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Author Topic: Critic At Large, Vol. VI: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times  (Read 3852 times)

klaus

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Critic At Large, Vol. VI: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« on: October 10, 2011, 04:19:04 pm »

We are suffocating in our garbage. We never needed to make a decision about the old sofa, the SCSI hard drives in the basement, the ping pong table with the ragged corners... until now. Nobody needs a reminder that hard economic times are finally here (or are they?)
But even clean, fully-operational non-essentials like mics, bikes, car parts and laptops are barely moving on Craigslist, Gearslutz Classifieds, and other venues.

And those other precious items we thought we would hang on to for another decade must now be hyped on Craigslist in a most alluring, flowery language, like we hadn't used since high school essay days, and priced so low that gloom manifests as soon as we've hit the "send" button.

Now that there is so much at stake turning bulky stuff into negotiable funds, why do we encounter such a high level of incompetence, disorganization, non-caring and rudeness from hoarders who are finally compelled to lighten their load? Sellers who excell in the most counterproductive behavior imaginable trying to unload an item via public venues?


Two cases in point:

Shopping for a used bike for my son.
I find an ad on Craigslist for the brand I want, featuring two blurry, distant, low-res cell camera pix. Then follows not a detailed description of type, features, flaws and extras, but a full paragraph with how little the bike has been used ("ridden only 30 times"), that room is needed for something else, money needed to get to Kansas, and more unhelpful information, punctuated by rude admonitions (“serious buyers only”) and (“will not answer e-mails”.)
Yet no mention of the model name or number. So I call the cell number in the ad. A gruff guy barks into the phone: whalllo!” I state why I called and ask for the bike’s model. “It’s a Novara”. “Yes”, I say calmly, “you mentioned that in your ad. But Novara makes four different 24” kid’s bikes, and I cannot tell from your pictures which model is yours?” “No idea, but it’s in real good shape”. “Well” I say, “could you look at the bike and read me the model name?” What comes back is still not any more helpful than the lousy ad and the lousy temper of the feller, and I start to wonder whether some people might just have a financial death wish: “I’m at work right now.” "Well", I say, "could you call me back when you get home?”  Needless to say, the feller never calls back.

Shopping for a pressure washer.
“Karcher 3000psi pressure washer brand new, used once” says the ad. No model number mentioned (Karcher makes or made half a dozen in that range), no engine brand or model identified, let alone the all-important pump manufacturer and type. No big deal I think, expecting little by now- I've gotten used to doing all the necessary on-line research to get to the information that allows me to make an informed decision.
So I call the number. Even worse cell connection than with the bike feller. At least he knew it had a Honda engine, but has no idea what model the engine, or what pump, let alone what model the Karcher washer. So I ask: “can you just read me the Karcher model number from you invoice?”  Now he gets hostile: “let me ask you a question: do YOU keep all of your receipts?” “Yes” I answer, “especially on expensive items I recently bought, and which are still under warranty”. He hangs up.
Good, I comfort myself, because his response gave me enough information that the thing was probably not quite as new as claimed, or worse, wasn't quite so legally acquired...


It may be a stretch to generalize from the dozen or so recent interactions I had with sellers, but I’ll have a go at it:
In such dire times, you’d assume people bend over backwards to make every possible effort to be extra friendly and informative, especially when no one has any spare money to take chances or extra patience for incompetence or rudeness. You’d assume that the principle - try harder and you’ll get the sale- would be crystal-clear to even the clumsiest of sellers by now.

So, I’m thinking, maybe we have not yet hit true bottom? Maybe the recession is just nipping at the periphery for most, and the few hard cases are dragged out in front of us for good effect by CNN and HuffPost?

I recently, finally, was able to sell a couple of Fairchild compressors on Gearslutz (no, not 670s), after advertising them (bump... bump...) solidly for half a year. It was frustrating to not get any nibbles for most of that time. But I thought I did everything right: attractive price, four nice, sharp close up color shots, ample, honest description, downloaded and printed out a copy of the schematic for the next owner, answered in a friendly way every inquiry, no matter how seemingly inane... And yet, no sale. I kept lowering the price until the units finally found a new home.

When the deal was done, and I had shipped out the compressors I reflected: could I have done anything differently, better? I could not think of any. I went the extra mile and simply had to be patient.

Sometimes not even going the extra mile will necessarily yield a timely sale in this economic climate. But can you think of a better tack than trying hard? I feel I tried hard. And that is about all one can do. The thought left me at peace.
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Klaus Heyne
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Nob Turner

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2011, 01:44:04 am »

Klaus, it works both ways. In particular, my experience of "buyers" on Craigslist has been pretty awful.

I recently agreed to liquidate the recording equipment of a friend who had passed away for his family. People email and ask "is XXX still available?" when the listing clearly states that if it's been sold, it will be removed from the ad. They ask for an address, say they'll come by at a particular time, and don't show. Or an email arrives offering a third of what an item is honestly worth. Another asks, "will you donate these to the kids?" with no indication of which kids, or whether this is for a charitable institution... or perhaps the correspondent is a child.

I eventually found myself getting a little cranky with the whole business, and took a hiatus from the process for awhile. Still, I'd made a commitment to my friend's kids and finally got back to it. I'm near the end, and not only I, but my wife too is looking forward to its completion.

