How to Structure Estate Sale Discounts

You’ve heard it before, usually right in the middle of your estate sale:

“Do you offer discounts?”

“How much are discounts?”

“When do discounts start?”

Like everything else these days, the estate sale industry has changed, especially in the last decade or so. Blame it on a down economy or savvier shopping habits, customers have become more bargain-hungry, and estate sale companies are feeling it. With more  vintage resellers looking to hustle and everything available for sale online, shoppers are going to greater lengths to sniff out the best deals. This means they’re staying home on Day 1 and coming out only when they think they’ll be offered the highest discounts.

Many estate sale companies have started to lower their prices in order to drum up business in a buyer’s market. Of course every estate sale company can set up shop their own way, but there is cause-and-effect in this industry. The fear is once customers receive discounts at one estate sale, they’ll start to expect them from all estate sales, and it can be difficult to break them of these expectations.

Giving discounts willy-nilly was fine and dandy in ’08 when the industry needed a nudge to get people to spend money. But now that the economy has improved and jobs are on the rise, are half-off and quarter-off discounts still necessary? How can estate sale companies take control back over the estate sale discount structure?

Not all estate sales are alike, and different geographic areas have different rhythms that play into how you’ll want to structure discounts. Consider visiting other estate sales near you to see the natural flow of things and make decisions based on your observations. Network with other estate sale companies and find out what works for them. And as always, try things out and modify based on your findings. Your estate sale company is a work in progress.

Here are a few ideas to help you figure out if and when to structure your estate sale discounts.

1. Ad Hoc vs. Set in Stone

If you decide to handle all sales the same way, your regular customers will know what to expect. Or you may decide to structure discounts on a sale-by-sale basis. There are benefits to both methods, and  you’ll want to do your best to accommodate your best customers’ needs.

Some estate sale companies prefer to keep their customers guessing. You can create a greater sense of scarcity, which urges people to buy, if they know discounts might not always happen. If you do decide to base discounts on a sale-by-sale basis, be sure to blast out the news on social media or email: “Half off on Sunday!” This way, you reward your most loyal customers — and give an incentive to followers who aren’t as engaged.

If you haven’t built up your online presence yet, or you have customers who have come to expect discounts on 2nd or 3rd sale days (because of other estate sales in your area ,or because you’ve operated this way in the past), you may want to stick to a more rigid format. While you’ll lose some flexibility, this method is easier on you and your regular customers. Some estate sale companies say it all works out in the wash – and those few extra dollars you might have made are worth saving yourself the stress of playing each estate sale by ear.

2. Set it and Forget it

Some estate sale companies find it useful to stick to a pretty straight-forward discount structure: Full price the first day, a quarter off the second day, and half off the last day seems to work well for many. One downside to this format is that you may have customers waiting to buy until the second or third day, making the first day of the sale not very lucrative at all! Having a set discount structure also may set a bad precedent – not only for your company, but for other estate sale companies in your area as well.

Pro Tip: look around and see what other estate liquidators near you are doing. If they have a set discount structure in place, talk to them about it and find out why. Maybe together you can think of better estate sale pricing and discount solutions that will be good for competition – and your clients and customers.

3. Go with the Flow

Structure next-day discounts based on what you have left to sell at the end of the day. If all the good money-making items have been sold, offer a flat discount the next day for hard-to-sell items in order to clear the estate. Remember: your job as an estate sale company is to get rid of everything. Observe your sale and discount as needed to maximize revenue for your client. Remind customers that the antique they’re eying might not be there on Day 2 or 3, and not to count on a discount! You may find your first days are still successful.

4. Let’s Make a Deal!

Negotiate discounts per item on the fly, instead of offering flat discounts per sale. This way you stay in complete control of your estate sale. This means you are willing to give fair discounts when warranted, whether the reason is moving less popular inventory, a flaw with the item, or due to time constraints.

The downside to this method of conducting business is having to haggle in front of other customers. This can leave the door open for possible problem shoppers within earshot to feel they weren’t given as good of a discount as the next guy. However, this can still be a very good method, just not for the amateur or faint of heart!

5. The Price is Right

Part of the art of being a successful estate sale professional is knowing how to appraise items and properly price them accordingly — the first time around. If you have the right asking price, neither under nor over, you can feel confident you’re asking for a fair deal when customers try to negotiate.

Consider having a price range rather than one set number in mind, so you’ll already be prepared to haggle if and when the time comes. Also, always remember who you’re beholden to: your client, not the customers.

6. Mind the Season

Pay attention to seasonal fluctuations, even holiday weekends. Some estate sale companies have a harder time moving inventory when it’s not estate sale season (spring or summer).

Conversely, in the thick of yard sale season, customers are used to getting the cheapest prices possible. You may consider offering discounts during high seasons to make sure customers looking for a deal keep coming back.

7. Nix All or Nothing

One compromise is to have discounts days — but not include everything in the discounts, like high-end estate sale furniture, art, even jadeite kitchenware, vintage Pyrex or other highly sought-after pieces.

This way you can give your customers the best of both worlds: the feeling that you’re doing everything you can to give them a fair price, while still standing by the value of your big ticket items.

8. Estate Sale Discounts in Bulk

Some estate sale pros prefer to eyeball it when the customer pays out. This is basically giving discounts based on the number of items bought. You may feel comfortable handling your sales this way, especially if your clientele is made up primarily of frequent shoppers.

9. Take Offers

If a customer doesn’t like a price of an item, rather than haggling it out right then and there, ask them to make an offer, either verbally or on a piece of paper. If their offer is more than the discount you’re offering the next day, it’s easy! Make the sale!

10. One-Day Estate Sales

If your client’s estate doesn’t have a whole bunch to sell (say $5k or less) also known in the biz, for better or worse, as “granny sales,” there’s no rule against having a one-day sale. In fact, some estate sale companies have found much success streamlining it all into one day and some swear by it.

One company even said the estate needed to be pretty substantial to warrant a two or (in very rare cases) three day sale. Holding your estate sale for one day only also creates a sense of urgency, which can often drive customers to make a move sooner rather than later.

Another upside? Less labor — and  less time for discounts — means more money in your (and your client’s) pockets.

Pro-tip: Post lots of good estate sale photos and advertise, advertise, advertise. Use phrases like “high end merchandise” “quality antiques” and “midcentury modern” when applicable to build excitement.

11. Test it Out!

You own your own business. Now think like a marketer! The smartest entrepreneurs are constantly testing things out to see what yields the best results, and using that data to inform their decisions. Try marketing your estate sales in different ways in order to test out tactics as you’re starting your business. See which sale(s) end up making the most profit, and base future sales on these results.

How to structure estate sale discounts

Got any more ideas of how to structure discounts? Share what works for you and your estate sale company in the comments below!