Used in a sentence, the term would be "The salesman said they were selling the item on ..... so he'd need to ask the owner if they could accept my offer of $200."

Suppose you want to sell a piece of art (or any object, but it was more common with art), but you don't have the time and storefront to personally sell it, and don't want to auction it. So, you lend that artwork to a store owner so that they can try to sell it for you. You'll tell them the minimum price you'll accept, and arrange for the salesman to receive some percentage of the sale price or a larger portion of whatever amount they can sell it for above your minimum price. If the item doesn't sell (usually after a month or so), the store owner returns the item to you, and no money has changed hands at all. Throughout the process the original owner will retain legal ownership, until (and if) the salesman can find a customer. If a customer is found, the salesman handles the sale, and gives the creator their portion of the money from the sale.

There is a specific 1- or 2-word term for this kind of arrangement, but I can't remember it for the life of me. Google has not helped me find this term, probably because companies like Amazon use the reverse of this sales model. And the next best set of search terms just returns results for pawn shops (as those businesses both lend and sell, but that's completely different). The overall process is a bit similar to the occasions where an art collector lends famous pieces to a museum for a year.

Edit: thank you to the comments and answers, "consignment" is the word I was looking for.

  • 8
    The term is "consignment". (I'll let others expand on that and give the idiomatic uses.)
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 16, 2017 at 0:14
  • Could the basis for the arrangement be for a/on "commission?"
    – Stan
    Oct 16, 2017 at 0:25
  • Single-word-requests require an example sentence, are you able to edit one in? This is so we know whether you're looking for a verb, an adjective, a noun, something else...
    – AndyT
    Oct 16, 2017 at 9:09
  • Thank you! Consignment is indeed the exact word. And I added an example sentence to the post as suggested. Oct 16, 2017 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


If a retail outlet accepts goods to be sold, on commission, and to be returned if unsold, then it is commonly called a 'sale or return' arrangement, although this may be applicable only in the UK.

Sale or return link is to the British 'Financial Times':

"Definition of sale or return - If a shop buys something on a sale or return basis, it can return the goods it is unable to sell"

Formally, it is referred to as consignment.

The detailed methodology is discussed on business forums.

The ownership of these goods remains with the sender. The agent sells the goods on behalf of the sender according to instructions. The sender of goods is known as the "consignor" and the agent entrusted with the custody and care of the goods is known as the "consignee".

Wikipedia :

Consignment is the act of consigning, the act of giving over to another person or agent's charge, custody or care any material or goods but retaining legal ownership until the material or goods are sold. That may be done for the purpose of shipping the goods, transferring the goods to auction or intending the goods to be placed on sale in a store (a consignment store).

[Edit after Post regarding comment : Anyone following the link on my profile will see that I am a Director of my own Publishing Company - Belmont Publications - and I am familiar with retail practice in the UK.]

  • 4
    In the United States, consignment store or selling on consignment are the ordinary terms and aren't considered formal. I wouldn't have known what sale or return meant; maybe specify where you're from? Oct 16, 2017 at 5:02
  • @chrylis - I'm from the UK and wouldn't have known what sale or return meant either. Maybe it's only used within particular industries, and not in general use. I do recognise consignment though. I'd expect to see it with the word on though: on consignment - maybe just me?
    – AndyT
    Oct 16, 2017 at 9:08
  • @chrylis The article labelled sale or return ,above, is from the British Financial Times.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 16, 2017 at 9:13
  • 1
    "Sale or return" is also used of end-customer purchases, where an unused portion of a purchase [of, say, cases of wine for a party] may be returned for a full-price refund and then resold by the retailer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 16, 2017 at 10:03
  • I'm familiar with sale or return in the sense of a business supplying a quantity of goods to a customer (which may be another business) in the expectation that some will be sold. I'm not sure it applies to an individual commissioning an agent to sell a single item on their behalf, with a price floor. (I'm also in the UK)
    – Chris H
    Oct 16, 2017 at 11:39

"The salesman said they were selling the item on consignment, so he'd need to ask the owner if they could accept my offer of $200."

Don't forget your comma. :)

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