Jewelers and their ubiquitous calculator... why?
November 19, 2007 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Why do jewelers always insist of giving prices read from a calculator screen and not from the price tag of the piece I'm looking at? Do they give different people different prices? Or is it a way of accounting for fluctuating prices of gold or gems from week to week?
posted by ab5000 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

There's two reasons for this: in high-end stores, it's sometimes done for aesthetic purposes. Tags without price tend to look nicer. However, there are some stores that do change their prices dependent upon gold fluctuations. Some stores do not use price codes to sell jewelry. I work in a very small independent shop that does its own work, and we just don't like to do that. The price that we buy the gold or piece at is the price that the customer pays.

Jewelers sometimes do give different prices to different customers. People who buy frequently from the store can often get a better price. The markup on jewelry is high enough, particularly in mall stores, to give the jeweler wiggle room.

If you're looking to get the best price possible on a piece, then shop around carefully. Avoid mall stores, as they often sell inferior goods for inflated prices. Offer to pay cash, since that will save the jeweler a considerable amount in credit card fees. If you want to quote web prices, be aware that a brick-and-mortar jeweler will be hard-pressed to match online prices because of overhead costs. Plus, time and customer care is worth something.
posted by Flakypastry at 8:39 AM on November 19, 2007

It's not just jewelers. Many stores that sell expensive merchandise do this because (a) they do, in fact, give different prices to different customers; and (b) it makes the negotiation process seem somewhat more 'civilized,' and less like bargain-basement haggling over price.

On a more cynical note, there are also the following, which may or may not apply to jewelers in particular, but do apply in other situations: (c) It lends an air of rationality and calculation to what is, essentially, a bargaining process. While most retailers have a very good idea of exactly what their lowest price is, it looks better to go through a complicated set of calculations than simply to pull a number out of thin air; and (d) It makes the customer feel special - e.g., "I'm giving you such a low price that I can't even say it out loud in case someone else hears me" - regardless of the price itself.
posted by googly at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2007

I know with musical instruments (guitars, etc) the store will usually take an automatic 20 to 25 per cent off the price tag. That way the saleman can walk over when they see you eye-ballin' something and say, I can give you that for X, knowing full well you already saw the price Y.

The Jewelry stores may be doing the same thing--they build in a certain amount of mark-up to the price tag so they can then take it off and make you feel like you're getting a good deal. The best way to tell is to find the same sort of thing wholesale and compare prices.

Or, as someone noted above, just ask them.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2007

Also, don't feel like that is the final price. That is simply the opening salvo in the negotiations.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2007

The calculator is a nice visual way to haggle when language is a potential barrier. I haggled with calculator in China. The merchant would punch in a number and then I would punch in my counter offer. In between we chatted amiably and teased each other, "this is a VERY lucky number" followed by, "But THIS is an even LUCKIER number". Very civil and no room for mishearing anything.

From my experience with jewelers you will get a better price based on your relationship and other factors like cash over credit. Only buy the best and have no shame bringing in a loup of your own. Just be educated in purchasing your items and do not get emotionally attached to anything when purchasing.
posted by jadepearl at 9:16 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If they're calculating a lower price than what's on a visible tag, it's a negotiation trick to make you feel like they're doing you a favor.

Often there will be no price tag at all, as mentioned upthread, as having a little tag hanging off the Very Expensive Jewelry looks tacky. If a calculator is used to determine the price in this instance, it is so that the ever-rising price of gold can be factored in. Also, everything Flakypastry said.

/IAAJSeller sometimes
posted by desuetude at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2007

Most people don't know that GIGO, and interpret anything that comes out of a calculator as inviolable Truth. Math don't lie, does it?

Add: It adds a layer of politeness in discussing the price. Only cretins would say a number out loud. (What, you don't have a calculator with you? I guess you can't counteroffer then.)
posted by cmiller at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've bought jewelry only once, at a rather high-end store. There weren't any price tags because (I'm guessing) people were often brought in there to pick out gifts for themselves. I was paying for wedding rings for myself and my boyfriend, and the jeweler was careful to not let him know how much they cost.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:21 AM on November 19, 2007

I wasn't a jeweler, but was a longtime wholesaler. I used a calculator all of the time because I knew what all of my items cost me, but didn't set prices to anything until asked. The price quoted depended on everything from the cash/credit standing of the customer, the length of time the merchandise had been sitting and whether I knew I could sell it elsewhere for more. There were too much movement of merchandise to set prices on everything, and so it was easier to set price on the fly.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:26 AM on November 19, 2007

A variety of reasons are possible. Most have already been mentioned.

