Flea Market Tips: How to Shop

Last week we brought you a post on our tips on where to shop for the very best second hand finds.

This week, as promised, we’re sharing with you some of our best tips when shopping at a flea market or second hand fair, in order to find the best items and get the best prices for them.

So, in no particular order….

1. Get kitted out

No, there isn’t any specialist flea market buying equipment that you need, and this might sound obvious, but when you’re preparing to visit a flea market, make sure you deck yourself out in appropriate kit. If it’s mainly outdoors, do you need a coat, a brolly? Are your shoes comfy? is your bag heavy – could you clear it out and go for a smaller version? You want to have energy left at the end of the day to carry your purchases out, triumphantly! Kit-wise, it can also be handy to take some carrier bags, bubble wrap and old newspaper. Don’t forget to take some food and bottled water, too. Food tends to be cheap and nasty, and bottled water tends to be very expensive!

2. Do your homework

Try and find out if the flea market is split into areas, and go to the ones that attract you most, first. Remember, most treasures at these fairs are one-offs, so the sooner you can reach the areas that deal in what you are most looking for, the more likely it is you’ll be the one to bag that beautiful vintage piece. Some flea markets also publish maps, which are handy for planning but also for marking stalls of interest on, ones where you have left items to be picked up, etc.

Also, if you have something specific in mind, don’t forget to take dimensions, colour swatches or anything that will help you decide in the moment whether that piece is “the one”. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to take it back if it’s not!

3. Get there early

Try and get there as soon as you can on the first day. As mentioned above, it could be the difference between you walking away over the moon or under a cloud. As well as visiting on the first day, it’s sometimes worth going back on the last day as there’s often some fantastic haggling to be done! If it’s a regular market, visit on a rainy, cold day where there will be fewer visitors.

4. Haggle!

All dealers expect a bit of haggling, so don’t feel awkward about it. We’d just recommend not haggling too hard on lots of things and then not buying them, because if you then find something you love and try to negotiate on that, the dealer may not take you seriously and might not budge. Also, don’t expect them to come down very far on the first morning of the first day – but go in hard on the last afternoon!

5. Don’t show your hand

If you are at some of the more cut-throat professional flea markets, such as the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, in Paris, if you find something you really love, try not to touch it before you start to negotiate on price. By touching it, you show the dealer that you’re interested in it and sometimes they don’t come down on the price as much.

6. Be respectful

If you are at a market where the dealers are less hard-ball, you’ll probably find that a more friendly and honest approach to haggling works better. We have found that in these instances, if you ask a price and you find it’s too much, it actually helps to say how much you love it, that you’ll be giving it a really good home, and could they come down a bit more. A lot of dealers are quite emotionally involved with the pieces they are selling – most buy things they themselves love and appreciate it when they sell to someone who will obviously love it too. If they ask you for your bottom price, be respectful – there often isn’t a huge margin in vintage items now that people have cottoned on to the value of things, and the dealers have to make a living, too.

7. Get friendly

If you’re going to a regular flea market, stop and have a little chat with your favourite stall holders (when they’re not busy).They will appreciate the effort you’re making with them, will get to know you, and we often find that you get better prices from dealers who feel familiar with you.

8. Check condition

Whilst we’d recommend that you don’t get put off by any good, solid piece that just needs a little bit of love, make sure you check the condition carefully of any pieces you buy. If they are broken, think carefully about whether they are mendable, and how much that will cost you.

9. Big and fast, small and slow

Items of furniture tend to go quicker at second hand fairs than the smaller items. If you have a coffee table on your wish list, speed round the place and only look at coffee tables. You can always do a second lap to look at the smaller trinkety bits later on. This way, you’ll have the best chance of seeing as many coffee tables as possible before they get snapped up.

If you’re looking for jewellery, kitchen items, or the like, it can be really easy to just quickly cast your eye over a stall and miss something, especially if you’re at a big fair. Take your time to study the items on display. Have you ever heard that if you want to spell check a document, you should try and read it right to left, as anomalies will jump out more obviously? If you’d normally scan a stall left to right, go the other way, as we find that by the same principle, you seem to take more in that way. Also, look and high and low! People tend to just look at table top height, forgetting about the boxes of treasures underneath, or that fantastic lamp that the stall holder has perched up high.

10. Bring cash (but keep it safe)

Some markets do have an ATM, but the queues tend to be horrendous, and there are often charges to make withdrawals. Take cash, but keep it in a cross-body, zipped bag or in the front pocket of your jeans.

11. Turn left

A tip we picked up from an antiques dealer friend, apparently a much larger percentage of people turn right on entering a market or fair, so you’re more likely to be going on a path less travelled if you turn left.

12. Don’t walk away

So you’ve found an item you absolutely love, the dealer has come down to a price you would be prepared to pay, but you think you can walk away and get a better price, or just take some time to think about it…stop right there! Only walk away if you are prepared to lose that beauty for good.


Have you got any tips that we’ve not covered above? We’d love to hear them if so! Happy shopping!


Sylvia x

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