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Is it Un-American to Ask for a Discount?

Written by Nickel - 42 Comments

Every once in awhile I get a comment that just make me shake my head. Take, for instance, this one (edited for grammar and clarity) that an anonymous reader left on my article about asking for a discount:

Don’t ask for discounts. It’s just tacky and rude. If you’re known as the “discount” person, you will get worse service because you’re not proftiable. Being cheap ruins the economy. Every “little” discount builds up and forces companies to downsize and in turn raise prices to compensate for discounts. Take a basic economics class and you will easily see how asking for discounts hurt America.

For background, I was in the market for a dehumidifier. I picked one out online, verified that Lowes had it in stock, and headed across town to pick it up. Upon my arrival, I learned that they didn’t actually have it in stock, but they did have the next bigger size. Disappointed, I asked if they’d sell me the bigger (and more expensive) model at a discount to make it right. They agreed, I bought it, and everyone was happy. After all, it’s a free market.

So… What do you think? Is it okay to ask for a discount? Or is it un-American to be careful with your money? Hmmm… Given the negative savings rate in this country, maybe it is un-American. Perhaps by saving money, we’re letting the terrorists win.

What say you?

Published on September 12th, 2008 - 42 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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42 Responses to “Is it Un-American to Ask for a Discount?”

  1. 1
    Jake Stichler Says:

    I say the commenter in question would only be right if a pretty large percentage of Americans constantly asked for discounts. In your dehumidifier debacle, you were absolutely justified in asking for a discount. You didn’t want to spend more than you were planning to when you got there; however, you were confronted with the choice of either spending more than planned and wanted, or going home without a dehumidifier. Asking for and receiving the discount satisfied both your and Lowe’s’ needs: You got your dehumidifier, they got a sale and your money – and I’m sure they still made a profit off of you. On top of that, you’re now a happy customer who will continue to be willing to return to that store and give them more of your money for more products that chances are you won’t be asking for a discount on any time soon. It’s a net gain for all. As such, I don’t think Lowe’s will be downsizing any time soon on the basis of all those little discounts that in the grand scheme of things I’m sure they hardly give out (and really don’t hurt them all that much).

    I’ve taken economics and accounting classes in college, and all I learned was exactly the opposite of what the commenter stated – otherwise I don’t think I would have spent so much time trying to figure out all that net-10 mumbo jumbo. Companies give discounts to stay in business, not the other way around.

  2. 2
    Heather Says:

    We are one of the few nations in the world who doesn’t barter (I’m not sure if that’s the word I’m looking for….) when shopping. In fact in some countries store owners would be offended if you didn’t try to work them down on a price. I think it’s crazy that we don’t do this in America.

    We ask for a discount everywhere we go (specifically a military discount) and most people oblige. I’ve never heard people say that we are cheap and Dave Ramsey would be proud!

    Keep up the discount asking!!

  3. 3
    Blaine Moore Says:

    Heheheh…that’s one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

    While yes, it may be “un-American” to ask for a discount, that’s just because most Americans don’t bother trying to haggle.

    As has been commented, everybody came out of this transaction happy. The only unhappy person was a 3rd party who had nothing to do with the transaction other than to live vicariously through it by reading an anonymous blog on the internet.

  4. 4
    Terry Says:

    We are one of the few nations in the world who doesn’t barter (I’m not sure if that’s the word I’m looking for….) when shopping.

    You mean “haggle”.

  5. 5
    Indy Mike Says:

    I think its very sad that someone actually thinks this way.

  6. 6
    Michael Haren Says:

    There is nothing wrong with asking for a discount.

    Like you said: free market. If the retailer can’t afford to do it, they can just say no.

  7. 7
    Twenties Money Says:

    I ask for a discount everywhere, for everything. I’ve asked for discounts from mom and pop shops to large retailers. Every time I go into starbucks I ask for a discount and occasionally I get it.

    You don’t know unless you ask and many companies will not advertise discounts. I’ve often received a military discount by asking, had I not I would have paid full price!

    I also tend to ask for cash discounts, student discounts, and Eric discounts. Usually I get a laugh at the last one and they ask what’s that. I reply “My names Eric, do I get a discount for that.” It’s only worked twice but hey… It worked!

  8. 8
    Lisa Says:

    Um duh! It’s fine to ask for a discount. They can say no afterall.

  9. 9
    Bahama Says:

    Duh…FREE MARKET=Willing buyer+Willing seller. UN-American????

  10. 10
    James@capitalcouplesfinance.com Says:

    Slippery slope arguments are pretty weak, and if everyone began asking for and getting discounts, then companies would just incorporate them into the price. Goodbye discount!

