Smart Shopping: What it is and Why it matters

Smart Shopping: What it is and Why it matters

What is Smart Shopping?

In essence, smart shopping is when you buy the right item at the right price. Yes, basically we are speaking about the concept of value for money. However, when people hear about the concept of value for money, most of them think merely about the right price. The concept of smart shopping is not only about the right price. It is much broader. The right price is, of course, a substantial element of this concept, but it is not the only one.

First of all, it is about buying the right item. So, what do I mean by “buying the right item”? Of course, first of all, we have to exclude compulsive shopping or so-called shopaholism, as a result of which a buyer ends up buying something he does not need at all. Apart from shopaholism, there are many other instances where a buyer can end up buying something he did not intend to buy. For example, you can buy a fake. You can buy an item with an inaccurate, misleading description.

The claimed quality, condition, age (for antiquities, for example), or any other parameters may differ in reality. Such inaccuracies can be both intentional and unintentional. Regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional, they always have a direct and significant impact on the value. As a matter of fact, such misleading inaccuracies are extremely widespread, and at the end of the day you, the buyer, are the one who pays for them. So, only after we are 100% sure that the item is right, it completely corresponds to the qualities claimed, we can switch to the price issue. 

When Smart Shopping matters the most?

According to some researches, more than 80% of shoppers conduct online research before buying a product. The more expensive the item, the more likely consumers are to research costs online. That seems very logical, and I praise all shoppers who have such a pragmatic approach. 

If you want to buy a book or a DVD, smart shopping is super easy. All you need to do is compare prices using one of the multiple price comparison websites or apps. If you are planning to buy a smartphone, tablet, camera, or a washing machine, it’s not rocket science either. In addition to a price comparison website, it might be a good idea to read some customer reviews or comparisons by a tech expert. 

It becomes somewhat more tricky the moment we get to all kinds of collectibles (coins, stamps, baseball cards, comics, militaria, etc.), antiquities, artworks, jewelry and gemstones, or high-end fashion items. Why? The reasons are quite simple. Many of these items (except for fashion items) are unique. Even when they are not unique, for all collectibles, antiquities, and artworks age and condition play a key role. For any piece of jewelry or loose gemstone, every slightest detail such as color, clarity, quality of cut and polish, etc. affects the price immensely.

In addition, all of the above (including antiquities, jewelry, and high-end fashion items) are forged extensively and sold widely both online and at physical shops. Authenticity is a huge issue. So, a price comparison app won’t help you here. Neither would customer reviews and comparisons. No standardized formulas work here. Each item needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account their specific characteristics and unique nature. Let’s have a closer look at some of the main risks.

The Worst Nightmare: Buying a Fake

As a matter of fact, everything gets forged. From medieval swords to antique coins, from artworks to gemstones, from high-end handbags and wristwatches to baseball cards. Needless to say, if you buy a fake item, it’s a total waste of money. Unfortunately, it happens way too often. The main reason for that is that buyers rarely seek expert advice prior to purchase. Even when it concerns items they have no or very little knowledge about. 

Such behavior pattern clearly contradicts the results of previously mentioned researches. I believe that one of the main reasons contributing to these contradictory results is the phenomena that many stores, both online and physical, as well as auction platforms either consider themselves experts (e.g. liveauctioneers.com, invaluable.com) or the claim that they hire the necessary experts (e.g. catawiki.com), or that they physically inspect the items offered for sale (e.g. auctionet.com). Buyers seem to take their word for it. Well, you shouldn’t!

They are big, they are bold, they have deep pockets, mass media love them, and they sell you fakes round the clock. The best buyer for them is the one who asks no questions. Don’t be the best buyer for them. Instead, be the best buyer for yourself! Always do ask questions, and the best person to ask those questions is someone impartial and with substantial experience in the respective field. If you don’t, this is what happens (see the examples below):

Pendant with fracture filled and dyed quartz sold as a piece of emerald jewelry. True market value EUR 20 - 30. Catawiki.com
Figure 1: Pendant with fracture filled and dyed quartz sold as a piece of emerald jewelry. True market value EUR 20 – 30. Catawiki.com

Read more about fake emeralds here.

Smart Shopping matters: Allegedly original William Verdult with some fishy, unreadable appraisal
Figure 2: Smart Shopping matters: Allegedly original William Verdult with some fishy, unreadable appraisal

Second worst-case scenario: Not Fake but Not Right either

The main difference here, when compared to buying a fake, is that you do not lose all the money paid. Nevertheless, you still lose a lot on most occasions. As a matter of fact, the line between the two can get blurred. There are at least several scenarios of how you can end up buying an item that is not exactly what you expected to buy.

One apparent scenario is where an item description is inaccurate or misleading to a certain degree. As mentioned above, this can happen both intentionally and unintentionally (due to lack of professionalism). There is nothing wrong to present your item in a favorable light. Unfortunately, many sellers seem unable to draw the line between a favorable light and deceptive practices. 

Ring with light green beryl sold as a piece of emerald jewelry. Icollector.com
Figure 3: Ring with light green beryl sold as a piece of emerald jewelry. Icollector.com

In the example above, the seller intentionally describes light green beryl as emerald. It is done despite the fact that the GIA certificate clearly classifies this gemstone as green beryl, not emerald. In essence, there is nothing wrong with green beryl. It is a beautiful gemstone. Its value, however, is tens of times lower than that of an emerald. So, that’s the trick! Read more about green beryl vs emerald here.

