Last week, I heard multiple stories about individuals who broke several of the cardinal rules of selling cards, resulting in negotiating poor deals for their cards. This got me thinking about the common mistakes I regularly see people making. Today I'd like to go over some of these common mistakes (which we'll call sins) that traders and sellers make when they sit down at the table.
Sin #1: Letting Them Know You're Desperate
We always want to negotiate from a position of power. Is there anything less powerful than telling the person with whom you are negotiating that you are coming at them from a position of weakness?
"I just found out that my brakes are shot and I need some cash for the repairs. Can you take a look and see if there is anything you guys are paying cash on?"
Fail. Or, even worse:
"I need $350.00 to fix my brakes."
"Oh, wow. What a coincidence. I was going to offer exactly $375.00 for the whole collection." What a coincidence, indeed.
While I certainly empathize that life has a funny way of being obnoxious (and expensive), this is not a good play. The statement might as well read: "I'm desperate and will accept any price, no matter how bad."
On the one hand, you'd hope that a buyer will take pity on you because you're down on luck. Unlikely, as card shops, dealers and online stores are business and will take the opportunity to negotiate from a position of power.
Sin #2: Being Overly Excited
Almost as bad as being desperate is being excited. For example: "I've been looking for a Beta Vesuvan Doppelganger forever! Finally somebody has one in the case! Take whatever you want – I must have it!"
This is another newbie mistake. When you come at a potential deal from the perspective that I must have it at any cost, the trade partner is going to notice and raise their price based on your level of enthusiasm. You can be bristling on the inside about a card that you must have, but keep a cool exterior while negotiating strong prices on your wares as well.
Sin #3: Letting Them Know They Have No Competition
"I have some cards to sell and I want to get it all done in one stop. Make me a good offer and it's yours."
You'd think this would incentivize a buyer at a store or a booth to hook you up, but it won't. In fact, you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot here, because the buyer knows that you are not, have not, and will not be shopping around for a good price.
It isn't quite the same as coming across as overly excited or desperate, but the end result is the same: the buyer gets the impression that you are likely to accept most prices regardless of whether they are good or bad. The key to negotiating good prices is to put the buyer into a position where he/she knows you are unlikely to accept below-average buylist prices on singles.
Sin #4: Getting Beat Up on "Played" Cards
Condition didn't used to be as big of an issue as it is now. Back in the day, there were very few online stores compared to brick and mortar stores. In a world of "buying online," where we do not see the items before purchase, the description matters. If a card says NM and a buyer receives SP, they are apt to be upset.
Many dealers put a substantial penalty on cards for not being NM. It is not uncommon for this exact scenario to play out:
"I can do $6 on Hallowed Fountains."
"I can do $3.50 on the played ones."
They've got a little bit of wear but nothing too noticeable. Is there a more annoying scenario when selling?
The buyer already knows that you want to sell them (because you agreed to the NM price) but then offers you a significantly worse price on cards that are not really that played. The most annoying part is that the deduction is often more than the difference between NM and SP cards on the retail end!
As a rule, I always say "no" in this situation. Once you let the buyer do it once, they are likely to do it again and again and again. You've got to use common sense, though – if your cards are chewed up and noticeably played, it is unrealistic to expect to get NM prices. Be weary of people looking to grind off a few bucks, over and over again, because they are taking value from you.
There was one booth I dealt with a year ago that was advertising really great NM prices and then told me they use the Japanese Grading Scale. Cards that I (and other experienced collectors) couldn't find flaws with were taking a 15- to 20-percent hit because they were not NM enough. Be wary – downgrading cards (that shouldn't be downgraded) to pay less is something that buyers sometimes do to gain an edge – so, don't let them!
Sin #5: Buying into Someone's Fake "Too Nice" Act
Is there anything more annoying than sitting down to a trade with somebody who is so absurdly sugary and fake nice who then gets super spikey and cutthroat with you? I know it's obnoxious, but for some reason it happens all the time: a stranger sits down to buy cards and acts like we are best friends and then offers terrible prices, as if the charm was so strong that I wouldn't notice the buyer is coming in 20 percent under the average buylist price on every card!
Think back to what your teachers and parents taught you when you were five: "Strangers are not your friends." If someone is being way to sugary and sweet, it raises flags for me that something is wrong. Being charismatic and friendly is part of the mark of a good salesman, just be aware that friendliness is part of the job.
Sin #6: Approaching Things Like a Bully
So, you're going to sit down and take charge and tell the buyer what's up? Good luck– it probably won't work out as well as you'd hope. People don't like to be pushed around and told what to do in their own store or booth. Coming on too strong is basically a guarantee that you're about to engage in a battle of wills in a deal that is unlikely to end favorably for you.
Assertive is good, because being a pushover at the buyer table will fetch you lower prices. However, being too strong or aggressive can be just as bad when it comes to getting good prices.
Sin #7: Failure to Project a Calm, Confident, Informed Persona
There are lots of things to avoid doing, but what should one actually do? The key is to project an attitude that shows you know what you are doing and earns the respect of the trade partner.
When I sit down, I try to conduct myself in a manner where the buyer knows I know what my cards are worth and that I will only accept good offers. I'm not desperate. I'm not ranting and raving about how I need that Juzám Djinn. I'm not acting like some fake long lost friend. And, I'm not acting like they suck at their job.
I might say, "I noticed you have solid buylist prices and I have a few things I'm willing to sell. Would you mind taking a look and making offers on stuff where you have above average prices?" It's not a magic trick or cheat code, yet simply carrying oneself with confidence and avoiding obvious pitfalls (the seven deadly sins) goes a long way toward establishing the proper conditions for negotiating favorable deals.
It's not just saying "yes" or "no" to the right offers. When you come to the table with the right attitude, it helps ensure that the buyer or trade partner is more likely to make offers that are better for you. When you make mistakes that lessen your value at the table, it lessens what people will offer for your wares.