Truth, Dissembling and Lying and the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Truth, Dissembling, Lying and the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Ever since I put my first shiny nickel into my pocket, walked into Woolworth’s and bought my first bag of M&Ms, I have been comfortably ensconced in the predictable world of a fixed-priced economy – an even playing field for consumer goods and services, based on the naïve concept that the price of something should reflect the manufacturing cost plus a profit margin.  I recognized that a few things that fell out of this paradigm.  Most notably the price of cars and large appliances were negotiable, but these opportunities were never aggressively pursued by my father, who was in charge of such large purchases.  My father grew up in family where bargaining, or more pejoratively dickering or haggling, were considered unseemly.  And if you left some money on the table at the car dealership, so be it, that was just one of the privileges of having enough wherewithall in the first place.

I don’t think that my father ever bargained for a car, he would walk in and pay list price.  Dad used to drive these big huge sedans – the kind of gas guzzling cars that don’t exist anymore – and one of them had something wrong with the pressure such that the side window would shatter on hot days when the air conditioning was running full blast.  After the first episode, the car dealer assured him that it was fixed, but a window shattered again.   This time it was on the driver’s side and even worse, my father was driving with a client.  The window exploded with a loud bang and shards of glass flew everywhere.  One stuck into Dad’s neck, producing a trickle of blood that oozed into his shirt collar.  The client yelled out, “My God, Ralph, you’ve been shot!” and it certainly sounded plausible.  Dad simply returned the car and bought a different car at a different dealership.  Even as a young teenager, I realized that my father’s inherited aversion to any type of bargaining was way over the top.  My basic premise was if you’re bloody and think that you’ve been shot, the car dealership should fawn all over you and give you the choice any car on the lot, no questions asked.  There’s bargaining and then there is being taken advantage of.

This incident stuck with me and when I was finally in the position of buying my own car with my own money, I vowed to eagerly jump into the cat and mouse game of negotiation.  A common marketing strategy was the car dealer’s promise to meet or beat any other offer.  This was years before the internet, and verification of any car dealer’s supposedly low offer required traipsing all over the place to get signed competitive bids to present to the dealer.  I think most consumers were pretty lazy, but my husband and I did the due diligence and surprised the local dealer who harrumped when challenged to meet our best offer.

I didn’t make any other big purchases for several years, and by this time the internet had arrived.  This changed everything.  No longer could car dealers exploit the laziness of consumers – comparison shopping was now pathetically easy.  Even better, now we have agents like Orbitz, Expedia or Groupon to do the bargaining for us.  At first, this seemed like the best of both worlds, no long a fixed-price model, but a bargaining model where someone else does the dirty work.  But very quickly I realized that it’s still a cat and mouse game.   In the pre-internet world, pricing may have been based on my initial model of cost plus overhead, but now pricing seems to be exquisitely sensitive to demand – a demand that the seller can carefully track and manipulate using sophisticated internet tools.  Airline tickets are the best example.  Ticket prices fluctuate based on whether the airline company thinks you are a business or personal traveler.  Airfares might go up on Saturdays, because that is when many make reservations, so demand is higher.  One internet site suggests that the best time to make a reservation is on Tuesdays at 2 PM CST, but this recommendation may have a very short shelf life.  If the airlines see  increased activity at 2 PM, they might simply raise the price.  Supposedly airlines can even profile the computer you are using to make the reservation and price accordingly.  Just in case this isn’t an urban legend, my husband makes plane reservations from different computers.  Even Amazon purchases can vary based on the day you order.   And then of course there are various email promotions that offer secret sales that are specifically tailored to your dredged internet data, such as past purchases, size and zip code.

I feel like I am in a disadvantaged limbo – it might still be a fixed-price model for the brick and mortar retail stores, but it’s a wild bargaining environment on the internet and I don’t know the rules.  But if sellers are going to use sneaky internet tricks to manipulate me, then I feel that the gloves are off and it is time to fight back.   The first step is  patience, certainly the basic principle of bargaining – Nick and I have learned to never accept the first offer, and are ready to walk away from a deal.  We recently purchased a new car that came equipped with Sirius, the satellite radio.  The initial charge was close to $200 per year, which we declined.  Over the next 6 months, Sirius came back again and again with progressively lower offers.  We finally accepted an offer of $25 for six months.  I cancelled my People magazine subscription and based on my Sirius experience was eagerly waiting for them to come crawling back to me with progressively better deals.   I had a dissembling strategy all planned out.  I would tell them that I was a physician (true enough, but a pathologist does not see patients) and would display the magazine in my office (also true, except for the little detail that I am the only person in my home office).  But the only offer I got from People was higher than my original subscription.  I guess People doesn’t have the same demand problems as Sirius.

