An Armani skirt for Old Navy prices, farm-fresh produce for a song...three ace shoppers tell how they scored their biggest bargains so you can get lucky, too.
I have a pair of shoes that makes my heart swell with happiness whenever I look at them. It's not just that they're beautifully crafted black leather pumps; it's also the memory of my blissful experience of walking into a gorgeous downtown Calgary store right after they'd been marked down. I can't put them on without thinking, Score!
Shopping luck is great, but like any kind of luck, you can make your own. Chatelaine has rounded up three savvy shoppers who count on knowledge, tenacity and confidence to get the best buys. Whether you're a label maven or a discount diva, the tricks and tips on these pages are sure to hone your hunting and gathering skills.
For Vancouver's Lorelynn Hart, negotiation comes naturally. "It comes from my parents, who are from the Philippines," says Lorelynn, who remembers shopping with her mother as a child and watching her ask for better deals wherever they went. Now, she does the same. For example, when she and her husband bought their first home last year, they found several pieces of furniture they wanted at one shop. "We told them we would buy all of the furniture if there was some type of discount," says Lorelynn. "They agreed to 10 per cent and threw in free delivery. It never hurts to ask."
Lorelynn's negotiating tips:
Make "Don't ask, won't get" your mantra
If you don't make it clear that you'd like a better deal, you won't get one. And if the answer is no, you've lost nothing.
Lorelynn recommends being polite and never demanding a deal. She suggests starting the negotiation with a line such as, "This is beautiful, but the price is too high. Would you consider giving me a discount?" She doesn't name a specific price or percentage because stores can surprise you by offering a bigger discount than you were expecting.
Know your vendor
Not all stores are the same—generally speaking, chains are less willing to bargain. For example, Lorelynn won't ask for a deal if she's buying produce at her local Loblaws, but she won't hesitate if she's in the public market on Vancouver's Granville Island.
Look for flaws
Even at chain retailers, you can get a discount on merchandise that is imperfect. If the floor staff doesn't have the authority to give you a lower price, ask for the manager. (Just be sure that the flaw is small, easily repairable or one you can live with, because you won't be able to return the item.)
Bargain on the big tickets
When shopping for furniture, appliances, cars and houses, you are expected to bargain.
Open your mind
When Lorelynn doesn't get a lower price, she often seeks added value. For instance, a store may offer free delivery or an extra service in lieu of a lower charge. Negotiation is a two-way street, so be open to alternate suggestions.
Pay in cash
When you pay with plastic, the store owner has to forward a fee to the credit-card company. At an independent shop, you're more likely to get a deal when you use the real thing.
The comparison queen
Andrea Roitman, a Toronto prop stylist, knows where to find the best prices. "Clients often ask me for hard-to-find things, so I'm always on the lookout," she says. One of her favourite places? Wal-Mart, which she loves for basic family and household items. "The quality may vary, but you can get the style you'd find from a famous label for next to nothing," she says. "Wear a cheap tee with a good purse and they both look designer."
Andrea's comparison tricks:
Know the neighbourhood
"A hosta is a hosta, whether I buy it at a garden centre uptown or downtown," says Andrea. When she's hunting for an expensive item that's widely available, she shops in less pricey areas.
Do some research
Andrea found identical cappuccino makers at Zellers and the Bay; even though the two stores are owned by the same parent company, you already know which one was cheaper. Similarly, when she falls for something at the Gap, Andrea will check out Old Navy to see if it has anything similar (both stores are owned by the same company).
Expand your shopping horizons
If you usually hit the mall, drop by some independent shops, discount outlets or dollar stores. And if you tend to favour offbeat boutiques, it may be time to drop by the mall. The point is to get a broader perspective so that you know what's available where.
"You can buy a pashmina at Holt Renfrew or you can buy one in Little India," says Andrea, referring to a Toronto neighbourhood filled with Indian shops and great bargains. She also loves to visit Chinatown and has found some of her best deals on imported goods there.
Work the web
Some stores offer discounts for all online shoppers, such as 10 per cent, free shipping or a flat $10 or $25 off. And if you sign up as a registered user, there may be further benefits—many companies give deeper discounts to subscribers (who may also be the first to know about sales). Comparison shopping online is particularly smart for travel deals: if booking a flight, start at www.expedia.ca or www.travelocity.ca, where you can view prices for various airlines and hotels. And when visiting www.aircanada.ca, be sure to sign up for its weekly newsletter, which will alert you to web-only promotions.
Don't scorn second-hand
You can save cash by purchasing gently used merchandise from consignment shops, specialty stores and eBay, which has a Canadian site (www.ebay.ca) with an incredible selection of goods, from vintage china to electronics. According to Arren Williams, Chatelaine's decor editor, it's safe, too: "eBay does get rid of sellers who misrepresent themselves."
