In most cases, sellers adopt fair policies, give ample product support, and back up their warranties. In the worst cases, sellers lie, fail to deliver, and ignore their customers. To limit unhappy purchases, fringers weed out bad sellers before they buy. This strategy consists of five tactics: (1) run background checks; (2) review the seller’s policies, especially on returns and price matches; (3) investigate the quality of the seller’s product support and customer service; (4) once you pick a seller, search for discounted gift cards; and (5) explore your chosen seller’s willingness to negotiate.
□ 5.5.1 Run Background Checks
Look at these factors when you compare the sellers who have the lowest prices.
□ Consider Your Own Experience. If you’ve bought from this store several times and it offers the lowest price, then you can skip the research. But if the lowest price comes from an unfamiliar seller, investigate further.
□ Ask Friends. The people you know and trust are consumers too. Ask what they think about your prospective seller.
□ Assess Customer Feedback. Before you buy on the internet, make sure the seller has received ample customer reviews and high ratings. Google Shopping evaluates sellers on a five-star scale. Similar ratings appear on eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and eOpinions.com. Before you buy from an unfamiliar physical store, check out the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org). If the ratings are low, choose another seller even if—gasp!—it charges more. That’s better than suffering massive heartburn later.
□ Consider the Seller’s Time in Business. The longer a merchant has been around, the more likely it treats customers well.
□ 5.5.2 Review the Seller’s Policies
Perform this due diligence if the prospective seller is new to you.
□ Look for Extended Warranties. Some sellers and credit card companies extend warranties for FREE.
□ Seek Out Price Matching Before the Sale. Suppose you have a favorite store, but one of its competitors offers the item you want for less. If your preferred store matches prices, present proof of the competitor’s offer and ask for the same deal. Bonus: if your favored vendor matches the price, you don’t need to run the less familiar competitor through a background check.
□ Seek Out Price Matching After the Sale. Find out whether your prospect honors price drops that occur within a stated time after purchase. Some credit cards offer this as well.
□ Find Out Policies on Back Orders. If the product has sold out, you might be able to get a rain check.
□ Consider Credit Card Surcharges. Retailers in 40 states now have the legal right to pass along card processing fees to customers. Favor sellers that don’t impose these surcharges.
□ Know Policies for Returns/Exchanges. Here’s what to look for:
- Permissible Returns. Some sellers bar all returns and others bar them on certain products only: DVDs, CDs, etc.
- Deadlines. Some sellers disallow returns after a stated period of time.
- Requirements for original receipts and packaging. Rules may vary depending upon the particular product involved.
- Nature of refunds. Will the seller return your money (preferred), issue a store credit (okay), or limit you to an exchange for the same item (least preferable)?
- Fees. Most online stores charge for return shipping. Some physical stores impose restock fees or other bogus charges.
□ 5.5.3 Research Product Support and Customer Service
Consider whether the seller or manufacturer supports its products. Too often, no safety net exists post-purchase and if something goes wrong, you’re on your own. Look for toll free numbers and repair centers. For customer service ratings, visit Consumer Reports, JD Power, or the American Customer Satisfaction Index (TheACSI.org).
□ 5.5.4 Once You Pick a Seller, Look for Discounted Gift Cards
Several sites sell unused gift cards to familiar stores for slightly below face value. It’s a good way to save 5-20 percent more. Visit GiftCardGranny.com, CardCash.com, or GiftCardRescue.com.
□ 5.5.5 Once You Pick a Seller, Consider Haggling
Based on prior research (see Chapter 4), you already know that little room exists for a lower price. Still, if you want to squeeze the last nickel from your chosen seller, consider negotiations.
□ Plan Ahead. Decide upfront what price you want to pay. Print out low prices from the internet for later use when dickering.
□ Play Nice. If you’re at a store, don’t speak so loudly that nearby customers are inspired to start their own bargaining sessions. Show respect. Be cheerful, courteous, and kind. Smile.
□ Haggle. There are millions of ways to negotiate. For starters, consider these examples:
- “Will you match your competitor’s price?” It’s show and tell time. Pull out your website printouts.
- “What price applies when this goes on sale?” Followed by “can I have that deal now so I don’t have to drive back later?”
- “What price do loyalty club members get?” More subtle than asking “what’s the best deal you can give me?”
- “I’m seesawing between buying this new or used.” You don’t expect to get the secondhand price, of course, but this moves discussions in your favor.
- “May I please speak to your manager?” If a sales clerk can’t offer the price you want, move up the chain of command. Supervisors usually have greater bargaining authority.
□ Explore “Deal Sweeteners.” If a seller won’t dicker on price, it might on some other term of sale. Make a specific request: FREE accessories, installation, or delivery.
□ There’s No Sale Until You Say So. If you’ve haggled but there’s still no deal, bow out respectfully. Leave a card so the merchant can call you later if it reconsiders. Say thank you.
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STRATEGY NO. 5: PICK A LOW PRICE SELLER
□ 5.5.1 run background checks
[past dealings, friends’ experience, customer feedback, time in business]
□ 5.5.2 review the seller’s policies—
□ extended warranties
□ price matching before and after the sale
□ rain checks and back orders
□ surcharges for credit card purchases
□ 5.5.3 research product support
[repair sites, parts availability, updates]
□ 5.5.5 once I pick a seller, look for discounted gift cards
□ 5.5.6 once I pick a seller, consider haggling
[on prices, deal sweeteners, shipping costs]