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Selling Scarce Products


Disciplines > Sales > Sales articles > Selling Scarce Products

Markets | Trade fairs | Stores | Online | Galleries | Auctions | Shows | Direct | See also


There are many places and methods in which scarce items may be bought and sold. Scarce selling is not the same as mass-market selling, yet there can be certain similarities and differences.


At the low end of selling scarce items, open-air markets allow a large number of vendors to gather and display items on simple trestle tables or even spread them on the floor. Sellers here may be everyday consumers getting rid of old items, or low-level traders who buy and sell cheaper items.

A characteristic of markets is the flexibility of pricing and the consequent amount of negotiation. Although items may be priced, this is just an anchor and buyers will often make a lower offer.

Markets are marketed as events, advertising to both sellers and buyers to come along on the day and sell or buy bargains. They may be staged in temporary venues such as farm fields or car parks. Regular markets may also have purpose-built areas with fixed amenities.

Trade fairs

The market format may also be used by professional traders, for example collections of antique dealers may be found at specialised trade fairs. Dealers often buy from open-air markets and sell on to retail dealers.

Fairs tend to be more organized and may well be indoors. As with outdoor markets, these are run as events though the spread of sellers and customers is often narrower. They may be trade-only or may allow serious consumers such as specialist customers.


Selling scarce items by normal retail means can be done often through specialist retailers. For example antique shops are classic places for selling desirable old items to consumers. Other places include hobbyist and fashion stores.

Scarcity stores can be found in many high streets and shopping malls, mixed amongst high-volume retailers, in the hope of catching the interest of passing shoppers. They may also be found in clusters at the edges of main shopping areas, such as 'antique quarters', where the preponderance of one type of shop attracts browsers looking for something special.

Slower rates of sale are common, as items languish while they wait for the right buyer. This can mean high levels of stocks are common. Antique shops are often overflowing with knick-knacks and hobbyist stores keep all kinds of odd parts.


The emergence of the web has had a huge effect on the ability to find and sell scarce items. When everyone is online and search engines are effective, you can quickly find all kinds of things. This is a two-sided coin, however. When items that were once scarce become easy to find, price competition may well emerge.


A particular form of scarcity retailing is in putting fewer items on display where people can come and admire them and possibly buy one. This is typically used for paintings but can also be used for other objects that may be considered beautiful or interesting.

Galleries need to be well-lit and clean, though sparsely decorated (you do not want to take attention away from the items on display). The limited items and slower rate of sale means higher prices, as margins are important. The cost of the venue is significant too, and galleries are more likely to be found away from main shopping areas.


A common way of selling one-off scarce items is through auctions, where the item goes to the highest bid from people present. The dilemma of auctions is that prices may vary hugely, although the potential of bargains may draw people in (and then personal pride or unbridled desire can draw them into a bidding contest). The only constant winner in auctions is the auctioneer, who takes a cut of every sale.

The internet has helped physical auctions as the items available can by listed or shown online, enabling remote buyers to participate. Total online auction sites, notably eBay, also allow for fully distributed ongoing auctions to take place.


Similar in principle to galleries, fashion items (notably clothes) may be shown in dynamic use at specialist events that may seem more like theatrical shows than sales meetings. Glamorous glitz, stage lighting and general bonhomie are used to get people into a good mood.

Similar events are used in galleries and for specialist other areas. The general marketing message is 'come to the party, meet people, have fun and maybe buy something nice'.

The expense of such shows makes who you invite very important, both from the value of those who may add to the atmosphere and of course those who may buy.

Direct selling

Finally, scarce items may be sold in the most traditional way, of sales people approaching individual buyers and convincing them that they should buy the item in question. This is used in high-priced selling, from houses to airplanes.

While houses are plentiful, each house is unique in its location, design decoration and so on, all of which may feature in the sales person's spiel. This highlights a primary style of scarcity selling, where the principle is to highlight what is different and frame this as advantageous.

Few airplanes are sold due to the cost of both purchase and operation. High ticket items are sold competitively, focusing on benefits and pricing. Even though there are fewer of them, the presence of direct competitors pushes methods more towards traditional selling.

A feature of one-to-one selling is the importance of relationships and trust and general likeability of the sales person. The customer buys as much because the sales person seems like a friend as there being desirable product features or good pricing.

See also


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