Yesterday, I bought a $400 laptop bag.
Yes, you read that correctly. [Updated! Here’s the story! Stop staging a revolt in the comments!]
Of course, you didn’t think I paid $400, did you? It’s a good story—and an excellent bag—and I decided that it would be fun to use this purchase as an object lesson.
Okay, fine. I just really, really want to brag about my excellent bargain. You caught me.
But seriously, people often ask me “How did you get that amazing bargain?” and just act all confused when I intone, “Wax on, wax off.” I don’t understand why that doesn’t explain everything. But I will do my best to be more specific in the name of knowledge, this time.
[A brief pause here to say I understand that although I keep sneaking upstairs to lick my new bag and stare deeply into its… ummm… pockets, you may be looking at it and thinking, “Meh.” It’s certainly not everyone’s style, and I get that. Please don’t dismiss this story if you’re not thrilled by the bag. The point is not the bag, the point is how it came home with me.]
Okay. So. I was out today and happened to be right next door to TJ Maxx, so I stopped in because I had a few minutes. I decided to browse purses, because purses are like crack to me. I wandered around the clearance section, feeling various leathers and cringing away from sparkly monstrosities. And then I saw it.
The laptop case looked me in the eye and said, “Mir. Don’t you have a conference to go to in a few weeks? Are you really going to take your computer in that canvas messenger bag you’ve been carrying since college?”
I looked around, because when inanimate objects talk to me, I like to make sure no one is watching.
Anyway, as I said, I was in the clearance section. But… still. I know Tumi bags. I found it unlikely that I would be able to afford this bag, even on clearance. I took the pricetag in my hand, took a deep breath, and looked down.
For a bag with a retail price of $395, $88 is a great bargain, it’s true. But… I wasn’t going to spend $88 on a bag. I just can’t afford it right now (business deduction or not). I turned the bag over in my hands, exploring all the pockets and compartments, feeling how thick the laptop sleeve padding was, wishing that it was just a little bit cheaper, wishing I had just a little more money.
And then I realized—the bag was missing the shoulder strap. Suddenly I knew that maybe this bag could be mine, after all.
[A quick note: While you maybe don’t want to own something that’s missing an essential piece, don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand. With something like this, for example, I know that Tumi has excellent customer service and I could likely get a replacement strap through them.]
I found a manager and asked him if there was, perhaps, a shoulder strap lurking within this bag’s fifteen pockets and I just hadn’t been able to find it. He looked, and admitted that the strap appeared to be missing. I then (oh-so-politely) asked if he could perhaps mark it down a bit more, on account of the missing strap? He took me up to the customer service desk, flipped through some markdown schedule paperwork, and had the girl behind the counter print out a new pricetag.
Now we were talking. I’d been planning to spend about $50; we were in doable territory. However, I was now considering the shoulder strap issue again. For one thing, even if I could get a replacement, I would never get it in time for the very conference for which I wanted the bag. That was one problem. The other potential problem was that I realized this bag had come to TJ Maxx because it’s part of a past-season color scheme. Would I even be able to get the matching strap? Would I have to settle for a different color? Was I willing to take that risk, for $55?
I wasn’t sure. I thanked the manager and the sales associate and told them I wanted to shop some more. Armed with the marked-down bag, I returned to purses. I continued poking around, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was trying to figure out what to do.
And then I saw… the same bag. With a shoulder strap.
I’m not going to lie to you—the first idea that crossed my mind was to simply detach it from the other bag and put it on the one I was carrying. But then I remembered that I find orange prison jumpsuits really unflattering. I turned this second bag over and over, checking it out, and discovered that this bag had only been marked down to $108. Hmmmmmm.
I went back to the customer service desk with both bags.
“Hi!” I said to the girl behind the counter who had just been helping me. “Look, after all of that, I found one that has a strap! And I think I’d rather get one with a strap. But, see, it hasn’t even been marked down to where this other one started. I’m thinking it missed a markdown, maybe?” She looked at the bag and looked at me, then called for the manager to come back up.
While I waited, I considered my options. As much as I liked this bag (and I was falling ever-deeper in love with it every minute I stood there fingering the leather trim), even with the strap, I couldn’t spent $88 in good conscience. I just couldn’t. So if he came up and marked it down to $88, I should still, probably, just buy the one without the shoulder strap and take my chances.
The manager returned, and I apologized for bothering him again, and showed him that I’d found a bag with a strap, and explained that probably I’d really rather have the strap, of course, but this one wasn’t even as low as the other one had started, and so maybe was it supposed to be a bit cheaper? He took both bags and started comparing them and scanning the tags.
I noticed that the corner of the second bag was a little scuffed.
“Oh wow, look at that,” I said, pointing to the affected corner. “It’s pretty scuffed, there. Hmmm. Maybe I’d rather have the other bag. But I’d really like the strap. But the other one seems to be in better condition. Hmmmm.”
The manager followed my pointing finger and considered this. “Well, I could put the strap on the first bag, but then I’d have to mark it up again,” he pointed out. Which was perfectly reasonable, of course.
“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense. I’m just not sure which one I should get now. I sure do wish the strap was on the bag that wasn’t banged up. Though for the lower price I’d overlook it….” I trailed off and tried to look as much like an innocent lamb as possible.
The manager sighed and marked down the second bag to $55. And then I french kissed him in spite of his bad comb-over.
(Okay, there was no kissing. But that comb-over was something to behold, let me tell you.)
And that’s the story of how I got my awesome $395 laptop case for $55.
Now. Was I lucky? Absolutely. Can I guarantee you that similar tactics will work for you? Well, no. I can’t. It’s always a gamble. What I can tell you is that with years of practice in being polite and reasonable with store staff, and knowing that items on clearance—particularly at a store like TJ Maxx, where once items are marked down the goal is just to get rid of them as quickly as possible—are nearly always open to negotiation, I knew there was a decent chance that I could wrangle a deal.
If it hadn’t worked out, I would’ve thanked the manager for his time and moved on. And as it was, I was delighted and thanked him with such genuine joy that I suspect he saw me less as “annoying and pushy” and more as “reasonable and polite.” I feel good because I got a great bargain, and he feels good because he cleared out some merchandise. Everybody wins.
And if I see you at BlogHer next week, be sure to tell me how much you like my bag. It’ll be our little secret what I really paid for it.