35 Tips for Shopping at Street Markets, Flea Market Festivals, Bazaars and more!
We’ve curated 35 great tips from top sources at the Huffington Post. So before you go shopping, make sure you have this as your check list!
Be Prepared – Before You Go!!!
- Google before you go.Occasionally, a flea market will post the list of vendors. If jewelry artists outnumber everything else, cross it off your list. (Unless you want handmade jewelry.)
- Always carry a notebook with ideas, dimensions and inspirational photos. Spencer says, “Finding you style is like putting puzzle pieces together.”
- Use Social Media. Another great resource to use to get information about food vendors, performers and the type of items being sold is to search social media. Large flea markets will have their own sites, but even local fairs will have dedicated Facebook pages or Twitter hash tags. Ridge plans to interview a few dealers and do a Facebook tour of the fair while identifying some of the great finds at the Country Living Fair.
- Doget a map of the flea market if there’s one available. As you shop, mark the booths where you left paid purchases for later pickup — as well as those you’d like to visit again in the day.
- Do figure out the flea market’s layout, assuming it’s not random. At some fleas, the permanent indoor booths have the closeouts and cheap imports. At others, the sellers with the fine antiques are the ones sheltered inside. Some flea markets even assign place vendors according to their merchandise type. Find out, and then start with the good stuff.
- Cash is king. It’s much harder to negotiate for a good price when you paying with a credit card.
- No idea where to start? Spencer suggested first going to high-end antique shops first so when you’re hunting for bargains at the markets you’ll know when you’ve found a deal.
- Learn to haggle.Vendors actually expect to haggle over any given item, Cucksey says. In fact, big dealers tend to price things a bit higher knowing that they may have to come down after haggling, so don’t be intimidated to make a counter offer. “A tip for buyers if they’re not really comfortable with haggling is go to the dealer or vendor and say, ‘What’s your best price here?’ And, as long as you’re polite, dealers will definitely deal with you and give you a little bit of a discount,” she says. A frequent mistake shoppers make is being too agressive during negotiations. Even though a dealer wants to move their merchandise, they have no obligation to sell to you. “If you have a rude customer who comes in and really wants to hardball you in terms of negotiation, I think it really turns off dealers,” Cucksey advises.
- Know what’s trendy, now. Look through magazines and catalogues for patterns. This year, vintage signs are a hot commodity and therefore command inflated prices. Don’t go near them. Midcentury modern furnishings are on the wane, so those prices are falling a bit.
- Dowear comfortable walking shoes (some you’ve already broken in) or your feet will be aching by the end of the day.
- Dodress in lightweight layers you can add or remove as needed. The weather can change quickly at outdoor sales — and many indoor flea markets aren’t temperature controlled.
- Dotake coffee or water with you, if it’s allowed. Even if the flea market has a concession stand, the lines are likely long and the prices high. Save your concession cash for the tasty food trucks.
- Dotake a collapsible cart with wheels. You’ll have free hands for browsing as you buy things and your arms won’t ache from carrying stuff around. Take bubble wrap or newspaper for wrapping fragile items too.
- Do pack a flea market tool kit to take it with you. You’ll have your measurements and color swatches handy so you don’t make mistakes. At most flea markets, once you buy something, it’s yours — even if it won’t fit through your front door.
- Don’ttake your dog unless you know the flea market allows it. Some only permit service animals. If pets are allowed, be responsible about picking up poop. Your dog is adorable. His droppings are not — especially when they’re smeared all over a stranger’s shoe.
Once You’re There: Save Money
- Avoid flea markets in “precious” neighborhoods, unless you’re there to people watch.My rule of thumb: If the town has a cupcake shop, then it’s likely to have a flea market where artisans want to charge you $100 for a jar of handmade pickles. It’s one thing to charge a reasonable price to ensure profits, it’s another thing to assume your customers don’t know any better.
- Arrive late.I know that everyone says “go early,” but I’ve never scored a good deal at 8 am. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still bleary-eyed from waking up, or if I just can’t take the competition. But in the early hours, sellers are less likely to adjust their prices. If you come in the last hour or two, you’ll find markdowns.
- For the best price, buy multiple items.OK, so I’m not really comfortable with haggling. I’ve seen too many failed attempts, especially as flea markets become pop-up shops for dealers. But, you can still get a good deal. Just buy a few items from the seller. They’ll usually take a few bucks off the final total. Get more for your money. “Vendors also love to bundle things, so if you’re buying more items, they’re more likely to give you a discount,” Cucksey adds. Also, don’t overlook an item just because it’s unattractive. You may be missing the value. For instance, Cucksey once came across a charming table with three layers of amazing, chipped paint colors. “You can’t pay for that kind of patina,” the antiques collector says. “It was amazing.” The problem? It was covered in raccoon droppings — on the table, inside the drawers, everywhere! But, “it was worth the poop!” she assures us.
- Go to the last row first and make your way back. Front row sellers know they have prime space and their prices will reflect it. But back row sellers consider themselves lucky to get good foot traffic. Take advantage of this.
