This article was originally published in Antique Trader
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Readers respond to a letter calling out dealers who brag about lucrative margins but refute claims that all sellers rip off customers when turning a profit. - Editor
There are no excuses for dealer bragging
In response to M. English’s letter (Some antiques dealers need to use more discretion) about dealer discretion, I agree 300 percent with his comment about dealers “bragging.”
As a dealer who did antique shows, and now eBay, I was a visitor at a high-end show where I heard a dealer state, “None of these losers will be spending any money here today.” I was one of the “losers,” and if I had any thoughts of purchasing anything, I certainly wouldn’t after that comment.
I go to church, rummage, estate and yard sales. Yes, I may get a bargain, but because I spend $5 for an item, I have spent money on gas (I get charged “gas surcharge” when they come to clean my gutters!). Things also may need repairs or just simple “freshening,” as with ironing linens and cloth items, plus there’s the cost of space or table, which ranged from $40-$100 years ago when we did them, and we took four spots. And I’m sure it’s more expensive now. Renting a U-Haul and just paying a neighbor’s son to help — expenses add up. I’m not even including lunch, refreshments, etc., for our “helpers.”
So if I charge $20 for a $5 item, it really isn’t much. I’m not even counting time, and someone famous said “time is money.” Plus, we have subscriptions to many antique periodicals (yours is my favorite; one complaint: It’s too short — I wish it was bigger), for both education and current prices, which also cost money, and reading takes time.
eBay has its good and bad sides; it is a wonderful global market, and yes, there are fees and they are “pro-buyer,” but considering what it costs, in both sweat and money, to do shows, as long as you are fair with buyers, it is a great alternative. But it’s not simple. Taking pictures, researching and writing descriptions, wrapping and mailing items, especially antiques, isn’t as easy as it seems.
It is similar to those who buy on eBay; they do not consider “handling” charges, envelopes, bubble wrap, boxes, paper, etc., — all cost money. So when they see it costs $7 postage, and get angry because I charged $8 or $9, I don’t get a “5 star” for shipping costs. And I even go as far as refunding money if it ends up cheaper to send.
All I want to say is that one must consider both sides. But again, I regret not saying something to the insensitive big-mouthed dealer as clever as M. English did. Kudos for that.
I hope dealers read these letters and think twice before making derogatory comments.
Staten Island, N.Y.
Dealers not expected to play Wal-Mart
In response to a Jan. 25 letter to the editor from a Mr. English: I would first like to say Mr. English your comments about dealers ripping you off were uncalled for and the only person you have to blame is yourself. I assume nobody forced you to buy the item or items in question, and unless the dealer was misrepresenting the item being sold, which you made no mention of, how can you say you got ripped off? It’s not about what an item is worth; it is about what someone is willing to pay! This is why prices go up and down.
Secondly, what a person pays is their business, and even if you should know what they paid, it’s not relevant. They are entitled to make a profit (no matter how small or large) and the fact that a dealer uses comparisons to rationalize his pricing is no reason to get mad with that dealer. If you owned that item and wanted it appraised, an appraiser would also use comparisons. If a dealer doesn’t want to negotiate the price, that is his prerogative.
Thirdly, as for the dealer who had beaten you to the buys at the thrift store: He was well within his rights to offer to sell you those items once he checked out. You didn’t state whether he wanted the money before he paid for it. Either way, the result would have been the same. I personally would have been grateful that he even offered to sell me something.
Finally, your comments about dealers not wanting to take something back because the customer found it cheaper elsewhere is the most ludicrous statement of all. We referred to it as buyer’s remorse. Unless the item was misrepresented or damaged, you shouldn’t expect a dealer to take it back unless they have a policy that says they will in the event you find it cheaper.
The antiques and collectibles business is not your local retail store selling brand new like items. Dealers here are selling items with varying degrees of condition and provenance, resulting in the wide range of prices.
Really, it’s people like Mr. English, who lack a true understanding for how things work in the antiques business, that give all dealers a bad name.
Capitalism is what our country is based on. If this system doesn’t work for you, there’s nothing saying you have to stay here. The educated buyer is the best buyer. That is why I read this and several other antiques trade papers on a regular basis.
Douglas M. Singleton
Dealer’s should skip the bragging but turn a profit
I read “Some Dealers Need Discretion” on page 7 of the January edition of your publication with some interest. It seems that a Mr. English of Buffalo, N.Y., is distressed that antique dealers were making profits and bragging about them. Such bragging is in very poor taste and hardly the hallmark of a lady or gentleman. However, making a profit is quite a reasonable thing to do if one is in the antiques or any other sort of business.
