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Antiques

Dear Michael Bruno and 1stdibs dealers,

I have a few thoughts and observations I will add to the mix. First, I’ll address the matter of the hidden price–the “contact dealer” syndrome. The parties who have commented (“Very Concerned Dealer” and Chris Houston) talk in generalities about the occasional need or desire of various dealers to post items under the “contact dealer” caveat. Why perpetuate the obfuscation by not specifically citing those reasons? It’s obvious that 1stdibs sees this routine as counter-productive (even injurious) to the site, and I heartily agree with the assessment. In my experience of asking for those “contact dealer” prices, I’ve been quoted extremely high prices. It’s my contention that many of the dealers so listing their things are essentially fishing for novices (presumably, moneyed) who will pay prices far beyond value, or who don’t want a public record of what they’re spending on items. There might be a variety of reasons for bringing “contact dealer” into play, but obfuscation and lack of transparency are not good for anyone except those who have something to hide for one reason or another; to have the vast majority of objects bearing price tags and another group not, suggests inconsistency and “other standards.” The 1stdibs brand, and by extension its dealers, suffers. 1stdibs already has a reputation for high prices; this stigma cripples everyone’s potential business, and the “contact dealer” non-pricing perpetuates this in a most counter-productive way.

Now I will express my objections to changes that 1stdibs has made and is proposing to make First, I am furious that 1stdibs has installed their “PURCHASE” button on every one of MY listings, which can divert a prospective buyer from my path and into its own clutches. The “contact dealer” link is smaller and not prominently situated I didn’t join 1stdibs because I wanted someone to broker my goods; I’m perfectly capable of that, thank you. I frankly don’t think 1stdibs has the right, insofar as my perception of the contract, to infringe upon that power of mine. I contracted with 1stdibs to advertise and promote my goods, end of story. 1stdibs presented itself to me contractually as a venue for my doing business as a sole proprietor, WITHOUT COMMISSION. This change feels like a breach of contract, to put it bluntly.

Second, I don’t take credit cards—I haven’t for at least ten years—and this hasn’t hurt my business. Why should I surrender 3 to 5 percent of my precious sale to 1stdibs or any other third party so my client can rack up airplane miles? If the prospective client can’t afford to write me a check, I don’t want them in my company, pure and simple; I’m also opposed to perpetuating America’s consumer indebtedness Third, I’m interested in doing business with human beings; I’m interested in communicating with other humans and establishing relationships. The 1stdibs purchase button threatens that interest and diminishes that possibility. The transaction, in the 1stdibs corporate hands, becomes matter of fact and devoid of the humanity (not to mention the knowledge pertinent to the object) that I bring to the fore. The back and forth of negotiating through a third party is a waste of my time and energy, and offensive to the core. Furthermore, the purchase button implicitly encourages the prospective client to toss out a low-ball offer that must be tendered by 1stdibs.

I’ve had a couple of these recently, to my dismay. If 1stdibs had any intention of fairness and equanimity in this matter, they would have provided an equally-sized “purchase” button that says: “PURCHASE directly from dealer,” and labelled their own button, “PURCHASE through 1stdibs.”

As for the 10% levy on sales generated by the 1stdibs PURCHASE button—how infuriating! When 1stdibs started “handling” such sales and not charging me for credit card fees they had incurred (or might have, I don’t know for sure, I thought, “Hmm… could this actually be an instance of a corporate entity’s giving something back to one of its lowly ‘partners’?” I was momentarily impressed. (And I hasten to add that at no time when I specifically asked about fees surrounding these activities was it suggested that this was the case “for now”, but that the arrangement might change.) So, I feel drawn in and violated in this respect. Such poor public relations!

