In early January, "This American Life," the weekly public radio show, did a story about “good guys,” which started with a discussion about the mythical “good guy discount.”
The premise was that by simply asking, in a rather awkward way, for a discount at the register, you could get one. The story continues with hosts Ben Calhoun and Ira Glass trying, several times without success, to get this “good guy discount.” They may have failed, but here are five ways to increase the chances you’ll succeed.
Be friendly, polite and nice. When you ask for a discount at the register, you’re asking the cashier to do you a favor. You don’t know if a discount is available and you need his help. Being friendly, polite and nice to the cashier can go a long way. Smile, say hello and ask her about her day as she rings up your purchases. When it comes time to pay, that’s when you ask if there are discounts for which you qualify.
Accept you’ll fail most of the time. Some stores simply don’t offer discounts of any kind. They don’t run promotions, they don’t have coupons and there’s no way for a cashier to ring up a discount. Other stores run promotions all the time. If you’ve heard of Bed Bath & Beyond, you’ve probably seen one of their ubiquitous 20 percent off coupons. They come in nearly every mailer, apply toward almost everything except a few name brands, and never actually expire, despite having an expiration date. If you forget a coupon, the cashier has a book of bar codes he or she can scan to give you the right discounts to help you save. Depending on how nice the cashier is, sometimes she will even scan bar codes reserved for competitons' coupons to give you even more savings. It pays to be nice in life!
Get lots of practice. There is only one way to get comfortable with failure: experience it. Once you’ve felt the sting of failure, it doesn’t hurt as much the next time. And when you do fail, it’s really not a big deal. Most cashiers will say “sorry, we don’t have that,” or something similar. If you think you’ll struggle with this, pretend you’re acting or playing a persona. Pretend you’re testing out different strategies, like the result when you’re friendly versus simply being polite. Let it become a game, and failure stops being as big of a deal.
Try obtaining discounts at smaller shops. In the case of a large store, cashiers don’t usually have the freedom to give you a discount unless it’s already part of the company culture, as is the case with Bed Bath & Beyond. With smaller stores or at farmers markets or smaller venues, you may be speaking with the proprietor, and he has the flexibility to do anything he wants. The store may not advertise a three-for-two discount but it might go for it if you ask. If it’s near the end of the day, the owner might prefer to sell the item at a lower profit margin than not at all.
Take advantage of an affinity group. Are you retired or active military? Are you of a certain age? Military, veterans, student and senior discounts are everywhere, but some stores don’t advertise them. To find out if the store has one, just ask. Are you a member of the National Military Family Association or AARP? Membership organizations often negotiate special discounts for members, and they may have done it at the store you’re in, and those discounts may not be advertised.
If you find
yourself having trouble trying these strategies, just remember that a few
seconds, even if they’re uncomfortable seconds at first, could save you a lot
of money in the long run. It's worth the effort.
Corrected on Feb 11, 2014: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the National Military Family Association.