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I am selling used textbooks online in a Facebook buy and sell group. Two people contacted me within a minute apart to buy the same book, which I had listed for $50 OBO ("or best offer"). I messaged back asking them both if they would pay more than my asking price of $50, since they had both messaged at the same time (I would have sold it to the person who messaged first if they had been farther apart).

One person replied back immediately, saying they would pay $60 for it, but no more than that. The exact conversation:

Me: "Would you be willing to pay more than $50?"

Them: "I can do $60! ... But if they do any higher I'll pass."

The other person hasn't replied yet. I told the person who replied immediately that if the other person didn't beat their offer soon, I would sell the book to them.

However, now here is the meat of this question, they just asked me:

"So if the other person passes, did you want $50 or $60?"

How can I explain politely that, since they said they would pay $60, I would prefer for them to honour that pledge? (It doesn't seem fair to the other person that I would take the $50 anyway.... or maybe I am just greedy ....)

  • 3
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Use comments for asking for clarifications or suggesting improvements for the question. Comments used for other purposes will be removed without notice. – Em C Sep 7 '18 at 16:14
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    A Note: Please don't write answers telling which one should/would have the item or what should be price. Question is specifically about "how to tell someone to honour their bid". Therefore, answers should focus on this and must provide an IPS solution. Answers not addressing this will be removed. – A J Sep 9 '18 at 5:28
  • This seems more like a question for the Legal SE. There's a whole issue of offers, counteroffers, acceptance and withdrawal of offers, and this would likely fit into that framework – Zac Faragher Sep 10 '18 at 23:54
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"So if the other person passes, did you want $50 or $60?"

Well...

"If the other person passes, it means they were not willing to go beyond $50 and you were, so you clearly need to pay the price beyond $50. That was your commitment to securing the purchase of the book. You need to pay the $60. Otherwise you're telling me that you were not really willing to go beyond $50."

If the other person stopped replying, there's a chance they abandoned the idea of buying it (or maybe you're being too impatient and they didn't have time to reply yet?), and if that's the case then now you only have one buyer, who wants to pay the original $50. You wanting $60 can be considered being greedy, and by requesting them to pay it you might be risking losing your buyer. However, strictly speaking, they did agree to paying $60 specifically with the purpose of being the best offer, and if they go back to $50 they are no longer being the best offer (ignoring the fact that there are no other offers).

What you should do? It all depends on how much you want to sell the book now or not. If you're willing to hold it for some more time and sell it again later, you should enforce the $60 and run the risk of losing your remaining buyer, ending up not having any buyers now. If the $10 are not that important to you and you just want to get rid of the book, take the $50 which was the value you wanted from the beginning anyway. ;-) Good luck!


A deleted comment mentioned there was "another possibility": to stop communicating with the seller (as a buyer), since the enforcement of the price at $60 was seen as unethical by them. And that comment had a good amount of upvotes, so I'd like to address that.

First, OP is the seller, not the buyer. Discussing the possible feelings, reactions and thought process you would have as a buyer are not the focus.

Second, discussing the possible feelings, reactions and thought process of the buyer who made the $60 offer, even though not being the focus, can help give an insight on how to tell them that they should pay $60 instead of $50 in a polite way. Discussing the feelings and reactions of the other person who apparently already gave up on the book, on the other hand, contributes nothing to the matter at hand. You might still want to give your opinion on OP ethics and morality, but you're definitely not giving an answer that can help OP, as is SE's purpose.

Third (now addressing the some other answers), OP is not asking for help on deciding the price they should sell it for (which by the way could be closed as out of scope for this SE from the little I observed around). They have already decided the course of action and the selling price. The question is on how to explain the decision in the most polite way. Questioning OP's ethics might be valid as a support point that you might be using to answer OP's question. But simply passing judgement without addressing the question itself is probably out of scope.

Fourth, OP has the right to renegotiate, change the price, lower it or increase it, or abandon the deal as they see fit, at any time. Just as much as any potential buyer has the right to renegotiate, ask for a lower or higher (!!) price, or abandon the deal and stop communicating at any time. OP is not Amazon, you know. ;-) Some people might consider the renegotiation as not nice. Some people might consider it normal. Some people might consider they're fools if they don't take the opportunity. OP is not doing anything illegal, so it's not up to us internet randos to judge them, we have to respect their choices. According to the help, questions that "ask us to adjudicate 'right' and 'wrong'" are off-topic. OP did not ask us to adjudicate. Yet, several answers did adjudicate "right" and "wrong". I'd suggest we all review the help and discuss more in meta. ;) This is an awesome SE that I'd love see it going past beta. Let's contribute to rounding up the corners before we go to production though. ^_^

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Em C Sep 10 '18 at 1:48
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Obviously you want $60 rather than $50. That's going to be the case regardless of any other factors involved.

