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A&K’s Ten Shopping Commandments

Saturday, 1 January 2011 | Tags: , ,

Having logged many hours at the stores, we've learned a few simple truths. We call them the 10 Shopping Commandments: 10 rules we apply to each and every shopping experience. They help us get what we want, for less, and be more informed about what we buy.

 1: NEGOTIATE!

Not on sale? Asking for a discount anyway doesn’t mean you’re cheap, it means you understand retail competition. And remember: bargaining is a way of life in many cities around the globe. Here are some tips for bargaining made easy:

Don’t ask for a specific amount. Simply say, “Can you give me a better deal?” This leaves room for the retailer to throw in something in lieu of cutting the price. (This is how Kristina got free delivery with her new mattress.)

Give the store a reason to discount. Buying flowers for a dinner party that night? Those slightly past their prime will probably do you just fine and you’ve got a reason for a discount. Dented can of tuna? Ha!

Take a friend. If you find bargaining a bit nerve-wracking at first, take a friend along for moral support. Friends can also pipe in if you’re ever at a loss for words.

Be nice. If the salesperson likes you, she’s more likely to want to give you a discount. (See Commandment #9.)

Be prepared to walk away. Chances are you may be able to nab a better price elsewhere. When a salesman wouldn’t give Anna any discount on a $2,000 computer, she went straight to the manufacturer’s store and got it for $300 less.

It never hurts to ask. You may not succeed at getting a deal every time, but once you start saving money and getting free stuff regularly, it’ll become a habit.

 

2: MAKE A DATE

All merchandise has an end of season, so jot down our version of an almanac on your calendar:

January to March: Activewear and winter clothes. New merchandise tends to arrive around now, so it’s the perfect time to get a good deal on last year’s styles.

May to September: Paint. While some manufacturers put their interior paints and deck stains on sale in time for spring cleaning, the biggest sales and deepest discounts on interior and exterior paints happen on long weekends in the summer; specifically Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.

June and December: Running shoes. Manufacturers are under the gun to come up with new running shoe models every six months.

July and August: Clothing. Like clockwork, clothes start going on sale the first weekend of July, still leaving you lots of summertime left to enjoy them.

Winter: Used vehicles generally show their worst characteristics during the winter months so dealers and private sellers are less hard-nosed when it comes to making a deal.

Not every sale is linked to a particular time of year. Keep a watchful eye on big chain stores, where lots of stock and high turnover mean there will always be sale items available. (Read: Never pay full price for towels or a mattress!)

And finally, know the delivery schedules at your favorite stores – especially big box stores and plant nurseries. You’ll get the most sizes to choose from, the freshest flowers and plants, and the best selection overall. Having the pick of the litter means you can buy knowing you didn’t miss out on something better.

3: KNOW WHAT YOU NEED

Every toaster makes toast. But how many settings you require and are willing to pay for depends on you (do you really need that bagel button?). When matching your requirements to the right product there are a few things to consider:

Brands. Brand names usually do cost more, but big manufacturers often have solid reputations and are more than willing to stand behind their products should something go wrong. Paying for peace of mind can be worth it.

Features. Added features can double or even triple the price. Decide between the features you need, the features you want, and the features you can afford. Take the cell phone for example. After thinking about how she’d really use it, Kristina turned away from the fancy cell phone/PDA with the full color screen and multiple features, and settled on a more basic phone that cost significantly less.

Materials and workmanship. The materials used in manufacturing also play a big role in price point. The Kevlar kayak is optimum for rapids, but will you ever be taking it beyond a placid lake setting? Realistically analyzing what is worth paying for is key. It will help you strike a balance between what you yearn for and what your pocketbook can handle!

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4: DON’T BE A SUCKER

Time and time again, our tests show that some types of products that just aren’t worth paying more for. If you know what to look for on the label, you can get great alternatives at lower prices for many everyday items.

