When it comes to a large crowd gathered in a centralized area hunting for good deals, a few pieces of flea market etiquette may be in order. Secondhand shopping can get a little competitive. Vintage and one-of-a-kind unique finds at bargain prices can certainly bring out the worst in people. So before you hit the road looking for some secondhand swag, keep this helpful guide to flea market etiquette in mind.
1. Let Vendors Unpack
While the early morning hours are the peak buying time for collectors and casual shoppers alike, letting the vendor unload their wares from their vehicle is an important piece of flea market etiquette. You don’t have to wait until the entire load is set and staged for selling, but if a seller is literally still pulling out boxes from the trunk, it’s impolite to just go rooting through their wares. Give the sellers a few minutes to get settled before jumping right into their stuff.
2. A Greeting Goes a Long Way
Flea market shopping is an entirely different setting than the typical retail experience. Flea marketing is more one-on-one, more personal. As both a flea market vendor and a flea market shopper, I’ve found that opening the deal with a bit of friendly dialogue works wonders. When approaching a vendor’s table at the flea market, don’t be afraid to smile and say hello. You are about to browse around their personal belongings, after all.
3. Haggling, Yes. Heckling, No
Haggling for a better deal at the flea market is not only accepted, it’s almost entirely expected. But the deal will likely be in your favor by you practicing polite haggling, as opposed to being a pompous heckler. If a vendor is asking $10 for a coffee table and you’d like to only pay $8, try asking instead of demanding. Politely ask, “Would you consider taking $8 for the table?” It’s possible the vendor will agree. But it’s certainly more acceptable than saying “It’s not worth $10. I’ll give you 8 bucks.” Haggling is a back and forth deal that two people can hopefully agree upon. There’s no reason to be rude.
4. Don’t Mock the Wares
While some decor may be dated and some fashions questionable, avoid vocalizing your distaste in front of the vendor. As a longtime seller at flea markets, I’d dare to say that almost anything can find a good home if it’s sold at the right price. While crushed velvet leisure suits or a seller’s porcelain pig collection might not be your style, leave them in peace for someone else to enjoy. Trash talking the merchandise is upsetting to a vendor, who could be downsizing their clutter or even selling items from a deceased loved one’s estate. Keep the negativity in check.
5. Keep It Neat
If you’re searching through a pile of children’s clothing or a stack of records, common courtesy dictates that you return the unwanted items back to their place. If another flea marketer is looking through the same pile, straightening up is not quite possible. But otherwise, good flea market etiquette means respecting both the vendor and the vendor’s items by not leaving them strewn about. Return the items to their proper place whenever possible.
6. An Item in-Hand is Temporarily off the Market
For items small enough to be grasped by hand, I abide by this simple rule: If someone else is holding it, they’ve got dibs to ask a price or make an offer. Never jump in the negotiation if the would-be buyer has the item in his or her hands. Once the item is put down, it’s yours for the asking. If a vendor and shopper are in-talks regarding a purchase of larger items such as electronics or furniture, you just have to wait your turn. Once the buyer turns to walk away if an agreement is not made, it’s your time to swoop in for the deal!
7. Smaller Bills Are Always Appreciated
If you’re buying a stuffed toy, paperback book or other little trinket, try not to break a $20 for a $1 purchase. Change can be hard to come-by for vendors, especially if every shopper they come across is breaking those big bills for small purchases. While breaking a bill on its own is not necessarily a breach in etiquette, haggling for a better deal followed by flaunting a bill more than 10 times the item’s end cost is always just a bit awkward. Before leaving the house for a trip to the flea market, try to keep between ten and twenty single bills in your pocket. The vendors would certainly appreciate it.
Flea market shopping may require a little more than the usual please and thank you. Maybe it’s because flea markets involve a personal collection of items, or a swell of eager shoppers looking for bargains. Or maybe it’s because buyers get so distracted by all of the nostalgia inspired by the secondhand goods that their manners temporarily disappear. But with these 7 pieces of friendly yet frugal flea marketing advice, you’ll have the flea market savvy to get fantastic finds without being a jerk. Have you ever experienced a rude encounter at the flea market? How did you handle it?