Whoever said, “If they have to ask, they can’t afford it” was wrong. Just plain wrong.
Can you imagine walking into any shop or store and not having any prices anywhere? Can you imagine having to ask a price for each item that interests you? And then trying to remember those prices after your have looked at 3 or 4 items?
Can you imagine wondering if that is THE price or just the price you were quoted because you have a nice purse or are wearing nice jewelry? After all, the piece you were looking at had no tag anywhere. You must have a tag or a price list somewhere that signals this is a firm price.
Years ago, I was selling very fine quality, mostly custom-made 18K jewelry in San Francisco. And because our window display and interior cases had mostly 18K and sometimes platinum pieces on display, we never showed prices. In our case, we didn’t want someone to think they were seeing 14K or silver and judge us as overpriced.
However, we had prices ON every single piece. A tag usually had two prices, in fact. There was a price for 18K and one for 14K and that always allowed for the open discussion of what metals were available.
However, as part of our welcoming, we were quick to point out that we had pieces priced under $100.
When an unfamiliar face entered, we started with a simple question, “Have you been in our shop before?” If they said “no”, they got a quick elevator speech with many variations:
“Well, Welcome! We are best known for our own award-winning custom design work as well as featuring many other award winning metal artists from around the world. We create much of our jewelry in 18K but also work with 14K and platinum. Please feel free to look around and we are happy to show you as many pieces from the cases as you want. Our prices start at under $100 so if you are looking for a gift I can guide you to some really special possibilities.”
Whether you are showing paintings, sculpture, silk clothing, porcelain, or a myriad of other fine art, you cannot “afford” to make them guess at prices. Even our jewelry cases had an occasional hint: “Easy Gift Ideas starting at $25.00.
And just think about being in a busy show environment. You cannot let people come, look, and leave, while you are engaged in a sale. They must be given some ideas about your prices. Even a sign that discreetly states a price range will help a viewer. Often, price tags for most art objects can be on the back or bottom of a piece. They can be very discreet.
Here’s where it really becomes important: without all the details – features and benefits – of what they are seeing they may put a low value on a piece. Then, when they hear the actual price, they can’t wrap their head around that price. If they imagined (or felt they might be willing to pay) $200 and your price is $500, it might never “feel” like it’s worth it to them. It will make your job so much harder. Don’t make your job harder than it already is when it comes to finding homes for your art.
But the opposite can be costly to you also. If someone is looking around and “decides” that everything is probably more than they can afford and they leave your area without your intervening. I am telling you once and for all: JUST make sure that prices or price ranges are available and obvious so you can solve the mystery even if you can’t break away from your current engagement.
And… oh by the way… there will be some instant “Information Exchange” when someone has seen a price and then starts engaging or asking buying questions, right? You know they know. They know that you know that they know. So price is NO LONGER part of the possible objections. Nice, right?
And please don’t confuse price with value. (Oddly – most people do undervalue when asked to guess.) If they are really moved by the object and are able to spend a little quality time with you learning about the piece, learning about your “value” as an artist and the workmanship involved, they will pay whatever they can afford. Including maxing out a credit card or two.
I have seen it happen more than a few times in my life and some of you have, too, I am sure. Share your stories in the comments.
No matter how high or low your prices seem to you, value is a totally different metric. Click To Tweet
Never assume what someone will be able or willing to spend. You will almost always be wrong.
Great post. I once had a show at a country club where prices on each piece were prohibited. I felt this put me at a disadvantage since I would not be on site during the show’s run. Fortunately I was permitted to list contact info. I did make a mid range sale, but always wonder if the lack of price info prevented more sales.
Most certainly! This is especially true with 2D art since prices can range so much. Depending on the artist, an 8 x 10 can be under a hundred or over a thousand or more! At least your Name was seen.
If you ever find yourself in that situation again, you might ask if you can have a price list at the front desk or host station or somewhere in case someone really wants to know a price.
I did have a price list, but since the show was on 2 different floors and the list was only on a table in the lobby, people were not aware.
Fortunately my buyer was interested enough to call me. I let him know there was a price list, but he never saw it. That is when I realized I should speak up about this in the future.
Aha… yes, you are a smart one indeed. Thankfully we can all get smarter!
Thanks again, McKenna for this golden nugget of advice! As I have learned, don’t judge either. I’ve seen all types.
And love (falling in love with a piece of art!) changes priorities. Here’s a great story that was published on Artsy Shark.
That was the most beautiful and touching story of an art sale I have ever known of. If only one of my works would mean so much to somebody I would not have lived (and created) in vain.
Oh… way to make the author tear up, Aafke! Glad you were so moved.
And the topic of showing prices is just as important on your website. I cannot tell you how many artist do not put their prices by the paintings – just the link & statement “Contact the Artist About this piece”. Most people looking on line can’t be bothered to go through the effort and will just leave the website. It’s not even a very good call to action. Make it easy for people to buy your work, don’t make them have to work at it, coz most won’t. (Susan the person that contacted you was one of the rare ones). Also at art shows some people might be afraid to ask the artist about the price, thinking “What if it’s more than I can afford, and I will be embarrassed to have to say that. For crying out loud too many artists still believe this crazy myth that it’s gauche to show prices!
Absolutely! And some artists are afraid that their prices will send people running. A $5000 price is what simply what the price is. The Value to the Collector is ALWAYS priceless.
THANKS for your thoughts, Fiona!
This seems so reasonable. I need to go over my website and fix that!