Anti-aging products. Unless you’re buying directly from your dermatologist, the anti-wrinkle cream in the pretty box may not be any more effective than the stuff at the drugstore. And keep in mind that over-the-counter anti-aging products often don’t contain high enough concentrations of the active ingredient, be it vitamin C or retinol.

Cleaning products. Generic or store brand window cleaners, all-purpose cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners all work just as well as brand names. (And vinegar is a great, eco-friendly substitute for both glass cleaner and antibacterial products.)

Makeup. Two huge corporations – Estee Lauder and L’Oreal – own the vast majority of cosmetics lines. For example, Estee Lauder’s lineup includes Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, MAC, Origins, and the chichi La Mer! This means the low-end and the high-end lipsticks may very well come from the same factory. Getting the right shade and texture is the more important consideration and there are great products at both the drugstore and department store. When shopping at the drugstore ask to have packages opened so you can test colors and consistency.

Shampoo and conditioner. The active ingredients are essentially the same for all products. The main difference lies in the concentration of the conditioning ingredients (things like panthenol, collagen, and elastin). Again, you can find good products at both the salon and the drugstore.

5: BE A SMARTYPANTS

When it comes to making really big purchases, put in a little extra time. Remember: Homework = money in your pocket. Follow these simple guidelines to help you know more than the average salesperson.

Start here. This site will provide the top things you should consider when making a particular purchase. (Shameless self-promotion!)

Hit the web. We recommend visiting consumer opinion websites where you can find out how others feel about a certain product. Kristina, for example, never books a hotel without investigating what others thought of it first. Read between the lines, take other people’s biases into account, and you can uncover a few nuggets of truth.

Don’t be shy. Talk to friends and family about what products work for them. And go straight to the experts. Talk to your doctor about health products and repair people about appliances, and ask them which professional organizations to contact for more information. Your local Better Business Bureau also has the goods on reputable businesses in your area.

Phone ahead. Let your fingers do the shopping and do some cost comparisons over the phone or online. Before you start driving all over town, call and make sure they have the product in stock. Think of all the money you’ll save on gas and parking!

 

6: BE NICE

Simple, but it can make or break your success at the store: Be nice to salespeople. We expect them to be courteous, efficient, knowledgeable AND give us a deal. You’re more likely to get what you want if you’re friendly. This also applies to restaurants. Want a place where everybody knows your name? Tip well!

When service is good, we give:

  • 15 % in restaurants
  • 15% for beauty services
  • 10% for food delivery
  • 50 cents to $3 for a cab ride, depending on the distance and whether the driver carried your bags and held the door (although some cab companies automatically charge extra for bags, so don’t make the mistake of paying twice for this)
  • $1 or $2 to the bellhop when he brings up your bags
  • $1 or $2 a night to the maid at the hotel
  • $20 to the concierge if they’ve nabbed theater tickets or a coveted reservation (more if they’ve helped you out over several days)
  • $20 to the paper delivery person at Christmas

As always, read the fine print, especially in restaurants and hotels. Sometimes gratuity is included – especially in foreign countries. And when it comes to room service, gratuity and delivery charges are often added to the already astronomical food prices.

7: KICK THE TIRES

Before you take home any new product, always give it the once over to make sure all the parts are in place, that there’s no damage and that the entire item is in good working order. We also believe in taking items – especially big ticket items – for a test drive.

No one in her right mind would buy a car without taking it out for spin, right? That includes calling in a mechanic to look under the hood and giving the vehicle a very careful examination (and with a used car, it means checking all the panels as slightly mismatched paint is often a sign of repairs after an accident).

We apply this same thinking to other purchases. When shopping for furniture ask if you can take the piece out on loan to see if it fits your space and your tastes, leaving your credit card as collateral. If the retailer won’t make these allowances, take your business elsewhere.

With sporting goods, most stores will allow you to demo a tennis racquet or skis before you purchase. Again, if they won’t, move on. This usually entails paying a small “demo” or rental fee. If you later decide to purchase that product, the demo fee should be deducted from the purchase price.

