e-Haggling

On the Internet, there are basically three forms of e-commerce: the bargain-basement wholesalers (Amazon), the auctioneers (eBay), and — my personal favorite — the used goods sellers (Half.com, Amazon Marketplace). But as great as all these options are, something still seems to be missing. In this virtual bazaar of vendors, where can you go to haggle with the sellers? Granted, if you don’t like the opening bid price on eBay, you can offer less than the seller is asking. But it’s pretty certain that in such cases your offer will yield only a Priority Mail “pshaw”!

It was only today, when a mysterious package from IDS – REMAINDERS arrived in the mail, that I realized — Hallelujah! — haggling is an option after all. The package, you see, contained a book called “Quest for the Golden Hare,” by Bamber Gascoigne — a book that has been out of print since about 1985. Despite the fact that I lowballed the Amazon Marketplace sellers with an offer that was about 15 percent of what they were asking, the book still magically found its way to me.

The book is about Kit Williams’ book “Masquerade” and the whole treasure-hunting craze that it started in England. It recounts all of the eccentricities of the treasure hunters, along with an insider’s look at how Kit Williams came up with his book’s puzzle and the method for solving it. The Gascoigne book has become a kind of required reading for anyone obsessed with “A Treasure’s Trove.” ‘Nuf said.

So, about two months ago, when I was in full Treasure Trove mode, I started trying to get a copy of the book. But at all of the used book places online — Amazon Marketplace, Alibris, Half — the sellers were asking a minimum of $80, which seemed outrageous. This was just an ordinary trade hardcover book. After many frustrated searches, a link curiously appeared one day, asking me, would I like to “pre-order” the book “Quest for the Golden Hare”? Considering that I could set the price and conditions, I was like, hells yeah! I filed the order, waiting a couple days, and then nothing. Not willing to give up on the book, I resorted to a much cheaper route — going though the Penn’s interlibrary loan search. It took a few trys, but ultimately the LaSalle library came through for me.

It’s now been like two months since I got the Gascoigne book and devoured it in a day. But suddenly, today in the mail, the book arrived via USPS. The price I’d set? $10.

As if that weren’t cool enough, the book is in mint condition; I believe it’s a new copy that got remaindered by the publisher decades ago. Apparently they didn’t send it to a pulp factory, though, but instead to a warehouse in New Hampshire.

What I love about this whole “pre-ordering” thing at Amazon is that it allows you to actually set your own price — to haggle. In the case of the Gascoigne book, it seems like there’s a limited supply, and perhaps because of this, the price of the book on the used market had spiraled wildly out of control (this was confirmed, incidentally, by Andy, who I think was quoted the same $80 price by a Center City book dealer). But nobody, not even the most die hard of treasure hunters, would pay that much. Thankfully, Amazon’s system has a way to correct for out-of-whack prices; if the Marketplace sellers aren’t playing fair, then the buyers can pre-order at their own prices.

When I went back to Amazon and began searching for the “pre-order” button, it was nowhere to be found. It turns out, it’s completely buried in the site — no idea how I found it the first time. There is a trick, though, that you can use to get your haggle mojo working. Instructions posted after the jump …

How to Pre-Order at Amazon (borrowed from http://www.teasmoke.com):

Step one: Find the ASIN.
Determine the item’s ASIN on Amazon. That I’ve observed, this is a ten-character alphanumeric string beginning with a B. The ASIN can be found in the url to an item’s display page, or in the Product Details section of that page.

Step two: Determine the preorder page.
Compose a url of the string http://s1.amazon.com/exec/varzea/preorder/new/ and then the ASIN. Load that url in your browser.

Step three: File a preorder.
You are now at a page where you can arrange a preorder on Amazon Marketplace. You set the maximum price, the minimum quality, and the duration of the preorder. When next a zShops merchant has that item for sale such that those conditions are satisfied, the item will be automatically purchased for you.

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