Many stores, if they are in the habit of discounting their products as a practice, have an additional amount they are allowed to work with.

Many times, slow moving merchandise or merchandise that has been in their inventory for quite some time, will be discounted simply to free up the inventory dollars.

Stores that sell gold jewelry by weight, are dependant upon a calculator in order to figure out the current market price. This can be a good thing if the market has been weak or weakening.

One earlier comment I'll disagree with is...

"Avoid mall stores, as they often sell inferior goods for inflated prices."

This isn't exactly correct. There are many fine independent jewelers selling very good merchandise that is priced properly. You'll even find Tiffany's with mall locations.

Do your homework, shop around, and be sure you're comparing apples to apples.
posted by ChainzOnline at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2007

Haggling varies greatly by culture. In some places, you never buy anything for the posted (or first given) price. You just don't, the first offer is always high ball, on anything you buy. In other places, to attempt to haggle could be taken as a serious insult. It could be interpreted as you not trusting the seller to give you an honest price straight away. In the US, there are tons of mixed rules everywhere you go. For the most part, for small items, you just pay the tag price. It's too much of a hassle to go to the grocery store or book store and and ask for a better price. It just doesn't work that way. And if there's a better price elsewhere, it's assumed you'll go there if it's really worth it. For large items, like cars, and jewelry, and even your big screen, etc., haggling is normal and even expected. Not necessarily because the idea that you deserve to see if you can get a better price because you're paying cash, or you know there is low demand for the item, is more true than the idea that honest sellers always give the best price they can. It's just that for whatever reason, the way things have worked out here is that you haggle for cars, and big screen TVs and jewelry, and that's just the way it is here, for the most part.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 1:08 PM on November 19, 2007

The first thing I wondered on reading this question was: "maybe it's so you don't mishear how many zeroes they're actually saying?" -- I wonder if it's to keep confusion out of what the number actually is, not what it is calculated to be on the spot.
posted by at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Confessions of a guy who did it:

When I was 18 years old and living in the Virgin Islands I used to work at a high volume jewelry store. We catered to people coming off cruise ships. We sold small things. We old big things. I sold diamonds for a thousand dollars and plenty of six-figure stones too. We had volume, variety, and no sales tax.

There was a number on the tag. It was called the price, but it certainly wasn't the real price. I got a different percent commission depending on the percent discount I would give you. If I took 50% off the ticket price I would get 7% commission on the sale - 60% = 4%, 66% = 2% , 72% = 1%, etc.

The price I would give you depended 100% on how much I thought I could squeeze out of you, how good of a day I was having, or how cute your daughter was.

The price had nothing to do with current market values of anything as of course profit margins remain static relative to the tagged price and cost of raw materials at the time of purchase.

And if you wanted to trade something in, you would get the 66% off. This is the same price the annoying guy next to you that wanted to haggle all day would get. And I would take your $10,000 trade in for nothing.

It was a big game and a slimy one at that. I only did it for a year, but I sure grew up a lot in that year.

I feel better having shared.
posted by Slenny at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Funny you asked this question. I went to the jeweler this morning and saved $2000K just by asking! They must really pad the price so as to have some wiggle room to make sure you don't walk out of the door empty handed.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:38 PM on November 19, 2007

Slenny is correct.

If it's one of those jewelry exchange places or a diamond district store (like in NY or Philly) they size you up and price accordingly. That's why they use a calculator.

I wore a suit and an Oris watch into one place and looked at Omegas. They quoted me outrageous prices. When I went back wearing jeans, t-shirt and a Casio, the prices they gave me were much lower.

They're all such crooks. I would stick with a name retailer.
posted by wfc123 at 10:54 AM on November 20, 2007

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