Then there’s the question of what this money’s going to be used for! The “globalization” answer rings hollow for me. I understand that 1stdibs wants to power itself onto the world stage, but to suggest that I’m going to profit from such an expansion is self-serving and ludicrous. I travel to France to make my purchases, transport them back to the U.S. (being taxed in the process), whereupon I warehouse them, restore them, and market them to a principally U.S. audience that, for the most part, doesn’t have the luxury (or mechanisms, or desire) to bring them back themselves. So, now 1stdibs has gone beating the bushes in Europe to host dealers who have similar products to mine and can sell them for a whole lot less than I can because they haven’t had to cross oceans and continents to acquire them. It doesn’t take a lot of smarts on the prospective buyer’s part to realize that if they troll around the European listings they can get the same things that American dealers are offering at much lower prices. With 1stdibs standing in the middle, happily offering its services, the prospective client doesn’t have to deal in a foreign language or jump through some of the other hoops implicit in a purchase from someone “they’ve never met” in a foreign country (or,,presumably, the U.S.—how insulting!).

So, in respect to this arrangement and new reality, 1stdibs is undermining my business considerably, not “expanding” it. I suspect that many other American dealers who deal in foreign, and particularly French goods, feel similarly.

When I joined 1stdibs two years ago, the process was lengthy and somewhat demanding. I was asked to provide references within the 1stdibs dealer network and to ensure the quality of my goods, and so on. About six months later, a prominent dealer friend in Europe told me that 1stdibs had invited him to join the site. Fortunately for me, he refused. His presence would have buried me with his lower pricing and high quality merchandise; in Europe, he’s right “at the source” and benefits tremendously from that position. European dealers are masters of sourcing at very reasonable prices; don’t think for an instant that they will ride our coattails and price their goods as high as we U.S. dealers.

1stdibs has apparently added not just scores of European dealers, but many American dealers as well. Apparently 1stdibs has, in its rush to expand, neglected to consider the impact on its American dealers who, I presume, make up the mainstay of those who “pay the rent.” With 300 or so items on my pages, I pay about $900 a month for the privilege of casting my baubles before potential 1stdibs buyers, which amount I consider a FORTUNE by comparative internet standards. I don’t know how many more “buyers” there are to be garnered, but there have to be page upon page of items at this point that will never be sold–there’s just too much stuff! A far more responsible path (but certainly not as profitable for the corporation) than the one chosen by 1stdibs would have been to have honed the existing dealership and lessened the number of offerings, thereby ensuring a certain exclusivity and high standard of both dealers and their goods.

There’s absolutely nothing within the 1stdibs letter that CLEARLY demonstrates how my business is going to prosper from these changes, although the message is trumpeted that my business will benefit! Show me! If 1stdibs really wants to help me increase my business, there is a host of changes and improvements they could make, all of which could, would, and should empower ME. For instance, I have NO idea how many people are looking at my pages, how long they’re staying there, or what they’re specifically looking at. All this information could be obtained and provided to me and other dealers. This kind of reporting would give me some idea of what’s being sought out, and what’s not being considered. I can make changes from there. But, the way things are, I live in a total information vacuum; this leads nowhere but downhill. Moreover, I have no SPECIFIC idea how many people are actually coming to 1stdibs.com and how long they are staying, not to mention what percentage of them are buying!

I hear all this unsubstantiated blah-blah about billions in sales and increased visits to the site, but as Ronald Reagan once asked, “Where’s the beef?!” Facts and figures, please!! You want to give something back? Give me something that I can use and work with.

How about letting me know whether anyone looked at items I put on the Saturday Sale page? Or a graph that shows me a two-year history of hits and lengths of stay. Or whether anyone clicked on the items I paid extra to put up as “new listings of the week?” Some timely transparency about actual sales would be valuable, too, to substantiate up ticks and downturns. This business of listing “item released at $” totals is not useful and potentially misleading, since on the surface it appears that 1stdibs is creating illusory sales figures for the purpose of enticing investors and new dealers.

I am disheartened by the changes 1stdibs has put into place and angered by its promoting these changes as benefitting its dealers when it’s evident that the principal beneficiary is 1stdibs itself. 1stdibs has been a “golden goose” for itself and its dealers. Are we now witnessing the death of the goose?

 Editor's Note: First published, June 2013

About the Author

Jack Beeler

Jack Beeler

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