Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Price is Right Part I: Tag! You're it!

I've been cogitating some on the concept of pricing and have decided to throw some thoughts up on the blog and see what happens.  Future installments will deal with the science of finding the right price for an item, having the right rand of prices for your booth/establishment, which numbers to use when pricing, and pricing to sell.  Today, however, I want to talk about the mechanics of pricing.

If you're going to sell stuff, you have to have a way to affix something to it that lets a buyer know how much it costs. Sounds simple, right?  For the most part, it is, but it can be a little more complicated than you would think.

Consider that you want to attach something to your item that will:

a. Clearly indicate the price of the item
b. Have enough room for you to write an item description
c. Adhere/attach firmly to the item in order to prevent tag-switching
d. Be easy for the purchaser to remove without damaging the item
e. Make it easy enough for the store cashier to do what they have to do, whether that be remove the tag or enter information into a database, in order to record the sale properly
f. Not cover or obscure any important markings or labels on the item
g. Not make it too difficult to make attractive displays in your booth

That's an awful lot to demand from one price tag!

In the early days of my booth, I generated price labels from a spreadsheet that I used to track items.  It was a speedy way to create labels and also to minimize the number of times I was handling an item, but all the labels were address size, making it hard to use them for extremely small items.

Some stores, especially higher end antique markets, may have standards that your labels have to meet.  Some even require that you use the store's own custom labels, which may be an extra expense for you.  Labels in general will most likely be an extra expense, unless you have a huge stash/hoard of office supplies for some reason.

Even then, there are not all labels will adhere well to non-paper items.  Lots of file folder labels don't, for example.  Other things that don't adhere well include those little colored dots that everyone uses to rank ideas in focus groups and brainstorming meetings.  They're designed to be removable, so they come off easily and don't stick to some materials at all.  Post it notes are not the best idea either, for much the same reasons.

Then there are those labels, like name tags, that are super sticky and leave either residue or remnants on whatever they're stuck to.  On the one hand, they'll prevent theft by tag switch.  On the other, you'll have a frustrated customer who might not shop from you again.  Which is worse?

I'm in the kind of place where I have to really be on guard against the tag-switchers, so I will usually tape my tags on, just to be safe.  There are some things that I cannot do this with, of course, like delicately painted vintage items, but it works okay for me.  I have a case of the tear by hand kind of packing tape that I got at an auction several years ago for dirt cheap.  I'm still going through it, so my extra expense for taping is minimal.  That kind of tape is just sticky enough, without being too sticky, so it works for most things.  Using tape also lets me use some of the less adhesive kind of labels, so I buy labels by the handful at yard sales and the like, so I can get them cheaply.

When it comes to string tags, I will actually tie the string in a knot, rather than slipping it over itself into a loop, just for the extra security.  String tags minimize the risk of damaging the items, but they definitely add an expense to the item.  Buying in bulk minimizes the cost per tag.

I see a lot of newbie vendors using those labels they make for yard sales with the pre-printed price.  The problem with those is that they're easy to remove and they have no room for a description.  That description can make all the difference when it comes to making sure your items go out at the price you want for them.  I try to be as thorough as I can when I describe things for that very reason. A rage that just says "Booth 7742" on it with just a .99 price is too inviting to some people.  It might end up on another, more expensive item of yours, or even on someone else's item.  It's impossible for mall staff to keep up with every item in every vendor's booth, so we have to do our part to minimize theft.

I know I'm making it sound like most vendor malls are just crawling with rip off artists, but it's really like most things in life.  Ninety-five percent of the people you meet and know are good, decent folks just trying to make their way in life.  It's the other 5% you have to watch out for and take all these extra steps for.  Fortunately, I haven't had too much of a problem out of that 5%, in part because I work hard to prevent it.

Another option is writing on the item.  I know plenty of vendors who price things with a big ole black Sharpie.  I mean why not?  It's quick, easy, efficient, hard to switch and doesn't really add to the cost of the item.  It also involves WRITING ON THE ITEM!  I know some of the vintage lovers out there have just fainted, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad idea, as long as you're selective about it.  No paper.  Nothing delicate or antique. No fine wood furniture. But putting .25 and your booth number on the bottom of a coffee mug?  Go for it!

That does raise the issue of removal, but Sharpie isn't as permanent as people think.  A little Windex, a Mr Clean Magic Eraser, or even a little soap and water can usually take care of it.  Of course, those things can also damage certain finishes, but you shouldn't write on those finishes with Sharpies to begin with!

