Negotiating Online

When I was thirteen, I went with my dad to Sears to buy a lawnmower. Even at that age, I was aware enough to be embarrassed when he started to negotiate with the garden department sales person.

But that shame quickly turned to shock and awe when he actually got the price lowered substantially. Sears? A retail giant? Negotiate? Never mind that lesson. Flash forward a few decades for a more important one.

The Internet has sped our lives up so fast it's made us lazy. Imagine adding numbers by hand instead of a calculator or spreadsheet. Or using a dial phone instead of telling your phone who to call with your voice or pressing a button on your cell phone from anywhere. How about writing a letter and putting it in the mail?

While many of you reading this never did any of the first things, we're all so accustomed to the second ones that we've become impatient and indolent to one extent or another.

This suggests a paradox that contains a gem you may be overlooking. Online shopping is frequently the best way to buy things. Guess what? It's also the worst. How often are discount coupons available for items or sites you search for? Not very often. So, you buy from whichever site offers the best price. Great, you say, what's the problem?

The problem is, you can't negotiate with the Internet. You can negotiate with a person. Just today, I bought a pair of expensive, current model sneakers. I've never paid nor would I pay $145 for sneaks. That's just crazy. But I would pay $100 for a pair of $145 sneakers. Wouldn't you? I did.

There's just no way I could have negotiated 30 percent off on such an item online. In fact, there isn't much variation in price online for many items, including the sneakers I wanted.

However, with the right approach in person, you can (as Herb Cohen taught us in 1982) negotiate anything. Another great teacher, my father, the guy who got a great deal on a lawnmower ten years before Mr. Cohen's book was published, put it this way: "If you don't ask, you don't get."

You stand a much better chance of saving money by getting off your butt, getting into your car, going to a bricks and mortar location, and engaging another human being in good old fashioned bartering. Indeed, sometimes negotiating simply means asking.

There will always be exceptions. Barnes & Noble, for example, charges significantly more for some books if you purchase in person rather than online. Maybe just stick with ebooks. Even my dad does, and his idea of operating a computer is looking over my mother's shoulder.

Want to save money? Get out of the house. Help keep these stores alive while trying to get a better price in person. We think we're too busy when we're really just being lazy or not thinking.

Like most things in life, it's situational. In this free market economy, price is often up for grabs. Your chances of negotiating a better price are much greater in store than online. Here again, you can't negotiate with the internet. You can negotiate with a person.