Return of the “Good Guy Discount”

by Eleanor Anderson

Almost a year ago now, Mike referenced the “Good Guy discount,” a phrase taken from a This American Life episode. [One that was rebroadcast, in an updated version, this past Sunday — ed.] The premise is, basically, that you can always ask for a discount. If you say, “Hey, I’m a good guy, you’re a good guy … Can I get the good guy discount?” often enough, retailers will give one to you.

This idea has been kicking around in my head, since I, like many of you, was incredulous one would ask or receive such a thing. But recently, I realized I have received similar discounts, though I didn’t directly get it by saying I was a “good guy.” For one thing, I am female, and I’ve never found a comparable word. For another, going in with that assumption seems so forward.

And yet, I am inclined to make small take with cashiers and sometimes they are inclined to chat with me. Sometimes, this results in a discount.

In reviewing the situations, I notice a pattern:

+ There was a time I took the bus to work and I had $1.75 on my card for a $2 ride. Realizing this, I scrounged through my Mary Poppins esq bag for a quarter, but the driver waived me to my seat. This scenario repeated itself, especially when it wasn’t during rush hour. Occasionally I was waived onto the bus without paying at all.

This seems to be at least part of the reason public transit systems are going broke.
+ I moved to a new city and inexplicably forgot to bring an umbrella with me. One day the sky opened up I resigned myself to buying an umbrella. CVS had a basic black one I took to the register. The cashier spent some time hunting for the price tag, which turned out to have been hidden in the umbrella and its casing. While he was looking for it, I smiled, laughed, and said, “Well, you could just give it to me for free.” He smiled, found the tag, and said, “I can’t give it to you for free but I’ll give you 50% off.” I was totally kidding, but I spent $9.95 on that umbrella which served me valiantly for 9 months.

+ I met some friends at Shake Shack. I gave the cashiers a $10 for my fries, but somehow they were out of five dollar bills to give me change? So while they hollered and looked around for change, I smiled and said, “You could just give me the fries.” They waited for a while and something must have happened — I don’t know what — but I got my fries for free. This was the most confusing of the incidents.

As I consider these experiences, I present this formula for receiving discounts without using the phrase “good guy”:

Problem + humor + time = free/discounted item

My thinking is, the problem presents the opportunity for a suggestion; and the humor is key because you don’t want the retailer to think you are trying to scam them. Waiting time is crucial because it adds uncomfortable pressure to the situation.

I never walk into a store anticipating I’d ask for a discount, but I have become much more aware that many people are amenable to giving you one in the right circumstances.

Do you have any experiences receiving (un)expected discounts?

Ellie A. would love to see some scientific data on discounts with rural/city male/female breakdown. Until then, she’ll take anecdotes.