I have come to realize that you can bargain for most things, and sellers are counting on the fact that we still believe we are in a fixed-price system.  Dissembling has been my most successful bargaining technique.  For example, if I find something I want online, I make the order via phone.  When I talk to customer service, I will say something along the lines of, “Wasn’t there a promotion code on my last catalog offering free shipping?  I’ve misplaced the catalog.  Can you check for me?”  About half the time I get the free shipping, which might be the tipping point for the purchase.  When making a hotel reservation you can innocently ask if there is a discount for AAA members, or say that a friend of yours got a different rate.  The hotel will often give you the discount without verifying that you are an AAA member (we’re not), or agree to your fictional friend’s rate.  When I mentioned these strategies to our daughter, she looked at me in horror.  Part of me was pleased that she was such an upright citizen, but I tried to explain that we were operating in a whole new bargaining world where sellers have no qualms about dissembling and are counting on consumer laziness or confusion to avoid divulging the best price.  The key principle to my style of bargaining is that you must develop your own rules about where you sit on the slippery slope of truth, dissembling and lying.

Several years ago we were vacationing at Disney World with the kids, and the plan was to finish the trip with a visit to Nick’s cousin in Tampa.  As I stood in line, I happened to look down at Ned’s head and was horrified to see head lice marching resolutely along his scalp.  We could hardly show up infested with head lice, so we cut Disney World short and went back to the hotel to frantically delouse before check out time.  As a courtesy, we told the dissembling head licehotel that we had head lice.  They mistakenly thought that we meant that we had acquired the head lice at their hotel.  Without hesitation they comped us the room.  There was a brief pause as we pondered the moral dilemma – do we humiliate ourselves by admitting that we were the culprits, at which point the hotel might charge us for the fumigation, or do we accept their kind offer?  After all, there was an outside chance that our head lice were local.   We said nothing.

For our 25th anniversary, we decided to stay at a very fancy hotel in Phoenix, the Phoenician, in part because they advertised a grass tennis court, which we had always wanted to try.  However we were frequently disappointed with the service, particularly dissembling phoeniciangiven the high cost of the room.  Based on our Disney World experience, I decided to keep track of my issues and present them at check out.  For starters, the grass tennis court was closed due to some sort of galloping turf fungus.   We had to pay extra for internet access and parking while the bargain La Quinta across the street offered both for free.  At one meal, our dinnerware was coated with old eggs, but the lemonade incident was my personal triumph.  I had stopped at the golf shop and noticed that the snack bar was offering “fresh-squeezed lemonade.”  At $3.50 a glass, this actually seemed very reasonable, so I ordered one.  The well-meaning cabana boy then reached into the fridge and pulled out a jug of standard issue store-bought lemonade.  When I objected that this wasn’t fresh-squeezed he reassuringly showed me the label.  Unfortunately it proudly stated, “tastes just like fresh-squeezed.”  I pointed out the difference between what the menu said and what the jug said and tried to explain to him that the word “like” made all the difference between dissembling and lying.  You see, I am very careful with my words.

When we checked out, I did a tour de force of dissembling to the desk clerk, distraught over the missed grass court tennis game, the lemonade and other transgressions.  For good measure, I threw in the dirty silver ware.  The desk clerk was only horrified by the silverware and comped us a room on the spot.  To me, this was a minor issue, an innocent mistake easily corrected and certainly not worth a free night.  In fact I thought that the faux lemonade was the most compelling.  While I emerged successful with a comped room, I must say that it did feel a bit unseemly.  The truth is that we should have just stayed at La Quinta.  I was playing this gotcha game too aggressively and turning into a person that I did not want to be.   This is probably just what my father felt so many years ago in his genteel fixed-price world.  If you want to play some games, you have to be comfortable leaving money on the table.

The missing words in the following poem consist of two sets of anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks or dashes  indicates the number of letters.  Scroll down for answers.

A fixed price economy is something that our culture has held ****

With an even playing field and all the rules that are clear.

But prices disappeared into a nebulous – – – – – once the internet arrived

And we have to learn new bargaining skills in order to survive.

With data mining, retailers now have the tools to toy with our psychology

And **** to post one price at 1 PM and totally different one at – – – – –

Don’t despair – – – – –  is a way to fight back and avoid the scams and the gyps,

But be careful because you’re on a treacherous slope that slips.

If you **** this story, you know you need to define your own rules of the game

Define truth, dissembling and lying otherwise you’ll only just feel shame.








Answers:  dear, ether, dare, three, there, read

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