We do not haggle over prices in my bookstore. Occasionally, if we think it’s appropriate (an especially large purchase of a large stack of books, for example) we’ll *offer* a discount as a nice little surprise. But haggling as store policy? Nope. And don’t believe ’em when they tell you all shopkeepers expect to haggle. Most of us, at least the ones who put reasonable prices on our merchandise to begin with, don’t.
There has been an inexplicable surge of TV shows lately which feature haggling as an almost necessary part of any successful “deal.” The show that I watch most, possibly because I find it most bizarre, is MARKET WARRIORS, presented on PBS of all places. Several “experts” are sent out to buy objects (meeting certain specifications) at a flea market. These objects are then put up for auction while the experts watch and react. We the TV audience see who has made a profit and who hasn’t. The profits, by the way, are few and far between. And this is because, I think, the show has the natural order of things back-asswards. In my experience you go to the auction *first* (auctions are full of dealers where I come from, collectors not so much). Anyway, the stuff bought at auction then eventually makes its appearance as retail merchandise. I don’t mean to say this sequence is written in stone, it’s just what I’ve observed over the years.
But let’s get back to the flea market, where our “experts” trek, searching for bargains. It’s possible to find a bargain at a flea, but bear in mind that the vendors are paying in many cases astounding amounts for their booth spaces, have many other expenses as well, traveling as many do from flea to flea across the country, and are themselves trying to make a profit on merchandise that they probably didn’t get for free.in the first place.
Be these circumstances as they may, most flea marketeers have learned to shrug their shoulders and go along with the haggling, probably feeling that they won’t get any sales at all if they don’t.
So, I’m watching Market Warriors. One of the experts, a young woman with long blonde hair, tight short skirt, and an outlandishly Southern Belle demeanor, approaches each object she’s interested in, flirts with the poor slob whose booth it is, and when he names his price, immediately bats her eyes, acts shocked, and gives him back a figure maybe 20% of his stated price.This is an assault and an insult, and the vendor usually shakes his head, dumbfounded. Then comes “What’s your very best price?” — a question often asked by shopper to vendor. She asks this question a lot, especially after she’s already unnerved the vendor with her opening offer. The vendor, knowing that a) he’s being filmed for a possible appearance on a national TV show; b) he doesn’t want to appear to be a cheapskate, and c) he longs to impress the beautiful young lady, might put in a few half-hearted attempts at negotiation, but in fact his game was lost from the beginning and the young lady gets her object at a rock bottom price, though maybe it’s somewhat more than the 20% she originally offered. Still, a good buy!
Or so she thinks. Because vendors have a passive-aggressive way of fighting back. It’s simple, it works, and it avoids bloodshed. They just over-price everything, leaving a cushion for them to make some money even after the haggling is over, the buyer has apparently triumphed, and the dust has settled. I even believe there’s a bit of class warfare going on here, because the buyers are so obviously upper-middle class and the vendors, well, the vendors work very hard and struggle through some hard times on the flea market circuit. It must be a bit much to take when some yuppie tells you he has only so much money to spend when it’s pretty obvious that to get more all he’d have to do is head for the nearest ATM. (Plus which, the yuppie could easily be lying about how much money he has anyway; this is a well-known ploy.)
And that is why, when you go to a flea, so much seems so expensive. Once in a while you’ll run into a vendor who has priced her wares appropriately and won’t take more than 20% (a standard discount to those buying for resale) off the fixed price. I admire these vendors for their courage and honesty, but I can empathize with those vendors who price their things at twice or three times what the items are actually worth just to prepare themselves for the onslaught of hagglers.
Haggling has become such a mania for some that it’s not even about price any more, it’s just about winning. Even if the vendor is down to offering 70% off his original price, they just have to go for another 50 cents so they can have the last word. Then they reign victorious! Then they are kings and queens of the flea! Or are they?
When our Market Warriors get to the auction, they seem perplexed when their items, so vigorously haggled over, so often barely break even or even lose money. You’d think, as “experts,” that they’d know who else is at the auction – retailers and even some wholesalers who like auctions because they KNOW how much they can pay for something and still make a profit (even though it’s lower than the puffed-up price they’re going to put on it).
This all seems way too complicated and unnecessary to me. It also seems unfair. Still, the desire to haggle is creeping its way even into my retail store. For example, let’s say I price a paperback at $1.75. The book is in great condition, it’s a great book, and it’s a bargain. Why would anyone feel the need to niggle the price down to $1.50? Yet it happens. And if I did give this person his lousy 25 cent discount, how would it be fair to the rest of my customers, who come in again and again, paying the price as fixed and happy to do it?
Thank heavens most of my customers get it. They tell me they like the fact that I price things reasonably, that they don’t have to haggle in order to make the books get down to affordable prices. Haggling is stressful and unworthy of two adult people, both of whom would probably rather be talking about the content of books instead of the prices anyway.
Even I lower prices from time to time when I find I’m running out of shelf space and I’m willing to sell things at a loss just to be rid of them. But that’s another story and another blog post on another day.
Happy reading, everyone!