Used Boats and the Authority Play

Recently I talked about the Scarcity Principle, how sellers often put it into play when selling a used boat, and how to decide for yourself just how much to believe when someone tries to sway you with that tactic. Not that it’s always false – there are some good used boats that really are scarce and do seem to hold their value, like some built in the recession. But, again, you have to do your research and objectively consider what’s right for you before deciding whether “scarcity” matters.

Joe Boatseller may well be an authority, but as a buyer you need to know how to weigh his claims against your own interests.
Joe Boatseller may well be an authority, but as a buyer you need to know how to weigh his claims against your own interests.

There are lots more of these tactics we can explore. Being aware of them can can help you defend yourself when shopping for a used boat, whether it’s from a private party or a dealer. This month, let’s delve into the Authority Play and how it’s often used to put the buyer at a perceived disadvantage.

Authority can manifest itself in a number of ways. It may lie in the way a particular seller presents himself. For example, a private seller might tell you he’s owned nothing but Cobalts for the last 20 years, which could be an attempt to establish himself as an authority on the Cobalt boat he currently has for sale. A boat dealer could tell you how long he’s been selling Cobalts or show you awards or plaques as a testament to his authority on a given brand. Walk into any boat dealership and you will see a wall where they display all their awards. They put them out on display for the same reason a male peacock shows off its tail feathers.

That’s one method and it’s fairly easy to spot, but Authority can manifest itself in more subtle ways. For example, it could lie in something as simple as a title. If someone is buying a boat from a guy who claims to be master certified Mercury technician, he or she would have a greater tendency to believe what the seller says with respect to the condition of the boat. If the seller is wearing his shirt with all the certification patches, the authority play is strengthened.

Classic hull shape! Timeless design! Needs some touch-up. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
Classic hull shape! Timeless design! Needs some touch-up. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Something as simple as clothing can make a difference at the dealership, too. The finance manager sitting behind the fancy desk is wearing a suit and tie. You’re shopping for a boat, so you’re wearing flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt. You might have an increased tendency to believe that 12 percent is the best interest rate he could get you — because he’s wearing a tie and you aren’t.

One key two-part question underpins the buyer’s strength in unraveling the persuasiveness of the authority play: Is the authority really an expert, and how honest can we expect him to be?

The truth is, you won’t know until you check things out, and that’s a lot easier thanks to the Internet. Is the price the guy told you really fair for the make, model, and year boat you’re considering? There are ways to check. Is 12 percent really the best interest rate you can get? Call your bank or credit union.

As with many of the things that influence us as human beings, the Authority Play is subtle, but it does work. The important thing for the used-boat shopper is to be aware of it before venturing out. If you’re ever interested in seeing how powerfully people can perceive authority and what they’re willing to do under its influence, read about the Milgram Experiment.

Forewarned is forearmed, right?


Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.



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