Service of Elegant Negotiating & Winning: Conversation is Mightier than Email

November 19th, 2018

Categories: Retail


A friend—I’ll call her Abigail–consigned two new black steel Alessi trays in original packaging to the online luxury consignment sales company, RealReal. A rep picked them up from her office, where they disappeared in one of two oversized bags.

The rep refused Hermès catalogs and design magazines that were  also scheduled for pickup, saying that RealReal didn’t sell them. This proved untrue.

“The rep raved about the professional, corporate nature of the company and about RealReal’s elite clients,” said Abigail. She said she would ship the trays to headquarters by FedEx.

The trays never went live on the RealReal website and nobody followed up with Abigail. There had been no communication about the sales price of the trays, which was at the discretion of the consignment sales company.


Initially, Abigail asked about the delay in the items’ appearance online. She was told that it was due to the large backlog of merchandise to be processed and there was no cause for concern. The only correspondence she subsequently received from the company was a customer service evaluation form, so she called customer service several times and was assured that an explanation would be forthcoming.

In a phone conversation she learned that the items, which were incorrectly recorded as a set of plates and priced as a pair, had simply vanished. Despite a FedEx shipment record the trays were nowhere to be found.

An excerpt from a RealReal email went like this: “I want to confirm with you that we’ve reached out to our warehouse team, and they confirmed that the Alessi pair of plates could not be located. Since they cannot be located, we’ve contacted our Merchandising team with the plates’ information and photo, and they confirmed we could have listed the set at $65.00 maximum list price.”

Remember: Abigail consigned trays, not plates, that were not a set or a pair.


She suspected that someone had made off with her trays but kept that to herself. Not wanting to spend more time writing, she picked up the phone again and calmly reiterated a description of her consignment. Speaking quietly she mentioned her disappointment in the service; how she felt taken advantage of—and who likes to put up with that? She also confided that she had never heard back from the specialist who picked up the trays from her office. She was supposed to follow up.

She gently asked: “Isn’t interstate commerce involved in your business?”  She also coolly observed that she didn’t think her Senators Warren and Markey would be happy with a business that conducted itself in this way.

RealReal’s initial offer was to “generously reimburse” her $65.00 for the “pair of plates.” She said: “Without an argument or one raised voice, or language favored by our president, in the end the company awarded me $130.”

Abigail said: “Although the experience was unpleasant and time-consuming, maintaining a civilized, albeit formal, manner seemed both more comfortable and persuasive.” As for creating a written record, Abigail added: “My grandfather always recommended not putting anything in writing you wouldn’t want the Tsar to read!”

When wronged have you won your case because you kept your cool and proffered valid arguments?  Do you think telephone negotiations can be more effective than written ones? What have your experiences been selling your belongings or work via online consignment resources?


4 Responses to “Service of Elegant Negotiating & Winning: Conversation is Mightier than Email”

  1. Martha Takayama Said:

    The resolution of problems verbally is always preferable to writing. Unfortunately although our Presi-dent and current administration opt for the most socially uancceptable form of behavior, I think polite behavior is a more comfortable way to go about problem-solving.

    I have had minimal experience selling online and do not do much purchasing on line. I prefer the comfort of seeing and knowing what I am buying and even the interaction of a pleasant store. I am hesitant about giving all my information on line and very much put-off by having to buy multiples of garments or shoes to ascertain quality and fit. Then there is the bother of repackaging for return. I am generally fairly cynical about the constant flutter of gushing sales promotions via email. I like fine materials and good quality consumer goods. However, I am not interested in being a walking advertisement for a brand.

  2. Protius Said:

    I am sure that ever since the first Neanderthal cave artist sold his first cave painting to an art loving caveman in the Dordogne more than 10,000 years ago, there have been disputes in “bargained” commercial transactions. This is why I prefer to pay more for what I want, buy less of it, and avoid the hassle of the deal.

    In my last job I worked for almost 15 years representing some foreign investors in the US. As their representative, I acted as sole active corporate officer of numerous property owning domestic and foreign corporations, sole signatory on bank accounts, here and abroad, and as a director, as needed, of various other companies. Had I wanted to, I could have stolen millions and easily avoided prosecution.

    Nothing was in writing. We had no contract between us. Several times I unilaterally decided to reduce what I paid myself, knowing full well that if I needed more money, all I had to do is ask for it. They never failed me.

    Even though, my news was usually negative, I made sure to report it to my employers promptly and accurately. An extraordinary bond of trust between us developed over the years and I think we even became friends. After I retired, I received, unsolicited, a “thank you” equivalent to a year’s income.

    Had we bargained, had lawyers and written agreements, none of this would have happened.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I admit to preferring to write an email as it’s quicker, less confrontational and I can do it at any time of day or night. Yet I think the impact of a call–in Abigail’s example for sure with all the misinformation involved–is more effective. She also sounded very smart and struck cords with the customer service rep that sounded like she knew what she was doing so don’t silly sally with her!

    While keeping the Tsar in mind when constructing a polite written response, having a paper trail is often necessary, not only to confirm what was agreed to, but to remember the twists and turns if/when a negotiation goes south.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I fear those days are over. I’m currently in dispute with a vendor for whom a handshake was his word for 20 years and because there was no paperwork to back the deal, everyone suffers. I knew better too so I’m culpable. I wish Abigail’s grandpa was around to adapt his advice and philosophy to present day business practices and business environment.

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