Last weekend, after browsing through a live auction preview, I sat cross-checking my notes against my online research service. As my research progressed, I made notes for each item that I was interested in: high selling price, low selling price, how many were offered on eBay, how many of those sold. The item’s sell-through (number sold divided by the number listed) would tell me what my chances were of selling an item quickly.
I hate to have money sitting in inventory. I’d rather sell an item quickly and make a little money than sit on it for months hoping it will sell for big bucks. I can only leverage an inventory investment if I sell it; having it sit on a shelf doesn’t make me a dime. So, I check my research service before I buy anything. I know before the bidding starts how much I should bid, how I should price an item and about how long it will take to sell it.
The gentleman sitting behind me was curious. “What’s that you’re doing there?” he asked.
“I’m deciding how much I should bid for the lots I’m interested in,” I replied. “Do you ever look items up online?”
“Nope! I know what my customers will buy and how much they are willing to pay. It’s all right here,” he said, tapping a finger to his head.
“Good for you.” I smiled and went back to work.
Some dealers have an instinct for what to buy, how much to pay and how to price their merchandise. I wish I did, but I don’t. I tend to buy what appeals to me personally, and then pay based on an item’s value to me. So, I use my online research service to counter my natural tendency to overpay for the wrong merchandise (after all, an elbow in the ribs from my wife is not always available).
“Wrong merchandise” (for me) is merchandise that will take too long to sell. I want to know what the demand is for an item before I buy it. Many dealers have a knack for knowing what will sell in their shops, and consequently, they will also know about how much they should pay and how they should price. What dealers can’t know – and only an online research service can provide – is what the supply of a particular item is on a given day, and how many of them are selling. An online research database can provide supply and demand information and help me make buying decisions. Buyers won’t buy my item if there are 100 or more of the same thing on eBay, and 87 of them are cheaper than mine.
Our competition is all over the country, not just in our communities. Dealers have to know what’s online and how much items are selling for; because they can be sure that their customers know.
There are a dozen or so sources that I use for research and, frankly, some are more useful than others. When I’m at my desk researching an appraisal, I find that a Google image search helps me identify my item quickly. Once I know what others are calling my item (names vary regionally), then I have a keyword base to begin serious research. The “gold standard” for my appraisals is WorthPoint, but I also subscribe to Kovels and about a half-dozen retail antique sales sites.
Of course, the problem with most online databases is that they provide “selling price only” results; they don’t provide a snapshot of supply and demand. Such information works well for appraisals, but for resale purposes, supply and demand information is essential. There are a few databases that will provide both pricing, supply and demand information. They are:
• Terapeak (terapeak.com): Terapeak provides results for Amazon and eBay worldwide. Subscription prices vary accordingly. I subscribe to eBay USA results only ($29.99/month), because I have a free app for Amazon price check. Also, Terapeak has the only reliable Android app for mobile research, and I own an Android tablet. Terapeak will “slice and dice” the eBay data feed to give me an item’s high price, low price, average price, number of similar items for sale and an item’s sell-through. Key listing metrics for eBay sellers are also provided, like day-of-the-week, time-of-day, keywords, starting price, categories and more.
• HammerTap (hammertap.com): HammerTap provides many of the same metrics that Terapeak does, at a subscription fee of $19.95/month. I mention HammerTap because I know dealers who successfully use it. I’ve never had much luck with it, though; using the same keywords, I sometimes get results on Terapeak where no results displayed on HammerTap.
• Price Miner (www.priceminer.com/login/home.jsp): Like Terapeak, Price Miner provides pricing plus supply, demand and other data metrics (http://bit.ly/SLdMqU). At $9.95/month, it would seem to be a better value than both Terapeak and HammerTap (all provide essentially the same metrics). Price Miner claims to have an app for Android OS smartphones, but they must be hiding it somewhere (or I’m too confused to find it).
• Price It! Antiques and Collectibles (www.gale.cengage.com/PriceIt/): Price It! Antiques and Collectibles is a product of Gale Cengage Learning. It appears to be a re-packaging the Price Miner product that is sold to institutions; mostly libraries. As such, the product is free to anyone with a library card, whose library system subscribes to the Price It! database.
I recently had a conversation with a librarian at the Metropolitan Library System (Oklahoma County, Oklahoma) who confirmed that anyone with a library card can access the database for free. At their particular library, anyone who walks in can be issued a library card and then access the database online. For me, here’s the rub: I live in Virginia, and plane tickets are more costly than my subscription services. The library will, however, allow me (as an out-of-state user) to subscribe to their online databases for a cost of $80/year ($6.67/month).
Check your local library system to see if they subscribe to the Price It! database. A quick Google search displays libraries in many areas of the country where the database is available.
Although Price It! doesn’t have a dedicated mobile app, there is a work-around that library patrons can access. Gale Centage Learning has a mobile app for both Android and iPod titled “Access My Library Public Edition” which allows library card holders to access participating library databases online from anywhere that a carrier signal is available.
Research databases for Antiques and Collectibles are available at prices ranging from $29.95/month to free. Variables include accessibility (desktop or mobile), data sources and the manner in which the data is presented. Curiously, three of the services: WorthPoint, Price Miner and Price It! seem to rely heavily on the same data sources. Does that mean that the same information is provided at three different price points? Half a dozen phone calls failed to provide me with an answer to that question. Perhaps someone at Gale Centage or WorthPoint can log in on the issue.
No matter how good the data is from any given source, you will still have to interpret it. Terapeak, for instance, provides an “average price” for any given search. The wider the search parameters, the more inaccurate the “average price” becomes. If a search retrieves data from the past 90 days, all of a seller’s re-lists for matching items that didn’t sell will be included in the average. When items sold in their first listing are rolled in with 90 days of re-lists, the average price becomes almost worthless as a pricing tool. So, I ignore items that didn’t sell and focus on those that did sell and at what price.
Online research tools help dealers to understand marketplace metrics and how their pricing decisions fit into the overall picture. No matter what a particular service costs, it’s a good investment.
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine