventually cause the item to reach a price that balances supply and demand. If its not in sale it is generally because many others have purchases it at that price thus deriving its worth in dollars. Lack of econimcs eduaction and self entitlement cause people to haggle. Don't be that person. Just don't buy it if its not worth it to you, or take a lovely vaction to a beach in Mexico and get your jollies by haggling the local street vendors.