The Downside to Buying in the Dark

Written By Steve

There’s good news and bad news about shopping at the flea market and buying stuff in the dark.

The good news is that by arriving in the dark, you have a head start on most other shoppers and can have your pick of the rare items and under-priced items.

The bad news is that by shopping in the dark, you increase your chances of paying good money for something that you discover later is cracked, chipped, or damaged in some way.


When this happens, you must go through a long spell of buyer’s remorse.  This malady may pass by the next day or it can linger for a long time.  It all depends on how much you paid for the damaged item and how valuable it is to you.  If it’s a very rare item, it can take a long time to get over.

Here’s a tip when this happens with a rare item:  When it happens to me I justify it by telling myself and friends that I’d rather have a damaged item than to not have the item at all.  After all, I may never find a perfect specimen of the item I’m seeking.  Here’s another tip:  Pay good money for a damaged item and more often than not, you’ll soon find a perfect one at the same or slightly higher cost.  Who knows why this happens — it just does.

When shopping in the dark, don’t rely on the seller to point out any or all the flaws in the piece you are buying.  It’s the price you pay for shopping in the dark.


If you must shop and buy in the dark, make sure you bring a very bright flashlight and thoroughly examine your item before putting down your money.  Take your time.  Always assume it is damaged and spend your time trying to find the damage.  If you can’t find it, then buy it, assuming it’s perfect.  Just don’t be shocked when you get it in the bright sunlight that you don’t discover the tiny hairline crack.  It’s Murphy’s Law.

Another problem with buying in the dark is that we arrive to get a head start on our competition.  This brings up the issue of “speed” shopping.  We rush from space to space trying to be first at every seller’s location.  Because we are in a hurry we tend to get sloppy about carefully checking our items for damage.  It’s a major trade-off between speed and checking for damage.

One of the best ways to avoid paying good money for a damaged item is bring along your spouse and ask his or her opinion.  If your spouse is like mine, she’ll examine that item as if it cost $5,000.  Worse, she’ll never stop reminding you of what a doofus you are for buying a damaged item.  I’ve been there.  I tend to be very careful simply to avoid being nagged about my bad purchases.

You always have the option of waiting until the sun comes up and it is nice and bright outside.  Unfortunately, there’s the likelihood that one of your competitors came along after you and bought the item.  If this happens, depend on him or her mentioning it more than once over the next several weeks.  “I can’t believe you saw it before me and passed it up.  What were you thinking?”

Of course, you could get lucky and find the item you want in a seller’s space that is lit-up like a Christmas Tree like the one shown here.  But such lighting in the dark is the exception and not the rule.


Bottom line — shopping and buying in the dark is fine.  Just take your time and examine your rare find carefully.  Be fanatic about it.  Assume it is damaged and try to find the damage.  Turn it every way but loose looking for damage.  Solicit help from a friend or spouse.  You might ask the seller if you can return it for a refund if you find later that it is damaged.  Just a warning about this approach — most sellers will laugh out loud at such a request and look at you as though you just landed on earth.

Good luck shopping and buying in the dark.

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