There ARE honest, friendly and competent buyers out there. But they often seem to be in the minority. I know times are tough... but courtesy, as you imply, should be in reasonable supply at all times, as it costs no extra.

maarvold

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2011, 06:41:30 pm »

I don't know if it's directly related or not: it seems like--starting this year--the mode of how we relate to each other has changed.  People often only communicate if there is something they don't like.  Do a good job and the silence is deafening (usually, but not always).  Also, many people I work with don't appear to understand their role in the process of accomplishing something.  Often their actions (or lack of actions) take the wind out of the sails of a project that is doing well and looks promising; at its worst, their actions actually hurt the final product in very real ways.  It seems like much of humanity is confused or, maybe, just sick of the way things are. 
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Michael Aarvold
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klaus

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2011, 01:36:13 pm »

Quote
I don't know if it's directly related or not: it seems like--starting this year--the mode of how we relate to each other has changed.  People often only communicate if there is something they don't like.  Do a good job and the silence is deafening (usually, but not always). 

I am starting to believe that, too, but am unclear how that could really be proven. The perception that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and that others are less and less civil and courteous could also stem from our changing viewpoint and perception: as we get older, we often become less tolerant to bullshit or shortcomings of others, get antsy about wasting time, which of course coincides with the brutal fact that indeed time on earth is finite and the countdown clock is ticking louder.

But there is also something else striking about these casual human encounters and exchanges thse days, which is even more insideous and painful than what I brought up in thsi thread or what you just mentioned: being led down the path of civility, only to find out that I was a trusting fool who was misled:

I called about another pressure washer on Craig'slist yesterday. This time the lady was very friendly, seemed intelligent, on target, and volunteered relevant information ("bought it new in 2010", "used it 70 hours on one job at the Children's Hospital".)

I started to feel even more positive and sympathetic when she told me that four people had flaked out on her and never showed up to look at the machine. Great, I thought, I've finally found a kindred soul whom I can do straight, uncomplicated, trustworthy business with! I mentioned that I'd like to look at the machine as soon as she had found the invoice. She promised to call me back that night, as she had to do some clerical work in her house. And I promised to come over in the morning, with my truck, and pay her the asking price in cash. "Here is my number" I said. "Oh that's not necessary I see it on my phone".

No call that night, and when I called  this morning the familiar "oh, it has been sold".
"Why did you not call me first, to give me a chance"? I inquired. She responded: "I must have somehow erased your number from my phone, and besides, you said you would not be interested if I could not find the receipt, so I thought it would be OK to sell it to our neighbor". Frustrated, I nevertheles said "too bad, and congratuations!"

Then I did a bit more research on the machine, because something did not feel right about this whole interaction, and I soon found out what: The model she was selling was discontinued in 2007. If she bough it new in 2010, as she claimed, she either lied, or bought a recon or overstock or some other value-diminished product.  So in the end, I should not feel too bad (but still feel mad) that I asked for something that would trip up the seller and turned her away from me, towards an easier sale with an easier, less probing buyer.

Is telling the truth really that adverse to making the sale? Doesn't lying get you there faster? Is the desperateness in this lousy economy, combined with the bad example set by rudderless, dishonest political leaders killing honesty and eroding civility in common folk?

But if I don't believe that, I need to remind myself: if I could manage to remain scrupulously straight and honest, I could be very popular!

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Klaus Heyne
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Jim Williams

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2011, 11:17:00 am »

2000 years ago this same problem appeared in olde Rome. They created a phrase for it and it still applies:

"Let the buyer be aware".

It was updated by a certain P.T Barnum 110 years ago: "There's a sucker born every minute".

Later, noted philsophical great Curley Howard updated it:

"At first you don't succeed, keep on sucking until you do suck-ceed".

Modern great thinker Dirty Harry said it best:

"A man's got to know his limitations".
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klaus

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2011, 02:11:35 pm »

These quotes would suggest that nothing ever changes in the human character and its limitations. Not a very hopeful message. Besides, it would also suggest that any observations of a decline in civility are wrong?
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Klaus Heyne
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Jim Williams

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2011, 11:17:58 am »

To that I'll add one more from the noted great thinker Frank Zappa:

"You are what you is".

Homo Erectus has been around for only 200,000 years. Little has changed in us since then. Never say never, never is a long time. Perhaps in another 200,000 years we can clean up our social interactions a bit.

In the meantime, use a carrot on a stick. Reward good behavior.
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maarvold

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Re: Critic At Large: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2011, 12:26:36 am »

...rudderless...

A perfect term for what apparently inspires much of the annoying/destructive behavior I encounter. 

2000 years ago this same problem appeared in olde Rome. They created a phrase for it and it still applies:

"Let the buyer be aware".

I believe the Latin translation (original language) is caveat emptor. 
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Michael Aarvold
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Jim Williams

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Re: Critic At Large, Vol. VI: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2011, 11:51:00 am »

I used the English translation as most don't know Latin very well anymore, except the Catholic church.

I've also found charity to be a solution for getting rid of old stuff. People are usually very nice about that. The money I might get selling is washed out by the generally good feelings in return for giving. Try it some time, that little bit of money will be a faded memory while those feelings of giving last a lifetime.

My wife loves to do garage sales, but I usually don't want to bother, just give that crap away.

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Noah Cole

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Re: Critic At Large, Vol. VI: How (Not) To Sell In Hard Times
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2011, 02:05:12 am »

I've recently had similar experiences on Craigslist. When inquiring about an item I take my time in writing a thorough response and, in one of the most recent cases, received no reply and the item was relisted a few days later. How are you supposed to take this? I thought thoughtfully written inquiry was enough to show that I was a serious buyer.

Can you suppose that with Craiglist in particular it is just too easy to post an item (alluded to by Klaus)? That alone being enough to attract all the lazy, get-by-with-the-least-amount-of-work people? Are these indeed mostly unemployed people, unemployed for this exact reason?

Thanks for the rants, it's stuff that's on my mind too.
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