The on-sale specialist
Sarah Clark loves to shop, and she particularly likes getting a deal. A regional public relations co-ordinator for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Vancouver, she has the opportunity to travel frequently, and some of her best finds have been made on her trips. "The two Armani skirts I bought for $10 each were definitely a high point," she says.
Sarah on sale serendipity
Scope out the goods
Sarah visits her favourite stores to see their new merchandise, but she won't buy immediately. "Some stores have regular markdowns," she says. "I'll remember to go back and check in on something I saw." Even stores that already offer discount merchandise, such as Winners, will reduce prices as the weeks go by.
Read your local paper
Small newspapers that serve a particular community are a great place to spot ads for big sales.
Rely on your memory
When Sarah attends a warehouse sale, she commits the location to memory. "The sale spots are often used over and over again," she says. Since warehouse sales aren't always widely advertised, Sarah also suggests signing up for the company's mailing list to stay in the loop.
Consider value as well as price
If you're hankering for a special something—a cashmere sweater, say—think about shopping early, rather than late. Stores often run pre-season promotions where new merchandise is temporarily discounted to stimulate sales. Yes, you'll save just 10 or 20 per cent instead of 50 or 75 per cent, but you'll get to enjoy your fabulous investment all season long.
Keep tabs on your choices
Sarah confesses to paying full price for a present for her boyfriend right before Christmas. But when the sweater went on sale less than a week later, she returned to the store and had the difference refunded. Not every store offers these price adjustments, and companies that do often make them available only for a limited time. So, check the policy before opening your wallet, and make sure you save the receipts!
Hit the sales early—or late
If you get to a sale on the first day, you can pick up the delights you have your heart set on. But if you show up on the last day, the merchandise will be marked down even further. Think of it as a win-win.
Buy more than one
Sale items may be end of stock, so if you later realize you want more, you might be out of luck. When you know you love a certain something—a bra that fits your form like a dream, for example—buy multiples.
Beeline for the back
"Most stores have sale stock at the back or sometimes on another floor," says Sarah. It pays to dig a little.
Don't get carried away
Sarah will stock up on everything from toothpaste to Kleenex, but she's practical, thinking twice about the purchases she doesn't really need. "Sure, five chocolate bars for $3 sounds like a deal, but how many chocolate bars do you want to eat?" she says.
When to get it
End-of-season blowouts mean big savings. But in order to beat their competition, some stores offer markdowns and promotions at other times of the year as well. Use this guide so you'll know what to buy when.
End-of-season (and off-season) bargains:
Clothes and shoes You'll save the most from January to February and July to August. Anna Wallner, co-host and executive producer of W Network's The Shopping Bags, tries to avoid hitting the stores until these deeply discounted times. "Stick to fashion magazines in the meantime so you know what's hot," she advises.
Running shoes Pick up a new pair in December or June, Wallner suggests, when stores are making room for next season's styles.
Cars Shop for a new set of wheels in August and September. That's when car manufacturers are revving up to introduce new models.
Real estate House hunt in the winter. According to Chris Johnston, principal and senior consultant of Canadian retail and marketing consulting firm JC Williams Group, most people prefer to move in the summer, so cold weather means less buying competition.
Travel Avoid peak seasons, such as March break, when prices climb. Instead, book off-season, paying special attention to all-inclusive deals to destinations such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic. And if you have the option of taking off at the last minute, shop the week before and you could see your savings double.
High-season (and pre-season) promotions:
Electronics Johnston says that fall and Christmas are the times to search for promotions on everything from CD players to plasma-screen TVs.
Gym memberships and equipment Exercise your saving savvy in January (holiday weight-gain season) and May (bikini preview season).
Furniture, bedding and appliances Retailers promote these goods in January and September, when people retreat into their homes.
Almost everything else Big stores such as Costco put seasonal merchandise on their sales floor earlier than other retailers, says Johnston. Think ahead and luck out on everything from Halloween costumes to high-quality patio furniture to canoes and tents.
Three shopping mistakes even smart people make
"I see so many people running from store to store to store. I wish they knew that you can ask a store to match another's price," says Sandra Phillips, author of Smart Shopping Montreal. She recommends arming yourself with an ad that shows the sale price at another store.
Thinking that price is everything
Shopping at an independent boutique is a very different experience from buying at a larger retailer. "You shouldn't expect the prices you'd see in a huge discount chain," says Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada. Instead, you'll get personalized service and the chance to connect with the owner.
Becoming an outlet addict
Outlet shopping isn't always what it appears to be, says Arren Williams, Chatelaine's decor editor. "Outlets have become such a big business that some companies, such as the Gap and Club Monaco, manufacture pieces just for them." So, although you might think you're getting name-brand quality at an outlet price, what you may be buying is a lower-quality line manufactured just for outlet stores.