  11. 11
    Zachary Spencer Says:

    I would say the exact opposite. It’s unamerican to not seek the best price for a product or service. If you simply take whatever price someone gives you then you are not working in a supply and demand economy, you are working in a “We control the supply, suck it up!” economy.

    They have it completely backwards.

  12. 12
    gm Says:

    Everyone owes it to themselves to get the best deal. Given the structured natue of retail in the US getting a deal for products may be more difficult than for services (certain transactions like automobiles etc. excluded), but it never hurts to try to get a better price.

    Every penny out of your pocket is a penny in somebody else’s. Keep the money in your pocket.

  13. 13
    CJ Says:

    Agree with the free-market comments. What’s really going on here is that your emailer is the type of person who is too timid to ask for a discount – and he’s a little miffed that you got something he wouldn’t.

    Also, his rationale exhibits a zero-sum thinking regarding the marketplace. That is, if the retailer gives you a discount, then the retailer has to make that back up on a future customer. Of course that’s not how a business works – especially a volume seller like Lowe’s. They just sold another widget, maybe marginally less profitable, but their total profitability goes up because built into that widget’s price are the fixed costs of rents, labor, lights, etc.

    As for James’ comment – that’s exactly the Wal-mart business model – Everyday Low Prices (i.e. no special discounts).

  14. 14
    CLA Says:

    I’m with CJ above – the commenter made a baseless statement as fact which was really about their own emotional discomfort

    I don’t think you EVER need to feel uncomfortable asking for a discount – but in the situation where the store had wasted your time you should ABSOLUTELY have received one regardless of policy to keep the customer from being miffed and not returning . . .

  15. 15
    g Says:

    I agree with many others – the commenter who posted who stated that it was tacky and rude to ask for discounts is simply wrong, and likely a commission/retail person (my guess: car salesperson. . .).

    Asking for discounts is wise. As an example that may be helpful to fellow readers: Always ask for discounts on hospital/doctor bills (even with insurance already paying there share). I saved about $300 for the entire childbirth process billing – I asked for a discount and almost always got 10% without any haggling (I stated that I would pay in-full, immediately, if I got a discount).

    As a side note: how about the tackiness and ‘American-ness’ of retailers asking for inflated prices (car dealers come to mind)?

  16. 16
    LAL Says:

    I always ask and am not upset when they say no. I’ve found however I can usually get a better deal online. And most places won’t match the online price.

    So what’s the point of asking a screen?

  17. 17
    "Mo" Money Says:

    If you don’t ask you won’t get. Most other countries have a bartering system, here in US, we think it is beneath us. But when you ask many time you will get.

  18. 18
    Dylan Says:

    It is not tacky or rude to ask for a discount; however, it may be tacky and rude to keep asking after being told no.

    I sell professional services at an hourly rate in America, and I am occasionally asked by Americans to discount my rate. I actually respect them for asking, even when I say no. It shows they are mindful of value (why pay more if you don’t have to?). But they quickly loose my respect if they keep pushing the matter. I’ve actually only had that happen once and my impression was that they were simply cheep and not mindful of value at all.

  19. 19
    Ben Says:

    It may be un-American, but that doesn’t mean it hurts America. Asking for a discount encourages an efficient ecomony, which helps America.

    Most of the time when I go shopping, now that I have a smart phone, I compare the cost of an item in store with the best price I can find online. If the difference is significant, I’ll show the price online to the manager and ask if he/she can match it, or at least come close. Most of the time they say no, and then I’ll just order it online and the store loses my business. Sometimes it works out though and both the business and I are happy.

  20. 20
    Lee Says:

    I was reading a similar threat on another personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar, just last night. Your timing is creepy! Here’s a link to that discussion:

    http://www.thesimpledollar.com.....ge-to-ask/

  21. 21
    paul Says:

    I am sure he pays full price for his car. The car salesman loves him.

  22. 22
    J. Money Says:

    HAH, what a joke! Bartering is bad a$$ i don’t care who you are.

  23. 23
    mapgirl Says:

    Haggling is a form of negotiation where you find the most efficient price possible for two parties. Because the other option is simply for the transaction not to take place at all, which is *worse* for the economy than the discounted transaction price, i.e. you can count the sale on the books when it happens at a discounted price, not when it hypothetically *might* occur because it’s for sale at fixed price.

