Price-Bluffing In an Uncertain Economy

One of the predictions made when Covid-19 took off and forced millions of Americans to work from home, was that the commercial real estate market would eventually tank out. Of course, the actual metrics are complex and difficult to analyze due to disparate geographical trends. There are other factors involved as well. But to most of us it seems pretty straightforward.

However, it is difficult to tell how hard commercial real estate has been affected because of all the price-bluffing involved. The term just reminded me that this is really the norm; and that to look for actual indicators of a coming “collapse,” one must dive deeper beneath the surface.

When I mention price-bluffing, I simply refer to the tendency of sellers to keep up the price of products and services, even during famine. This tendency is ingrained, and seems to have been taking place for thousands of years. It is standard procedure in the marketing world, where you make a profit by charging ten times what something is actually worth, and fool people into thinking they are paying actual market value.

Let’s take Ebay as an example. Collectibles have never been more out-of-reach for the average collector than they are now. I used to buy a lot of books on Ebay. But that was when they were reasonably priced. Since mid-2020, I have watched prices soar into the stratosphere. This likely has something to do with the economic losses experienced due to Covid-19. Due to costs of living, vendors simply cannot afford to sell their wares for any cheaper. We understand that. But who’s really buying? Again, real metrics are hard to come by.

A huge business like Ebay has to puff themselves a little. In order to attract sellers, they need to act like everything is “business as usual,” and that times are ripe for a good sale even though signs may indicate otherwise. Optimistic advertising can be re-assuring. But if optimism isn’t backed by realism, it paints a false picture of what is really happening out there. And people want to base their checking account balances on reality, not fairy tales.

Commercial real estate should be dirt cheap right now. But it isn’t. Companies are “holding out” in hopes that when things get back to normal, there will be a surge in demand for office space.

But we are living in a world where the very definition of “normal” has changed. At no point in the foreseeable future will the workplace be what it once was. Work-from-home re-adjusted everyone’s bearings and taught us how dynamic and resilient we really were. We enjoyed the freedom of not having a boss breathe down our necks every five minutes. Admittedly, we got spoiled in the process. A daily commute back to the office is not on most of our bucket lists right about now.

So why the price-bluffing? It just staves off the inevitable when we pretend that market values are still the same. We know they are not, and so does every one else.

Of course, the stalemate between seller and consumer may go on for a very long time. But eventually, someone will buckle. The big corporations want that someone to be the consumer. But is that really fair?

What hurts the economy more than anything, I think, is when companies refuse to adjust their prices to meet market fluctuations. Businesses can go on forever pretending that things are normal. They can keep prices sky high and assure us that if they went down, workers would lose jobs, the economy would bust, and we’d have to throw in the towel. But as consumers we should learn to identify price-bluffing when we see it. In times like these, we need to be thrifty in our spending.

Do yourself a favor. In 2021, only buy things at the prices you think they are actual worth. You know that Coca Cola isn’t worth $2.00 a bottle. So stop buying it. You also know that that recently-purchased pair of shoes isn’t worth $50. So nix it and don’t repeat. Rein in the spending and fight back at the price-bluffers. It’s your money and you are in charge. Show that you the consumer still control the marketplace.