In the world of thrift, the bargain is the name of the game. It doesn't make a difference what it is, if the Thrifter can get if for less than its popular value, less than the original asking price, and less then the maximum they were actually willing to pay for it, they've scored a home run.
Unfortunately, shows like American Pickers have made it hard for the little guys to score as often as they'd like. Everyone selling anything these days seems to be under the impression the common "picker" has the resources of a television network behind them or is even interested in coming close to offering the perceived value of any particular treasure.
But even with this obstacle, here are a few simple tips for both sellers and buyers that can make the bargaining process go more smoothly regardless of your level of involvement. And they will help keep the experience fun as well. Above all else, bargaining and thrifting should be fun.
Tips for Sellers:
1) Don't be offended if someone tries to talk you down on your asking price.
Know what game you're playing when you list something on a selling website or are having a rummage sale. You are catering to people looking for bargains and should expect everyone you deal with to try to get it cheaper than the price you have marked on it. There are few things that can sour a fun day selling or buying like a seller who has a negative attitude toward haggling or who is unwilling to be flexible on what is probably an arbitrary value they've applied to an item.
2) Don't expect to sell your item for its popular value.
The only people willing to pay popular value for something are real estate speculators and fine art investors, so don't think you're going to get that for your grandmother's dish set or uncle's comic books. Basically, the value of any item is set by the buyer and is what they are willing to pay you for it at that given moment. The reason you're selling it is because it no longer holds any value for you or you need the money. Ask a higher initial price than what you're willing to take and haggle down to your needed price. If you don't care what price you sell it for, make the buyer's day by accepting whatever lowball offer they give that will still put an acceptable amount of money in your pocket.
3) Have reasonable sources for the values you are applying to your items.
Saying that it's old, or arguing that it has been in your family a long time, or mentioning what someone is asking for the same item on Ebay means nothing. Things don't warrant value just because they are old, no one really wants to pay for your sentimental attachment, and anyone can ask any amount they want on Ebay. None of those things prove anything regarding value of an item, so don't hold on to that belief. However, printing a recent sold listing and having it available is not necessarily a bad idea. It shows the potential buyer what the item has actually sold for (not necessarily what you can expect to get for it) and will give them some confidence in deciding to make higher offers.
Tips for Buyers:
1) Be polite.
Don't expect everyone to be on the same wavelength as you. A nice way to start a bargaining transaction is to establish if there is even an opportunity to bargain. "Are you willing to come down from your asking prices?" is a good way to break the ice. You'll immediately know if you are dealing with a savvy and motivated seller or if you are in the presence of someone who seems more interested in just opening a retail store in their garage for the day. "Would you accept (fill in the offer amount) for this?" can be used next to form your first offer for any particular item. It is non-threatening and gives the seller a measure of how that and future bargains will go between the two of you.
2) Keep communication open, honest, and light.
People appreciate it when you're up front with them. If you're looking for items to add to your collection, tell them. If you're looking for good deals you can buy and resell on an auction site or at your antique booth, tell them. Many times, the more you tell them, the more they trust you not to take advantage of them, and the more they are willing to deal with you. I've had some people ask me how they would go about doing the same thing themselves. Not only do I tell them; I also tell them what I'd ask for the item I'm trying to buy from them. They appreciate the advice and often bargain with me more generously for the effort. Sometimes, however, they may completely remove the item from the bargaining table in hopes of pursuing my suggested sales path. But even on the rare occasion when that happens, they usually try to go out of their way to give me a substitute bargain as replacement for the one I just sacrificed with my honesty. If not, I've still made a friend, even if for only a couple of minutes.
3) Give reasons for your lower offers.
If you are going to really lowball the asking price, make sure that you have good reasons other than just wanting to get the lowest price possible. Point out issues that may not have been considered in the original pricing. Mention any flaws (always remaining polite), lack of rarity, or any other aspects of the item that might impact its value. Condition is extremely important in the reselling business and remind the seller of that. Know important condition points on different types of items and speak of them openly. Saying a book is in bad condition doesn't have the same bargaining impact as discussing the separated binding, the yellowing pages, and the foxing. Sellers are more likely to deal with you and understand your bargaining process if you can give them better information as to why the item should be let go for the price you're offering to give them.
This is not a comprehensive list of tips by any means, but it is a fair representation of the basics needed to help any bargaining process remain civil, effective and enjoyable. Though many retail thrift stores have adopted the "marked price is the selling price" policy, there are still opportunities out there to incorporate these tips into many of your future thrift treasure hunts.
Try them and see what happens.