    It’s not tacky, nor rude to ask for a discount. It’s finding a price the market will bear, which is capitalism at its best. Use the market-mechanism and keep on asking for discounts. (I find the only time it’s tacky is when it’s already at an obvious discount. However, it is never rude.)

  24. 24
    jaden Says:

    I can imagine the only real negative would be if one were aggressive/rude/disrespectful when asking for a discount. Also, not all sales people are comfortable with the question, so again treading lightly and respectfully-as you did- will go a long ways, particularly if you’re a repeat customer.
    Haggling is common in other countries, but it can get pretty ugly and unless you’re thick skinned, you can end up sc****d.
    BTW, like the “Eric discount”! Gonna try that one ;-)

  25. 25
    WOLFE Says:

    I know this is not exactly on topic, but asking for a discount is like asking for free money. I just recently opened up a checking account for my teenage daughter. While the bank employee was completing the paperwork I saw a flyer on the desk called “refer a friend”. I asked about it, and I was awarded $50 for “referring” my daughter…and she also received $50 for opening the account. I gave her my $50. So, because I asked for it, she received $100.. which is more than she’ll receive in interest.. THE ENTIRE YEAR (if not the next few years).

    Always ask…

    Anyone want to earn $50? LOL

  26. 26
    Todd A Says:

    Whether we like it, or not, we are participating in a global economy. Jobs like mine go to India every day, and if it represents value for companies, I have a hard time faulting it. I would rather buy a Honda or Toyota than a “domestic” car, even though my Toyota was probably built in the U.S.. As a society, we have to accept responsibility for penny-pinching ways. And, then we have to use the ingenuity we have shown in the past, and become the most competitive provider of goods and services. If we can’t do that, then, financially, probably not very many of us are going to be satisfied with our resulting economy.

  27. 27
    Ryan Says:

    Unless you had a knife to the Lowe’s sales rep’s throat… I say, no harm no foul.

    Last I checked, we are still running a free market… unless the terrorists got to us overnight.

  28. 28
    LadyBug Says:

    I think it’s a little over the top to proclaim discounts “un-American” and “tacky.” *sarcasm ahead*

    Does this include coupons that the retailer sends me? Is it any less “tacky” to hand over a poorly cut, torn & mangled piece of paper that came in the mail practically begging me to ask them for a discount? If you ask me, what’s really ruining the economy are all those endless flyers that come in the mail – it drives up the gas prices to have the postal employees driving to every single house bringing coupons that are tacky & un-American to use.

    You know, there’s a marketing tactic whereby retailers sell certain items below their cost in order to entice people to buy that item, with the hope that they’ll buy something else. Perhaps someone should abolish that practice because that company could go out of business that way.
    *end of sarcasm*

    I myself run a small business and will give a 10% discount automatically to almost anyone who asks. Do I advertise this? No, because that’s not the pricing structure or profit margin I’ve set; if it were, my prices would be 10% lower to begin with. But I don’t mind giving a discount if someone bothers to ask, and that makes them feel good for getting a better deal & they’re more likely to buy from me again.

    The fact is – most people don’t ask, and that’s what I & other retailers count on, which is why it is still a very active part of our retail pricing structure.

    What I learned in my econ 101 class is that prices are set at whatever the market will bear, and left to its own devices, the market will find its own equilibrium. And that includes a retailer choosing to sell an item at a lower price if that’s what is indicated by demand. If he goes out of business doing so, then frankly he needed to do a better job managing his business affairs.

  29. 29
    CK Says:

    Asking for a discount is ok. I work in retail and if people ask for a discount I quickly evaluate the situation and say yes or no. No harm, no foul on either party no matter the outcome.

    Now there is a difference between asking for a discount and just being a cheap jackass.

  30. 30
    BW Says:

    On the contrary, asking for a discount is the real American way!
    Since it would be good for the USA’s savings rate to increase, most things that promote savings are good.

  31. 31
    Matt Says:

    People in north america (US and Canada) are affraid to barter and there is nothing unamerican with getting the best price possible. The markup on most products available in the stores is enormous so if the company selling the product isn’t able to turn a profit then they’re doing something wrong.