I have been a serious collector of all things good since 1949, and an antiques and art dealer since 1962 (with allied professional interests in rare books, stamps, and coins in which I have also specialized). I am also a writer whose pieces have appeared in Linn’s Stamp News, The Numismatist, The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles and many other publications as well. I have also written a number of books. The point I am making is that I have been around in my field of interest for a long time.
Making a $15 profit on a $5 purchase is not an obscene act if all you have are five items of the same kind on which to make that profit; $70 is not a lot of money to make. Most small dealers have limited funds to invest in inventory. They have spent a lot of time learning about their business, as well as considerable energy and sweat equity. Many of these small dealers also have rent to pay on shops or booths, as well as fees for shows and flea markets at which they acquire their assets.
The expenses of a dealer go way beyond the mere cost of merchandise. Not knowing these facts of business life is one of the reasons so many dealers go out of business.
Mr. English also seemed incensed that a dealer in books had sold his friend’s daughter a book for $60, which this book dealer had offered online. It seems that Mr. English sold this woman’s father the same book with its original dust jacket for $6. Mr. English then thought that the dealer had some sort of obligation to accept the return of the book, which had been sold to the daughter of his friend and was furious that the dealer would not do so, merely because Mr. English had chosen to sell his presumed superior copy cheaper to the woman’s father.
Now consider that this dealer in books had gone through some real effort in marketing his book. The online book dealer bought the book, listed the book, sold the book, did paperwork associated with the sale of the book, packaged the book., brought the book to the post office, mailed, and insured the book. Regardless of who actually paid for postage and insurance, the book dealer did the work. Why should he be expected to accept the book back because the father of the purchaser got a better deal? There is no question of ethics involved at all. The book dealer acted in good faith. If the lady in question had bought hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of material from this online book dealer, she might be due some consideration, but the book seller’s investment of time and energy must be considered here.
The last concept I would like to address is that of the time honored “arms length sale” or “arm’s length agreement.” This concept has been enshrined in custom, and usage, and law for a very long time before Blackstone. It simply means, “a willing seller”, a willing buyer and an agreed upon price.” An arms length sale is the very definition of “fair business practice.” I bought my first edition of David Copperfield from a long time antique dealer 40 years ago for $50. He was happy and so was I. Would I have the right to demand that another dealer, who sold em the very same 1848 edition for $300, return my money that I paid him a month before? I don’t think so.
I agree that dealers ought to conduct themselves with discretion when dealing with the public. It would help if they cultivated at least the veneer of good manners and in the words of Mr. Bradley, confined their bragging to small rooms. Who knows. Good manners might even become a good habit. Good manners are after all just considerate behavior extended to our fellow beings with respect for their sensibilities. Mr. Bradley’s paragraph at the end of Mr. English’s observations is pure wisdom.
James C. Johnston
Johnston’s Antiques, Rare Coins & Stamps
eBay tools protect buyers, sellers — if you use them
I always enjoy reading your magazine; thank you for an informative and entertaining periodical. As I read the letters to the editor in the Nov. 23, 2011, edition, the letter from Tony Cejmer prompted me to reply to the letter writer.
I have been an eBay seller since 1998 and also do some buying on eBay, as well. At that time, I used USPS.com to create my shipping labels with delivery confirmation. Buying online gave me a small shipping discount on all priority mail shipping and free delivery confirmation. At that time, delivery confirmation was a whole 85 cents at the post office counter. I calculated my shipping to include delivery confirmation/tracking into the total shipping charge. Buyers were/are not offered it as a shipping option. It is part and parcel of the total shipping cost.
Even before eBay’s attitude toward sellers became less than supportive, I always — and I do mean always — bought delivery confirmation/tracking for every single item I shipped. This protected me against the situation that this seller found himself/herself in.
There will always be buyers who try to get something for nothing by claiming that they did not receive their items. Delivery confirmation/tracking helps close that avenue of buyer cheating.
Now that PayPal is part of the eBay buying setup, it boggles the mind that sellers don’t automatically buy delivery confirmation for all shipping classifications that they possibly can. Delivery confirmation/tracking is free with priority mail and 19 cents for other classifications. The complaint that eBay was unfair to this seller is not a valid complaint; it is whining. I am not an apologist for eBay: Many of eBay’s current policies irritate me more than I can say. I also have felt ill-used by eBay on more than one occasion. However, I still sell on eBay and will continue to do so, as selling on eBay provides us with money to send our grandsons to college and one grandson to a school for children with special needs.
This buyer needs to use the tools that eBay provides for the sellers, read the policy updates and use every available option to make sure that the customers receive their purchases. Those of us who sell on eBay will always have legitimate reasons to complain about eBay and its policies. We will also always have buyers try to cheat sellers. Either accept that fact and continue to sell, or move to a different online selling venue.
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