More Retailers See Haggling as a Price of Doing Business
Pay no attention to the price on that tag.
Or even the markdown.
This year some shoppers are quietly taking the art of bargaining up the escalator to the floors selling cashmere or over-the-knee leather boots, building on the haggling skills they acquired in the last few years getting big-box store deals on TVs and the like.
Armed with increasingly sophisticated price-tracking tools on their smartphones and other devices, consumers have become bolder, and they know that they often have the upper hand during a tough season for retailers. Recognizing the new reality, some retailers, desperate for sales and customer loyalty, have begun training their employees in the art of bargaining with customers.
(Read more: Discounters trail on the web)
Last month, Best Buy essentially invited consumers to bargain when it announced that it would match the prices of any competitor this holiday season if customers showed proof of the lower price.
But other retailers are doing the same with less fanfare, or even making steeper concessions. DealScience,a new website that collects, compares and ranks online deals from thousands of retail brands, discovered that at least 20 percent of big-box retailers had price-matching policies, though many do not advertise them.
The site's co-founders, Brandon Hunt and Cory O'Daniel, said that they had been surprised to find that at least a half-dozen merchants—including some of the original haggling stages like Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe's—now let managers go a step better and offer 10 percent below a competitor's price.
The bargaining practices are more commonplace for home and sporting goods or electronics, but even higher-end retailers like Nordstrom have price-matching guidelines—though they usually do not broadcast the terms.
Joe Marrapodi, one of the founders and the chief executive of Greentoe.com, a new name-your-own price website, walked into Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's the other day in Santa Monica, Calif., and without identifying himself or his occupation, casually asked employees if they were open to bargaining. Both the sales representatives and the managers said yes without hesitation, he said, and cited specific price-matching policies.
"I think they kind of keep it low key," he said. "They don't want it to be a thing."
(Slideshow: 10 apps to guide your holiday shopping crunch time)
A spokeswoman for Nordstrom said in a statement, "For as long as we've been in business we've been committed to offering our customers the best possible prices, including meeting competitor pricing on similar items."
There was recognition among guests at a private round-table dinner with retail executives in Dallas that their stores had better accept regular give-and-take with customers, according to Alison Kenny Paul, vice chairwoman and leader of United States retail and distribution at Deloitte. "Some talked about their epiphanies and said the world has changed, we really have to do this," she said.
(Read more: Zero financing's true cost)
As a result, Ms. Paul said, some retailers are training employees on the rules of bargaining. Instead of price discounts, those deals may be add-ons, like an extended warranty, free delivery or free installation.
While it is mainly department or floor managers who are given the authority to make deals,other employees are now being coached to "recognize when a consumer needs to negotiate," and to "spot the consumer" getting ready to walk out the door, she said.
When a salesclerk at Kohl's in Kennewick, Wash., recently asked Siobhan Shaw, who was buying an armload of items from the sale rack, if she would like to open a store credit card, Ms. Shaw recalled that she replied firmly: "No."
(Read more: Wal-Mart response to flub par for course: Experts)