Never pay retail again

As Americans aim to curtail their spending, more retailers are cutting deals to reel in customers.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Big-box stores like Circuit City typically have price matching policies, and will beat a competitor's price if you ask.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Times are tough. The economy is weakening, consumer confidence is at a low and Americans are struggling just to buy basics like gas and groceries. So when it comes to getting goods that fall beyond the bare necessities, shoppers are getting smarter.

Not only has scouring the Web for the best possible price become standard protocol before buying a big-ticket item, but more consumers are employing creative strategies for scoring hot deals on everything from stereos to sweat pants.

Comparison shopping, haggling and swapping discount codes are all becoming mainstream marks of savvy shoppers. And retailers are playing along.

Coupon craze

Swapping online coupons or discount codes is one quick way to score a reduced price. Often simply applying the right coupon or promotion code during the online payment process can mean a savings of 10% to 30% or at least free shipping.

"People are feeling a bit of squeeze and are looking for ways to save money without cutting back their spending," said Barry Boone, owner of currentcodes.com and naughtycodes.com.

Web sites like currentcodes.com list discount codes for a number of online retailers from Amazon to Zappos. If you find a code to an online store you're shopping at, just copy it and paste it into the "promotional code" box in the checkout area of the retailer's Web site.

Printable coupons, which can be used in stores, are also readily found online at various Web sites and blogs like printable-coupons.blogspot.com and wow-coupons.com.

And sellers are taking note, offering more coupons more often as the coupon sharing sites surge in popularity.

According to a recent survey conducted by retailmenot.com, 63% of respondents said they would not make a purchase if there was no deal attached. The coupon site expects 4 million visitors in May, up 260% from a year ago, according to co-founder Bevan Clark.

Clark says the savings shouldn't end there. He urges online shoppers to check a comparison service likepricegrabber before making a purchase, and then go to a coupon sharing site "to really stack on the savings," and lastly, watch for any future price drops with a price protection service like priceprotectr.com. Many retailers will refund the difference if the price of a product is reduced within two weeks after the purchase is made.

That's what he calls a "Triad of Shopping Awesomeness."

Hidden discounts

Awesome deals can be found inside brick-and-mortar stores as well. Whether it is expressly stated or for those in the know, boutiques and big box stores alike are often willing to price match or offer a discount to reel in those that are ready to buy.

Circuit City and Sears not only have price matching policies, but they will undercut a lower advertised price by taking off an extra 10% of the difference. Plus, if customers catch a lower advertised price from another local store within 30 days of the purchase, the chains will refund 100% of the difference.

Even luxury retailers are willing to do what it takes to compete. A sales manager at Montmartre, a high-end clothier in New York City, said that even though it's not written in the store policy, they will match lower prices from other retailers on request and also give a 10% discount to their "VIP" customers, which include those that shop at the store regularly or have reached a certain spending threshold. Not a bad deal for a $400 dress or pair of $190 designer jeans.

In light of the current economic conditions, the store recently added more clients to the VIP list, the manager said, hoping to boost sales.

Haggling

Even outright haggling - once restricted to flea markets and car dealerships - has become acceptable in the mass retail marketplace.

Most store policies on bargaining are informal, but shoppers with the nerve to ask about flexible pricing may just save some serious cash.

A good place to start is to ask to speak with a manager. Often a sales associate will defer to the store manager, who has more leeway to cut deals. Open the discussion by asking if the listed price is the best possible deal.

Electronics retailer P.C. Richards is willing to negotiate on everything from air conditioners to HDTVs. With a little prodding, a sales manager agreed to take 10% off the retail price of a Garmin Nuvi 200W GPS System, which comes to about $30.

Slightly imperfect merchandise

There is more flexibility to haggle on products that have been on display and show some wear, such as shoes or sports equipment. A garment displayed on a mannequin or an item in a store window might come with a discount if it's missing original labels or packaging.

Electronics sold "out of the box" are also a source of great bargains, and usually have little more wear than a few fingerprints. Though they are generally missing instructions, these can often be easily downloaded online.

A manager at Best Buy said he would knock 10% off the price of a product if the box had been opened - even if it was in perfect working order.

At PC Richards, a manager slashed the price of the display model on a navigational system by 50% - not bad by bargain hunting standards.

Are you buried under a pile of debt and need help getting out? Did you recently manage to pull yourself out of debt and want to share your story? Tell us about your experience with debt and how the current credit crisis is affecting you. Send us your photos and videos, or email us to share your story.  To top of page

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