- Schedule your day around others.“You want to think about how to avoid those crowds, so you want to plan your day a little bit off from everyone else’s schedule,” Ridge says. “So you might get there around 11 and sample some of the fair foods, and then when everyone else is standing in line for the food from 12 to 2, you’re looking at all the booths without a crowd.”
- Kill ‘em with kindness. This one’s from Spencer’s mother — don’t ever insult a seller’s goods or prices.
- Money talks.Cucksey can’t stress enough the importance of bringing cash. “Get there early and bring cash,” she says. “Vendors love cash. Cash is king,” she reiterates. Dealers are more likely to haggle or give you a discount if you have cash because they don’t have to pay a fee to credit card companies.
- At a “Destination” market? Know what the specialty is. And then look for everything but that. At Brimfield, furniture and accessories reign supreme. First, know the difference between a “destination” flea market and a community market. Destination flea markets are really anything that ends up featured in a magazine or TV show. Think Brimfield (in Massachusetts), the Golden Nugget (NJ), etc. Or, are widely-known in your area. While there is some comfort in attending a place filled with curated goods from pro retailers, you’ll pay dearly for the experience—literally. Community markets are less renowned but will be the place where people just happen to unload treasures. I can tell you that, unless you have thousands to spend, you’ll often pay above-retail prices for things…and then have to compete alongside buying teams from major retailers. Who are often dressed like suspiciously well-put-together WWI flight pilots and have wads of corporate cash. Instead, I looked out for vintage clothes…and walked away with 10 dresses, jackets and cashmere sweaters (all in pristine condition) for under $200.
Optimize Your Success –Before You Leave
- Go through the entire market twice — you’ll catch things you missed the first time.
- Form relationships with sellers who specialize in your favorite things.If you love vintage clothes, keep in touch with a dealer who happens to carry the old Lilly Pulitzer dresses you covet, for example. You might get access to the best stuff, or they’ll put aside items for you. Also, you’ll have made a new friend. That’s nice.
- Don’t try to negotiate…unless you follow this rule. For many merchants, the market circuit is their sole way of earning cash. To negotiate is to insult, especially if you’re buying a handmade item. ONE exception: If you’re buying 3 items or more.
- Don’thaggle on item after item if you’re not serious about buying anything. When you do find a piece you can’t live without, the seller assumes you’re not serious and he’s tired of wasting his time.
- Don’t go too early, if you’re on a budget. Early birds often get the best merchandise, but the highest prices. This is because merchants know that someone will be around later in the day to buy, so there’s no pressure to make the sale. And if you’re at a craft market, you’ll have the uncomfortable experience of every merchant trying to catch your eye.
- Don’t show up too late. It used to be that you could catch a merchant at the advertised end of the day, and they would give you dirt-cheap prices for goods (so they wouldn’t have to pack it up). Now, you’ll just find a deserted lot. Many merchants leave 2 hours before closing.
- Don’twalk away from an item you just have to have. If you love it, someone else will too — and it may be gone when you come back.
- Watch out for fake stuff.At Brimfield last year, I came upon a “Shabby Chic”-style stall filled with painted furniture. It was my mother’s dream, but unfortunately, it was all made of flimsy particleboard with glued-on decorations. And each piece was priced at $300 or more. If you want the genuine article, really examine the piece. I always look at the back of a wood piece — if it’s stapled-on, it’s usually too shoddy of a reproduction to deal with.
- Dokeep your cash in a front pocket, or in a cross-body bag positioned in front. Don’t carry a shoulder bag that swings behind you. Flea markets get crowded and you’ll get bumped time to time. Pickpockets may bump use as a cover for swiping your cash.
- Be adventurous with food.Ridge notes that the unique comfort food offerings (fried butterball anyone?) are partly what makes flea markets and fairs special. “It’s not a fair unless there’s someone selling funnel cake,” he says.
- Don’tpass on sturdy, low-cost pieces just because they need a little work. Cosmetic repairs (painting, refinishing, replacing hardware, and simple upholstering) are easy fixes.
- Do think of ways to repurpose flea market finds if you can’t use them as is. You might be able to turn an antique microscope into a table lamp or use an old door as a headboard.
- 20 Do’s and Don’ts of Flea Market Shopping March 01, 2016. http://fleamarket.about.com/od/insidershoppingtips/qt/20-Dos-And-Do-Nots-For-Flea-Market-Shoppers.htm
- Flea Markets: The 9 Best Shopping Strategies 09/18/2011 07:15 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/flea-markets-strategies_n_968866.html
- Flea Market Shopping: How To Negotiate Prices, Get Better Deals 04/26/2012 02:40 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/flea-market-shopping-negotiate-prices_n_1446439.html
- The Fabulous Beekman Boys’ Brent Ridge On How To Shop A Flea Market 04/27/2012 03:13 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/flea-market-tips-brent-ridge_n_1456983.html
- 6 Flea Market Tips For Getting The Best Vintage Finds, From A Seasoned Pro 06/28/2013 04:00 pm ET http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/28/flea-market-tips_n_3518504.html
- Lara Spencer Talks HGTV’s ‘Flea Market Flip,’ Best Yard Sale Tips 03/13/2013 12:11 pm ET http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/lara-spencer-flea-market-flip_n_2864874.html