Your mistake is less the auction situation (though without time limits for responses, that may not have been ideal) and more that you are communicating irrelevant information to the two prospective customers. Neither person needs any information beyond the price to beat to get the book and the outcome of the auction.

The $60 bid was intended to see that person A gets the book over person B and it doesn't seem to me that that situation has changed any (person B is essentially standing at a bid of $50). Person B's failure to respond shouldn't be viewed as anything other than a refusal to outbid A. In which case A can have the book for $60 and everyone is happy.


Here's how I would say it:

You outbid B and won the book for $60.

The exact phrasing is not very important (and such phrasing requests are off-topic for this stack). What is important is emphasizing the situation that established the $60 price: there was a "tie", and no one would get the book, but then you entertained higher bids so that someone would get the book. Without the $60 bid, the tie would still exist and A would not pay anything at all (and would not get the book).

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Ethics are a very important interpersonal skill.

Let's take a look at the situation. You have an item for sale. 2 people expressed an interest in it. Did you list it as $50 or best offer, or did you list it as $50? If you didn't list it as "best offer", then I find myself challenged to take bids on an item that I didn't list as being available at auction.

Now you have an offer of $60 but no other offer that would make that person offer that increased amount. Were I in that position, I'd find that as arbitrarily raising the price after announcing its sale, with no reason to raise the price other than "they're willing to pay it". Ethically, I find that to be on shaky ground.

Will someone report you to the police? Probably not. Will your reputation suffer? Again, probably not. It comes down to a question of ethics. And here I ask myself: are my ethics for sale for 10 bucks? For me, the answer is "no". The only reasonable course of action I see for myself is to honor the original terms of sale and accept the initial price, which I considered a reasonable price at the outset.

Now, WRT the two people expressing interest at the same time: I'd pick one. It doesn't matter who. The item was for sale for $50, so I'd pick a purchaser, accept their $50, and consider it a $10 lesson to include the phrase "or best offer" in future sales.

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    ''consider it a $10 lesson to include the phrase "or best offer" in future sales" - the OP explicitly stated that "or best offer" was included. – vsz Sep 8 '18 at 7:55
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    "Or best offer," as commonly used in classified ads, usually means the seller may be willing to accept a lower offer than the asking price, not that you plan to take bids above the asking price. Even including OBO doesn't really imply you plan to conduct an auction if multiple people want the item. – Zach Lipton Sep 8 '18 at 20:22
  • @vsz: that was added in an edit. – jmoreno Sep 9 '18 at 11:50
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There are two ways auctions are run.

One is the classic live auction, in which people make a bid, listen to other bids, then make a new bid, and the highest bid is the price the item goes for.

The second is the eBay process, where everyone states the highest they are willing to go, and the item goes to the highest bidder at just slightly higher than the second highest bid.. The ebay process is intended to simulate the live auction case but without having to literally listen to a bidding process, but also not overpaying.

You didn't specify which of those processes your auction was following.

You could reasonably argue each way, but your best bet for niceness is to take $50.

Also ask yourself - what would you do if the guy said "I've changed my mind and I want to pay $50". You don't have another buyer. Are you going to put the item up for sale again?

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    "There are two ways auctions are run." That's not true. Auction theory is a deep field with many, many schemes with different (dis)advantages. – orlp Sep 7 '18 at 5:15
  • True. but only these two are relevant to this issue. – DJClayworth Sep 7 '18 at 12:57
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I'll name the 2 people for brevity:

  • Person A: the one who offered $60
  • Person B: the one who offered $50 and you didn't hear from again.

Does Person A know what Person B's counter offer was - for any amount, including whether they made a counter offer at all? No

Person A has said they're willing to buy the book for $60 under a condition they couldn't possibly verify (knowing what Person B's best offer is). If being able to verify counter offers is important, Person A should be using a platform that supports it, and not sending emails offering arbitrary additional sums of money. This is frankly a risk they are taking.

There are no "feelings" in business transactions**. Person A has ultimately offered you $60 and you simply tell them you'll accept it. Person A has already said

But if they do any higher I'll pass.