Lead glass-filled ruby necklace with a heavily inflated valuation and misleading description. Auctionking.com
Figure 4: Lead glass-filled ruby necklace with a heavily inflated valuation and misleading description. Auctionking.com

This is another excellent example of an intentionally misleading description. The seller has done two things here. First of all, he is not entirely honest about these rubies. He does not state openly that these are lead glass-filled or so-called composite rubies. Instead, he claims that these are “natural rubies”. That is not true. In order to describe their treatment, he uses evasive terminology: “high temperature heat treatment, with glass & flux additives”. This is not exactly lies, but it is not exactly the truth either.

Secondly, he uses highly inflated valuation (appraised value, price estimate) to catch your attention and to persuade you that this is the deal of a lifetime. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is even somewhat wrong to say that this appraised value ($22,245) is inflated. It is totally ridiculous! Sterling silver necklaces like this with lead glass-filled rubies can be bought online for an average price of $100 – $150. 

Smart Shopping matters: Contemporary sterling silver elf pendant sold as Art Nouveau jewelry. Catawiki.com
Figure 5: Smart Shopping matters: Contemporary sterling silver elf pendant sold as Art Nouveau jewelry. Catawiki.com

Antique items are comparatively rare. They attract more attention. Therefore, they are more expensive. The seller here decided to take advantage of that. In reality, this is a contemporary piece of Thai-made jewelry worth approximately $20. Read more about dishonest sellers selling contemporary items as antiquities or vintage here

To wrap it up, false, misleading descriptions is one of the main tactics to lure you into a disadvantageous deal. Inflated valuations (price estimates) is another one. Heavily photoshopped item images are becoming increasingly popular, too. 

A heavily photoshopped image of black diamond earrings. Liveauctioneers.com
Figure 6: A heavily photoshopped image of black diamond earrings. Liveauctioneers.com

Natural black diamonds never have such a perfect, spotless appearance. The distribution of color is somewhat uneven, there are lighter color spots and lines, oftentimes nicks and cracks in natural black diamonds. So, either these are not natural black diamonds or the images have been heavily photoshopped. Knowing the favorite tactics of liveauctioneers, the last option seems to be the case here. Although, it cannot be excluded that both allegations are true.

Right Item, Wrong Price

Last but not least, you can buy the right item but pay the wrong price for it. There are literally millions of examples of buyers paying up to tens of times more than what the item is worth. Item’s description is perfectly correct. No crucial information is missing. Images are ideally honest. Still, buyers manage to lose immense amounts of money. It is worth noting that inflated price estimates (valuations) play a substantial role here, too. 

Smart Shopping matters: 3.05 ct opaque diamond with a highly inflated valuation. Catawiki.com
Figure 7: Smart Shopping matters: 3.05 ct opaque diamond with a highly inflated valuation. Catawiki.com

The buyer paid staggering EUR 6119 + a 9% auction fee for this opaque, low-quality diamond. Its true market value is around $200. Deal almost as bad as if he bought a fake. 

Smart Shopping matters: Sterling silver bracelet with a highly inflated valuation. Bid4assets.com
Figure 8: Smart Shopping matters: Sterling silver bracelet with a highly inflated valuation. Bid4assets.com

Pretty nice bracelet, no question about that. Its description is flawless and the images are honest. The only problem is that it is not worth $5,505, as claimed. It is not worth $500, either. Bracelets like this are readily available for $100 – $150. 

An excessively priced sterling silver marcasite bracelet. Veloxjewellery.co.uk
Figure 9: An excessively priced sterling silver marcasite bracelet. Veloxjewellery.co.uk

Exactly the same is true about this bracelet above. There is nothing wrong with it, except the price. Such bracelets can be bought for $20 – $25.

If you pay an excessive price, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Conclusion: Smart Shopping Matters. Always.

So, as you can see, smart shopping really matters. Always. Unless you want to be one of those buyers who buys a fake item, something that is different and less valuable than what you intended to buy, or pays an excessive price. It is hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to pay thousands for something that is worth next to nothing or pay ten times more than what the item is really worth, as in the examples above. 

It is extremely important to know what you are buying, to seek an expert’s advice beforehand, not afterward. Here are a few reasons for that. First of all, it is the availability of an expert. It might be difficult to find a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert, especially if you are from a rural area or a comparatively small town. Secondly, good experts tend to be pretty expensive. The cost of some consultations can easily run into hundreds of dollars. Finally, even if you are lucky to find the necessary expert and willing to pay the price, it may be way too late to return the item. There can be numerous reasons for that: short return period, ambiguous terms and conditions, private seller, high restocking fees, seller not responding, fraud, etc. 

All of the above might give the wrong impression that I am agitating against online shopping here. Well, I am not. I am totally pro online shopping! Online shopping is by far the most convenient form of shopping. It is also your best chance to buy the desired item at an adequate price. Besides, the above-described issues and problems do not refer exclusively to online shopping. They do equally refer to physical shopping, too. So, by all means, go for online shopping! Just do it the smart way. Go for smart shopping!

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