Speaking of writing on stuff, I am astounded at how long it too make to realize that I could lightly write the price in pencil on the inside of a book!  Seriously, it was years before I realized that!  That also works for most ephemera.  At least for me.  If an item is really delicate, I'll bag it before pricing.

So what happens if a tag comes off an item?  Well, most malls won't sell the item, since they don't know whose it is or how much it is.  What happens with it after that may vary from place to place, but should be spelled out in your contract or somewhere else.  In our Peddlers Mall, it goes to a storage room that vendors are encouraged to check as often as they like.  I try to check it at least once or twice a month.  All items placed there are dated, and after thirty days, they become the property of the mall.  Every couple of weeks or so, mall staff clean out items over thirty days old, mark them (usually really cheaply) and put them out for sale, with the money going to the store.  I make it a point to check the booth where they put things frequently, because there are a lot of bargains to be found there.  It can help make up for a weak yard sale weekend.

Again, all of this is spelled out in our contracts and vendors are frequently reminded to check the untagged room for their things.  Surprisingly, many don't.

Of course, it goes without saying that your mileage is going to vary on this topic.  How you price items depends on what you sell and where you sell them.  Your own personal aesthetic plays a part too.  I tend to view pricing as more of a practical thing I have to do to sell stuff, but I know that, for some folks, creating an attractive overall effect is important.  It's all good, if it works for you.

So what about you?  If you're selling in a mall or flea market, what do you use to price your items?  How do you prevent tag-switching and theft?  Any tips or advice to add?  How do you feel about Sharpies?  What does your store do with untagged items?  Share your thoughts, etc in the comments.


Shara said...

At my store, every item has to have a tag with your booth # in the upper left corner, item description and price on it. I have tags that I made on VistaPrint that I cut lengthwise to make two tags out of one card. Punch a hole in it if I need to tie it on with Bakers Twine or tape in on with Scotch tape if that's the best option. Sometimes with glasses, pottery or things of that sort - I just place the price tag inside the item. We don't have a data base, so if you want to get paid for our item, you better have a tag on it. I hate prices on items with a Sharpie at yard sales and thrifts. It always right on the graphics! Argh! If there is an item missing a tag, I will get a picture text of it and then I price it. I write good descriptions on my tags and the checkers always read the description to make sure it matches the actual item. Good post!

Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Good morning EM.

The tag issue is one that is close to my heart. My mall has a 'lost tag' box for items that have no tags and I check it twice a week and sometimes find a piece that is mine. The clerks will phone if they need clarification of an item and to see if I will give a discount.

Tags and sticky labels are right at the top of my list of 'have to stick and contain info that is clear to read'.

I used Avery 13031 tags for anything I can tie a tag on. I use thin hemp string from Michaels and I tie as close to the item as tightly as possible. This size gives me space to write and for some reason my shipping tag items sell faster than the stick on lablse (volume of tags vs stickies). I often cut tags in half and hole punch the cut off for smaller items.

For stickies I use Removable Avery address tags 06504 that I run through the printer (Word/labels) with my booth initials and month code I use (ie ECM 147- x) . These go on china and I use sticky tape as a backup 'hold on'. If I have a large lot I will type the info/price onto each tag

For books I write in pencil (as you discovered) and have for the past 20 years. Erases easily without damaging. For an expensive collector type book I use a paper label loosely tied with hemp string and lock the book in my small showcase.

I have had tag switching, label prices changes, labels changed, stock lifted, stock switiched and my tags put on similar but very worn items etc. as well as outright thefts from 'gangs' who come in and do their distract the staff /etc/stealing.

I keep photos of my stock and at least I can identify big expensive stolen items and I do file a police report of the big stuff but I know nothing can be done about it.

So many great shoppers and then the scum shoplifters who will have karma issues forever.


Chris the Yardsale Queen said...

my thrift store uses some sort of lable - I don't know who makes it, but they write the price on the label and stick it on the piece. Then if someone tries to price switch - the label doesn't come off in one piece - so it would be impossible to price switch.

Judy said...

Great Post, Eddie. While I don't sell in a brick and mortar shop, I can certainly sympathize with the shop lifting and tag switching. One of our thrift shops uses a sticker that will not come off without soap and water. No way to switch. Only problem is they always put it on the bottom of items where you need to read to find out where the item is from.