Their only assumption could be that Person B made a higher offer if you tell them you'll accept $60. What else could they think has happened?

** Some people are talking about ethics. You're selling a book, and it comes down to a $10 difference. It's not a house! This sort of thing takes place everyday.

  • Your edit makes no sense. Just because something takes place every day does not make it ethical. – Shadow Sep 10 '18 at 5:51
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There was no formal auction nor rules set up, but I would go by the quite typical 10% increase vs the second-highest bid (or the max bid if there is under the 10% difference between the bids). Usually rounded if you are doing cash transactions.

You have one bid for 50$ and one for 60$. So, if you go by the above and want to make it fair for everyone, you should sell the item for 55$. You get slightly more than the base 50$ so you should be happy, and the person willing to offer more gets the item, even for less than the max they are offering, so they should be happy too.

Perhaps say: "the other person stayed at the 50$ offer, so you are outbidding him with the 55$. You get the book for less than the max you are willing to pay, I get more than 50$ of the other offer, so I believe this is fair for both of us.".

Now, let's assume some hypothetical bids of the other person:

  1. the current offer for 50$ gets raised to 100$. In this case I believe you should sell for 65$ to the person offering at max 100$. Similar text to the above.
  2. If the other person gets back to you offering the same 60$, well, too bad for him, you should sell for 60$ to the first person that offered the money. He offered the same amount faster. Don't try making more rounds. This time say to the first person: "The other offer was also 60$, but you are getting the book as you offered this amount first". The second offer gets: "The other offer was also 60$, but came before yours, so the other person is getting the book. Sorry."
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I don't think you can call them honor-bound to pay $60.

What you did was basically an auction, trying to find the highest bidder. The question is whether it is an honor bound bid to say:

Me: "Would you be willing to pay more than $50?"

Them: "I can do $60! ... But if they do any higher I'll pass."

Personally, I do not consider this to be a bid in the sense of being bound to pay $60. As other answers have pointed out, the rules of the auction have not been specified.

What really happened was that you got them to reveal their bidding strategy, so that you could proxy bid for them. That way you and the other person could negotiate, knowing what this person was going to do if they were in person and bidding live. They told you a maximum.

Now I'm not one to say economic trades are honorable, but if I were, I'd say you might be the one that is honor bound to accept $50, and not leverage the extra information you got about their bidding strategy (which they gave to you). There was no contract, of course, so you don't have to treat it this way, but I find this view of how the conversations played out to be more reasonable, regardless of greed. They trusted you with their max price, rather than keeping it secret.

Now you might play a game and say the winning bid was $51, which would be an accurate model of an auction in which you were proxy-bidding. The other person bid $50, and you proxy bid $51 for this buyer, and "won" the auction. If I was playing that game in my head, I'd want to choose a reasonable increment, like $1.

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This was not a public auction (in the sense that all participants can see the bids made by others in real time), where the bids rise step by step over possibly multiple rounds until some bidder is the last one to state a number, which then is the price at which the item is sold.

In fact, the reply seems to make it clear that the bidder stated his complete strategy including when to stop bidding (perhaps because they already noticed that a full auction process could require a lot more messages being exchanged); which means that the 60$ are not a bid per se in the form they might have made if the auction mode were in the form described in the first paragraph.

Given the nature of the communication, I would treat this auction as most resembling the following mode: Everyone submits a single bid secretly. In such a scenario, it is natural so sell the item to the person with the highest bid, but at the price determined by the second-highest bid. This makes sense, for if we do as if there was an auction as described in the first paragraph and the participants would repeatedly raise in steps of 1$, the highest bidder would at some time be the one to call either the second-highest bid or the second-highest bid plus 1$ - and thereby be the last bidder. If we imagine steps of 10 cents or of 1 cent or in fact of infinitesimal amounts, we finally end up with the rule as stated.

So in conclusion, I suggest that you ought to sell the item to the 60$-person for 50$. Or if you are uncomfortable with it, add a symbolic dollar to make it 51$ and say that they won because 50$ was the other person's last word. This should make everybody happy and no-one has reason to feel bamboozled (not even you, as you were more than willing to sell at 50$ or even less "OBO").

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Them: "I can do $60! ... But if they do any higher I'll pass."

This clearly indicates that they are only willing to pay $60 if the other person bids 59.99$. However, there's noone paying 59.99$.

Therefore, $50 it is.

You have no other buyer. Be glad your only buyer doesn't see that and negotiates any further (or walks away, too.)

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