    Not to mention in this case Lowes is the company that is the middle man – they’ve got their own markup on the product. By selling you the better product at a discount they’re still making money on the sale and helping to move product keeping cash flow and revenue up. If you want to continue being silly then you can say not asking for the discount would have been the more unamerican thing to do in that situation because without it there would have been NO sale and thus NO profit for any company involved in the manufacture and eventual sale of the product. Imagine all the jobs impacted… :)

  32. 32
    Kitty Says:

    Un-American? Hardly. I don’t mind paying full freight for somethings, but I appreciate discounts where I find them. I live on the Gulf Coast and I just returned home from yet another mandatory evacuation. When making my reservations at a hotel in Memphis (400 miles from my home), I asked for the AAA discount on the three rooms I was booking. The night manager with whom I spoke asked me if I had anyone in my party over 65. I did, my parents, and she insisted on booking all three of my rooms with the seniors’ discount, even though each room would be paid for separately. The seniors’ discount was a significant savings, about $12 a night, over the $105/night AAA rate, which itself was about $10 lower than the standard rate. Total savings for us all for five nights: $330. Not an insignificant sum. And on top of that, their staff was stellar. Am I glad I asked for any discount? Heck, yes! Am I grateful for getting an even BETTER discount? You bet! And I’ll be recommending the Marriott chain to anyone who cares to listen, and probably a few who don’t. They definitely have my business from now on. From their perspective, probably worth every penny and more of that $330.

  33. 33
    Kate Says:

    I always ask for discounts when I’m doing anything. Heck, I get mad at myself if I forget to ask! As the previous commenters have said, it is great PR for companies to make their customers happy. If 10% off of a 200% marked up item makes a happy customer, then the retailers are smart to do it!

  34. 34
    deepali Says:

    Tacky! Since when does buying a dehumidifier require being mindful of social graces?

  35. 35
    David Says:

    You are such a communist, Nickel. You want the terrorists and socialists to win, don’t you!! ;-)

    Of course ask for a discount in situations like this; to not would be stupid.

  36. 36
    Shmuley Says:

    If I get a discount on an item, that means I have more beer money. What’s more American than buying beer with discount savings?

  37. 37
    RetiredAt47 Says:

    I have an undergraduate degree in Economics and I can’t figure out what the commenter is talking about. After all, in a free market, the seller always has the right to say “no”. Unless things have really changed, Supply and Demand still dictate price.

  38. 38
    Clair Schwan Says:

    Everyone has an “asking price” so why not do a little “asking” yourself? When a sale is made, it is always a good deal, whether at the asking price or at a reduced price. For that matter, it’s a good deal at a higher price as well, as long as both parties agree.

    If it wasn’t a good deal for both parties, then the deal would not be consumated.

    Clair

  39. 39
    Matt Says:

    As a retail manager, I will tell you that every single one of the entitlement attitudes that involve asking for a discount are completely unsolicited.

    No one owes you anything. How would you like it if I charged you more arbitrarily? If you think about it, asking for a discount is extremely rude, it implies cheapness. If you can’t afford a product or service that has VALUE for a fair price then you should save your money and wait until a better deal comes along.

    It makes it especially uncomfortable if someone tried to “Haggle” with me and I refuse (company policy, etc) and they keep asking because they assume that I am being dishonest. If you’d like a discount instead of showing a sense of entitlement and arrogance, try being a good person and good things will come your way.

    That’s how I dole out my discounts.

  40. 40
    Jake Stichler Says:

    Matt,

    While I understand where you’re coming from, who says what you’re charging is a fair price? Like you said, you could just jack the price up arbitrarily, right?

    Back when I was a retail manager myself, I didn’t dole out discounts to people who gave me the impression that they were asking for discounts on damn near everything either, but considering this was in an amusement park, I was more lenient in giving out discounts to people for the sake of making the sale. We’re a small company, our prices do seem unreasonable to most (ourselves included, but hey, we get a 60% employee discount – that alone should tell you quite a bit), but it certainly does help to explain to potential customers why our prices are what they are – the fact that we’re a small company separate from the park, we use very, very expensive equipment to make our merchandise (even if the end product is only 50c worth of materials), and the park takes a considerable amount of our sales for themselves. This explanation alone is usually enough to convince them. If not, I’ll see what I can do, maybe make a useless phone call for a really hard case, but in the end it’s always better for us to make a sale at 35% off (our steepest built-in discount) than no sale at all.

  41. 41
    Kentin Says:

    The free-market is in its truest and most efficient form when haggling is taking place. The seller knows his bottom dollar and the buyer knows his or her top dollar. Believe me, no one in a healthy haggling scenario is getting ripped off — the seller typically just has to give up a bit of his profit margin (again, this is voluntary — either party can walk away and choose not to deal).

    One of the best things I’ve been consistently able to haggle over is the price of new shoes. Go to the shoe stores at the end of the month and ease into the conversation with the salesperson by saying “gee, I really like this pair, but I just can’t spend over $X.” In my experience, the salesperson will be the first to suggest adjusting the price.

  42. 42
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