A front-page article in Monday's New York Times detailed how consumers are increasingly engaging in haggling, and store associates are being trained to react to the practice.
Alison Kenny Paul, vice chairman and U.S. retail and distribution leader with Deloitte, told the newspaper that department or floor managers are primarily being given the authority to make deals, but other associates are being coached to "recognize when a consumer needs to negotiate," and "spot the consumer" getting ready to walk out the door.
The haggling comes as smartphones are giving shoppers greater price transparency and many big-box retailers have rolled out price-matching policies in response to showrooming. Target, Best Buy, Staples and Toys "R" Us now match Amazon's prices, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
But the Times article noted that other stores are quietly allowing price-matching, including Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. A spokeswoman for Nordstrom said in a statement, "For as long as we've been in business we've been committed to offering our customers the best possible prices, including meeting competitor pricing on similar items."
DealScience, a new website that collects, compares and ranks online deals, found that some stores let managers take the extra step of offering 10 percent below a competitor's price.
Beyond price discounts, extended warranties, free delivery, free installation and other add-ons are being offered.
In a RetailWire poll taken in mid-November, only 21 percent of respondents felt retail associates should have greater flexibility in changing pricing terms or offering perks to close sales.
It's not known how many shoppers haggle. Speaking to the Star Tribune, Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD, estimated that only about 5 percent of consumers take advantage of price matching.
Of the more than 70 responses to the Times article, the majority frowned on the practice of haggling and price-matching in many cases because of the hassle involved as well as the feeling they're getting continually deceived without fixed prices. Some, including a few independent store owners, felt more widespread haggling would be extremely detrimental to smaller stores that can't absorb smaller margins.
But the Times article quoted several early-adopter hagglers that now claim to continually benefit by no longer making any purchases without at least asking for a better price.
Bargaining "is not adversarial," asserted Marilyn Santiesteban of Newton, MA. "We would both like it if I would walk out of this store having purchased an item."
What's the likelihood that haggling will become fairly common across retail over the next three to five years?