Flea market map on iPhone

Three reasons why you should use your smartphone at the flea market

Smartphones are ubiquitous. We’re carrying them wherever we go: at home, at work, at school, on holiday, in the street and public transports. You name it. As a matter of facts, unwittingly leaving it at home often creates a feeling of discomfort and triggers the question: “Will I make it today without it? Should I go back home and get it?”. Well, you get the idea.

Also, smartphones are increasingly powerful, data is faster and cheaper than ever, offering a broader area of coverage, new apps for all kind of use pop up every day, and answers to the most advanced questions can be found on the Internet in a jiffy. With all that in mind, putting a smartphone to contribution on flea market day, is just obvious.

The use of smartphones for on-the-spot price comparison has given more power to shoppers, in the sense that potential buyers could now make a more thoughtful purchase than ever, based on various elements like the origin, rarity and resell value of a specific item.

Of course, inexpensive finds & impulsive purchases are exempted from the constraining (and sometimes, time consuming) process of doing an on-the-spot research, prior to purchasing a merchandise. But if you’re looking for something specific, or if the price doesn’t seem right, or if you consider yourself a savvy person, there’s more than one reason why you should use your smartphone for on-the-spot price comparison.

#1.Verify the origin of your find

Never get fooled by a story, however nice it may sound. Flea market merchants and antique dealers can be great story tellers. Some even believe their own stories, or what they’ve been told by the former owner of the items they’re trying to sell you. I’m not saying they’re making things up. Just that they sometimes tend to embellish the reality.

Every weekend I hear stories like how this rare painting might be attributed to a prominent master, that this pen “might” be one of those which have been used to sign this or that treaty, this chair a unique exemplary of an unknown Eames series, or that this set of silver cutlery once belonged to the royal family of “Pottsylvania”. While some of those stories may be real, others might sound too good to be true. That’s because they often are.

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A quick on-the-spot research via your smartphone to verify a story, should help clear doubts on the origins of a particular item, therefore helping you make a more informed purchase. If the search did not return satisfying result and if the doubt persists, just go your way.

#2. Check its resell value

As we like to say, “The flea-market experience is about finding hidden treasures; the most valuable items are not those that you think will be valuable for resale. The really priceless things are the objects you personally love”. Nonetheless, if you’re buying and selling antiques for a living, keeping your flea market finds for yourself won’t pay the bills… While some of us casually shop at the flea market to do some home improvement, many others try to make a living out of it.

Websites like eBay, Etsy, or Craigslist are pretty useful when it comes to getting background information about a specific item, like its price or the level of customer demand. Search engines are also great resources to obtain clues to help identify a flea market find. However, they’re limited. In the sense that they all depend on your own ability to accurately describe the item you have before you.

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Finding the right keywords is the essence of a successful search. And if you’re unable to input the proper search terms, this can turn into a time-consuming nightmare. But fortunately apps like CamFind, make the whole search process a breeze.

CamFind is an app for iOS and Android that uses your smartphone camera and a visual search algorithm, to tell you what you have before you. Even though we were at first a bit skeptical about what the app claimed it was able to do, we were quickly blown away by its level of accuracy. All the more so as, we of course did not try it with modern consumer products, but with a variety of antiques and vintage items we have at the office.

Out of 10 tests we conducted, CamFind managed to accurately identify 60% of the items we searched (vintage cameras, desk fan, desk lamp, toy gun, watch, vintage glass bottle, Hohner harmonica, antique apothecary bottle), which is more than fine! Another strength of this app, is that it takes less than 4 seconds to process a search and relevant return results. Which is less time that your average Google search.

#3. Increase your haggling power

Before the Internet became available to the masses, knowledge basically was available in books and had to be built overtime. Many diamonds in the rough were sold by merchants who had little idea of what they were selling. Nowadays, almost all merchants know exactly what they’re selling, and know what a specific piece is worth (usually slightly above the « online value » ). They even tend now to overprice some items, simply because they saw once a similar items which a high price tag.

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The use of smartphone for on-the-spot price comparison has given shoppers a new weapon to haggle with merchants. Once the origin of a particular item has been verified, its resell value checked, and its rarity (or usualness) ascertained, you will definitely have more leverage when it comes to negotiating its price.

Thomas Gray once wrote in his 1742 poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College: “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” While this may apply to certain things in life, it wouldn’t be wise to follow it when shopping at a flea market. When it comes to haggling, ignorance is NOT bliss. A lack of knowledge or culture will definitely not results in happiness (at least not your own), and might sometimes even end up costing you much more than just looking like a fool.

Limitations

In the end, the use of a smartphone at the flea market merely sets a statu quo, since merchants usually set the price of their items, based on their own online research. For this very reason, it is strongly advised (particularly in the case of expensive items or if you have the feeling that something is wrong), to make full use of the technologies at your disposal in order to help you secure the best deal possible.

Shopping at the flea market without a smartphone for on-the-spot price comparison is acceptable if you already know what you’re buying, if you’re shopping for inexpensive knick-knacks, or if you’re just doing some casual browsing.

Conclusion

For all the reasons listed above, using a smartphone on site definitely gives shoppers a competitive advantage over merchants (ultimately helping to drive prices down). If the price of a one of a kind item can hardly be brought down (rarity has a price), the price of an item which has been mass produced can be argued based on its online equivalent. At the same time, Internet has also driven prices up, by giving merchants a tool to help them assess the value of a particular item.

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