Get a blister while jogging in those new runners? Take them back. Sporting goods is one area where we find merchants do a good job of standing behind their products.

If we’re not satisfied, we’ll return pretty much anything. We’ve returned jeans that didn’t stretch as much as the salesperson promised; clothing that didn’t wash well; and even beauty products that don’t live up to their promises.

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8: STAY ON YOUR GAME

A salesperson’s job is to sell. When you go to a store for a new snowboard, salespeople will also try to sell you the boots, socks and perhaps some goggles. Up-selling and impulse-buying can happen to the best of us.

We have a little trick that helps us stay on track. Before you go shopping, commit your budget and your requirements to a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. If you’re feeling pressure to overspend or the desire to give in to temptation, pull out that paper as a reminder. Having those numbers stare at you in black and white has a sobering effect. If you are still feeling pressured, experiencing information overload, or simply not sure about a purchase, take a break, have a coffee and clear your head. Time and distance can help you determine if you really want to buy.

Of course, there are times however when it really is in your best interest to walk away, especially if you suspect shady business practices. For example, you see an ad in the paper advertising DVD players for $50 dollars. When you arrive at the store, you’re told they sold out hours ago… but there’s an even better DVD player in stock, for just $25 dollars more. This can be a sign of the old bait and switch whereby enticing ads are used to lure customers into the store to sell them a more expensive item than the one advertised. Advertising goods on sale with no intention of having enough stock is a federal offence.

We also advise walking away from extended warranties. Profit margins on them can soar between 70 and 100%! And sales people will take home about 35 to 50% of it. Only a very small percentage of electronics actually break down before the warranty expires. And repairs can often cost less than the warranty itself. With the notable exception of laptop computers, we say take your chances without one.

9: KEEP YOUR COOL

Nothing ruins a fun-filled day of shopping like bad service. The best way to complain is in person. It’s much harder to ignore a customer who’s staring right at you.

Our second choice is a letter, since it creates a paper trail. And regardless of the outcome, writing can be therapeutic.

Complaining by phone is not our favorite – especially with the advent of voice mail. But many larger companies do have customer complaint lines to hear your gripes. In these cases, we recommend using the service as a starting point.

When making a consumer complaint, here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

Stay Calm. The key to effective complaining is to show respect and communicate effectively. If you can, start your complaint with a compliment. You want to win this person over.

Be clear about what you want. Do you want a refund? A replacement? An apology? The only way to get what you want is to ask for it.

Talk to the right person. Like a manager. If the clerk wants to try to help first, let him. If complaining by letter or email, phone ahead and get the name and title of the manager or head of customer service.

Be prompt. Retailers and service providers are much more likely to respond to your complaint if it’s made immediately (providing you can keep your cool) or within a few days of the incident. A prompt reaction to the alleged service crime shows you are serious about getting the issue resolved. You’re also more likely to remember all the details.

If your efforts to settle a dispute go unheard or if you’re unsatisfied with the response you get, your next step should be your local Better Business Bureau. If the business or service belongs to a professional organization, you can also lodge a complaint through them.

Like negotiating, lodging a complaint is an empowering part of the shopping experience. Remember that retail is an increasingly competitive business. If you don’t get what you want at one establishment, chances are good you’ll get it somewhere else. And regardless of whether your complaint is well-received, the whole exercise of communicating your concerns will leave you feeling empowered.

10: WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHES

Serious shoppers do not hit the stores wearing heels and a mini skirt. For a day of pounding the pavement, you’ll need to wear flat shoes, layers and carry a good size bag for storing your lightweight jacket and your purchases.

Also bring along water and snacks. As with other endurance sports, you need proper sustenance and the right gear if you’re going to go the distance. Perhaps this is an excuse to go shopping for flat shoes and a good shopping bag!

 

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Have you got smart shopping tips? Post your comments below!

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