Love Bargains? How to Get the Best Deals at Flea Markets

News Oresund under Creative Commons

I’ve been scrambling around outdoor flea markets since I was a small child. We never bought much, but my father and I would always choose our purchases carefully and look for the best deals.

Those same strategies have extended into adulthood: I own a vintage clothing shop and I buy and sell a lot of items on a regular basis. Ready to learn some of my best tried-and-true tips for making friends and getting the best prices at flea markets?

Some of these tips might seem like common sense, but that common sense goes a long way. Wouldn’t you be more willing to help a customer who is polite, or perhaps even friendly? Step into the seller’s shoes. Let’s go!

1. Be Early, but Not an Early Bird

It’s exciting to get a sneak peak at booths and tables as they are being set up, but early birds — shoppers who want to make purchases before the official market start time — can cause stress for vendors and make them crabby.

Wait until the clock strikes before you start picking through anyone’s merchandise, and you won’t start off on the wrong foot.

2. Come Prepared with Cash

“Get there early and bring cash,” Cari Cucksey of HGTV’s Cash & Cari told the Huffington Post. “Cash is king.”

Many vendors have access to credit-card readers through services like Square, Paypal and Intuit, but most would rather avoid fees by handling your transaction in cash. They may even offer a small discount to those who pay with paper.

3. Put on a Happy Face

When a vendor says hello, don’t be shy or ignore her. Smile, greet her and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“What can you tell me about this piece?” is an important question to have in mind. A savvy vendor may be able to provide a detailed background of a style of work or of a brand’s manufacturing techniques. Learning while you shop is fun, and it might help you have a better idea of how to price it if you’re planning to resell it.

On the other hand, if a vendor doesn’t seem to know much about a type of item that you know well, you might find yourself scoring a fantastic deal. Keep those listening ears on!

4. Be Honest

You may not wear a shirt shouting the name of your eBay shop, but if a vendor asks if you’re a dealer, it’s best to be honest. That vendor with one vintage Cabbage Patch Doll on display might have an entire collection he wants to unload to a reseller like you!

Don’t be afraid to “talk shop” with vendors — it may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

5. Haggle Gently

We expect markets to be filled with bargaining and haggling. But some vendors can be rather attached to their merchandise, especially if they see it as valuable. Approach the situation by asking simply, “Is there any wiggle room on this price?” or, “Is this your best price?”

If the haggling doesn’t go your way, be careful not to respond hastily. “I could get it cheaper online!” or “It’s not worth that much!” will not help you make friends with vendors.

Instead, say something like, “That’s not in my budget,” or “It’s a bit high for me — I’ll have to think about it.” By showing you understand that the vendor needs to make money just as much as you do, you’re more likely eventually negotiate a deal that works for both parties.

6. Bundle in the Afternoon

Vendors don’t want to haul all their merchandise home at the end of the day, so they’ll be more likely to cut good deals in the afternoon.

If a vendor is willing to haggle, make an offer on a bundle of items you’ve had your eye on: perhaps a purse and piece of jewelry, or a small side table that would fit with an armchair. Most vendors will value a customer who offers a fair price to take home several items.

One of my favorite victories was at a flea market in rural Vermont. I planned to buy two handfuls of vintage costume jewelry, but I was also eyeing a 1920s cocktail ring for myself. I told the vendor I was debating making the personal purchase, and he admitted that he didn’t have room to reduce the price on it. But he did offer to give me the rest of the jewelry I had picked out for half the price I was expecting to pay. In this instance, I was able to mix business and pleasure at a cost that worked for me.

Your Turn: Are you a market hound? What are your solid-gold tips and tricks for getting the best deals?