Bargain Fever: The War Between Shoppers and Sellers

Mark Ellwood


Discounts are no longer the exception, they're the norm. But is that bargain really a bargain?
Paying full price is so passé. A quarter of the population will only open their wallets if something is on sale. Everyone wants a deal, a steal, a hookup with a discount or a way to cut costs. People don't only want a deep discount, they expect it and won't settle for anything less.

They're lucky, then, that almost half of everything sold in America is listed at some kind of promotional price. It's a seismic shift that has made shoppers more savvy than ever, generating phenomena like extreme couponing, flash sales, and Groupon.

So there's never been a better time to be a buyer, right? Perhaps. Sellers have developed their own tricks to protect profit margins amid such markdown mania—ones that include secret sales, shifting prices, and shredding perfectly good clothes.

In this playful, deeply researched book, journalist Mark Ellwood takes a trip into this new landscape. He shows how some people are, quite literally, born to be bargain junkies thanks to a quirk of their DNA, and uncovers the sales-driven sleights of hand that sellers employ to hoodwink unsuspecting buyers.

Ellwood takes us from the floor of upscale department store Bergdorf Goodman to the bustling aisles of a Turkish bazaar, from the outlet Disney world of rural Pennsylvania to a town in Florida that can claim to be couponing's spiritual capital. We meet savvy buyers trying to wring value from every cent—stalking fashion editors' tweets to learn about sample sales or camping out overnight for a cut-price computer.

Ellwood also uncovers the dark side of discounting: how organized crime steals coupons en masse and how certain boutiques limit discounts to VIPs, running secret sticker promotions from which the ordinary shopper is excluded.

Bargain Fever is a manual for thriving in this new era, when deal hunting has gone from being a sign of indigence to one of intelligence. There's never been a better time to be a buyer—at least if you know how the game works.

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