Here comes the blushing—and bargaining—bride

BOOK/Wharton prof tells brides-to-be how to avoid paying too much for their wedding day.

If brides-to-be would just treat planning their wedding more like buying a car they could avoid getting taken for a ride. That’s the message of a new book co-written by Shirit Kronzon, a lecturer in the Wharton Communication Program who teaches classes in negotiation. Kronzon, a recent bride herself, says that in the months leading up to her wedding she was struck by how many times she was involved in negotiation. “I felt people could benefit from a crash course,” she says, hence “The Bargaining Bride: How to Have the Wedding of Your Dreams Without Paying the Bills of Your Nightmares” (Career Press, 2006).

People think of weddings as spiritual and romantic, says co-author Andrew Ward, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, “but they’re also about business transactions.” And while you wouldn’t think twice about negotiating for a better price on a car, in the matrimonial arena bargaining can seem less acceptable.

To help readers overcome their natural aversion to bridal bargaining, Kronzon and Ward suggest thinking of it as asking questions rather than negotiating. Almost every element of a wedding—from the gown to the floral arrangements, the invitations to the photography—is fair game, and it’s the rare vendor who will take offence if you ask for a lower price. “If they’re offended, they’re not people you want to be working with anyway,” says Kronzon.

The book is about more than getting a discount, though. Kronzon and Ward aim to help readers avoid getting gouged by pointing out the most common “dirty tricks” practiced in the bridal industry.

These include the classic “bait and switch” where, for example, you fall for your dream wedding dress only to be told that it’s out of stock. The gown you are offered in its place is inevitably either more expensive or of lesser quality. Another common practice, says Kronzon, is “nibbling.” That’s where the vendor comes up with mysterious add-ons right before you seal the deal—such as a proofing price for invitations or a cake-cutting fee. Kronzon herself discovered at the 11th hour that her photographer wanted to charge her extra if he took pictures of groups of people sitting at tables.

Those small extra charges can accummulate, say the authors, who encourage readers to “unpack the costs” and get binding contracts in advance to handle unexpected contingencies, such as the wrong flowers in the centerpieces or delayed delivery of wedding photos.

The pair also cover the ploys vendors use to sway their clients, such as deadline pressure and over-the-top praise by bridal boutique staff. As the price tag climbs, the flattery soars. Kronzon’s advice is to either take along an objective friend to play the devil’s advocate or to step outside and make a cell phone call “or even just pretend to,” to help ground yourself and strengthen your position. That strategy also gives you a moment alone, something that’s hard to come by with the typical salesperson who helps you into your gown, stands in front of the mirror with you and shadows your every move.

In the book, Kronzon recounts some of her own wedding gown ordeals, such as when a store in Pasadena refused to tell her the name of the designer of a gown she liked. If she bought the dress, the salesperson told her, the designer’s name would appear on the receipt. That tactic, she says, is designed to stop brides from shopping around for a better price on a particular gown.

Kronzon and Ward are quick to point out that their book is not about how to have a wedding on the cheap. “There are lots of wedding books out there, but ours is about getting a spectacular wedding for a great price,” says Kronzon. “Lots of books say things like, ‘Get married on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday’ or ‘Have one signature drink instead of an open bar.’ We say, ‘Have the wedding of your dreams without having to compromise.’ It’s not about printing your invitations from the Internet.”

The only wedding item Kronzon doesn’t advice negotiating is the fee for the church or synagogue, “unless you are willing to risk eternal damnation.” Everything else, she insists, is up for grabs. “You’re a one-time customer. They need you.”

Shirit Kronzon and Andrew Ward will hold a book signing on April 26, at 7:30pm at Barnes & Noble, 1805 Walnut St.

Originally published on February 9, 2006