After binge watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo you were struck by KonMari Fever and purged your home of all the stuff that didn’t spark joy. Now what? Having a huge pile of unloved items around is nobody’s definition of joy and the great emotional and spiritual release that comes from letting go of all these items won’t be fully realized until you are out from under the weight of your discards. So how do you handle the stuff you no longer want? Lucky for you, we live in a time where connecting buyers and sellers for every imaginable consumable item couldn’t be easier!
The launch of Craigslist and eBay, both in 1995, marked the birth of the online classified ads. The arrival of Facebook Marketplace in 2016 gives us another option to sell (or give away) still usable items. It certainly beats the old standby – the Garage Sale!
The downside of garage sales
Garage sales can range from one person selling out of their literal garage, to whole streets and apartment buildings organizing and collaborating to make selling a community event. Garage sales, as a means of finding buyers for your unwanted items, involves comparatively more work and greater costs than doing online selling.
Consider the cost and effort that goes into a garage sale. Garage sale gurus recommend placing ads in the local classifieds to bring people to your event, which can cost around $25-50 depending on the newspaper. But that’s just a start, you probably also want to put up posters in your neighborhood to generate more foot traffic. Then there comes the question of how much artistic effort, footwork and poster board, art supplies you want to actually make. Those are both costs in terms of time and money.
Then there is also the additional effort of dragging all your stuff into the garage or your lawn. You’ll need to get everything organized, displayed and labeled with price stickers. You’ll need a cash box and some change on hand. There is also the effort of answering questions, handling sales and keeping an eye on your things to make sure no one nicks anything. And then, unless you are incredibly lucky, you are going to have things left unsold and will need to drag everything back into your home so you can initiate whatever Plan B you had in mind. It’s exhausting just thinking about!
The other drawbacks of garage sales are related to your prospects for success selling your unwanted items. Your audience (market) is going to be limited to people walking by or only to those who both saw your ad or poster and bothered to make the effort to show up. They won’t have much advance information on what you are selling, so when they arrive it will be serendipity that they find something they want and be willing to take it off your hands.
While garage and yard sales can certainly be a fun community effort. The time and financial costs are certainly worth a considering. Garage sales tend to be weather dependent and in most of Canada are usually a summer-only activity. This seasonal restriction even further narrows the timing with which you can get rid of your discards.
The benefits of Selling online
It’s easy to see how selling online is an improvement over garage sales in terms of reduced effort, cost and expanding sales prospects. You get to do it from the comfort of your computer or phone, with no worries about a rainy day keeping the crowds away. Selling online, as opposed to a garage sale, expands your access to potential buyers in multiple ways – you are not limited to selling for just one day to a group of people who can physically get to your home and who may not even be interested in most of what you are selling. Not to mention that the internet never experiences a rainy day.
The best part of selling your stuff online is that it is a win-win-win situation. A win for you as you receive extra cash for not too much effort, a win for the buyer in that they get a deal on something they need and best of all, a win for Planet Earth as these items are kept out of the landfill for just a little bit longer. There is also the bonus prospect of meeting some very interesting people.
In a twist of modern irony, going online is probably the fastest and easiest way to connect to a buyer in your local community. Posting on one of the major buy and sell sites gets your stuff not only in front of a lot of eyes, but the right eyes- the people who are looking for exactly what you are selling.
There are any number of ways to sell items online and some of the buy and sell sites can get very specialized. If it is common household items that you want to downsize, there are the old standby sites of Craigslist, or the EBAY owned Kijiji. There is also the newest kid on the block – Facebook Marketplace. Facebook additionally hosts a whole throng of Buy & Sell groups which you can easily join and cross-post to (more on Facebook Groups below).
If you are downsizing something that is niche, high-value or rare, it may be worth your time and effort to do a little bit more research to find an online market that specializes in that category of item so that you can more easily connect your item with a buyer.
Craigslist and Kijiji vs Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Groups
There are common benefits to these “meet up” selling venues of Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Both sites are free to use and do not take a commission or a cut of your sales. Additionally, they offer more flexibility than an auction site, like EBAY, where you are beholden to make the sale to the highest bidder.
On Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, you can withdraw your offer if you need to – this is important to consider because you could potentially post on multiple sites to reach more potential buyers, quicker. And sometimes, when an item is popular you may get in a situation where you are negotiating with several people at the same time.
You can easily cross post ads on a few different forums simultaneously. It’s entirely up to you how much time you want to invest in placing the ads. Just remember that you must manage all the ads which includes updating any missing information, price changes or if relevant, times that you are available for pick-ups. It’s good practice to be considerate by responding quickly to the various inquiries. It is also useful to everyone if you promptly remove ads once the item has sold. Not only will your inbox not continue to be filled with inquiries, you are also being considerate of other people’s time and effort. Online sales are a lot more pleasant if everyone agrees to comport themselves with integrity. I’m sure you don’t like having your time wasted either, right?.
The Pros and Cons of Craigslist and Kijiji
Craigslist and Kijiji were some of the original online sales platforms. They have not evolved much since their inception and they can certainly get the job done for you. Wandering through Craigslist or Kijiji is like taking a mini-vacation to a flea market. It will be an eclectic journey of discovery and you’ll stumble on all kinds of things from the mundane to the exotic. The randomness of the hunt is at least half the fun of wandering around these websites and for some people, part of the appeal.
The upfront effort required to get set up and sell items on these sites is very low. You simply need an email address to create an account. Posting ads is straightforward and generally isn’t very time consuming. You will need to take some good photos of the item(s), accurate measurements and do some basic research about the item. It may be helpful to think about what a buyer would want to know about the products and their condition and make sure to include those details.
Worth mentioning here, is that Craigslist ‘times-out’ quite quickly, so if you want to take your time composing a great ad, prepare it in a separate document and cut and paste the final version to Craigslist when you are ready. I’ve lost many ads where I agonized over the perfect wording only to find them disappear into the ether when I moved to the next step. Don’t let this happen to you.
There is a downside to this low barrier access for Craigslist and Kijiji. A seller can basically fake everything -name, location and even the item being sold. If something goes wrong, a buyer would be left in the lurch as it would be very difficult to hold the seller accountable. While it may be easy enough to fake a profile on Facebook , there are a few things you can check about a person’s profile that can help allay fears. How old is the profile and how many friends do they have? Do they regularly post images that include themselves? Have they been rated by other sellers? Obviously, there are no guarantees, but doing a bit of basic vetting isn’t terribly difficult and the savvier you become at online sales, the more you’ll be able to sniff out unsavoury behaviour.
Conversely, the privacy that Craigslist and Kijiji provide can be a benefit in that it allows you to sell items under a cloak of anonymity. There may be items that you don’t want to ‘advertise’ to your entire friend network. Mom may be your friend on Facebook, but you probably don’t want her to see that you’re unloading the hideous poodle statue she inexplicably gave you on your last birthday. If whatever you are selling is something you want to keep under the radar, then Craigslist is your friend.
As with Facebook Marketplace, you do need to actively manage your items for sale. This means that you need to periodically renew the items to keep them up in search results. The Craigslist listings time-out and you need to revisit your account to renew your item (which effectively pushes it back to the top of page 1). Items ‘time-out’ with varying frequency, so make a habit of going back at least 1x week to check to see if you can renew (bump) your item.
One downside to Craigslist is that there is no mobile app. This is a significant downside, considering that more than 50% of online activity is now being conducted from smart phones. Without a mobile app, buyers will have to be a bit more motivated by going to the Craigslist or Kijiji websites. This also means that the pace of sales will be slower, as people will more likely to be searching for things when they are at home and on a computer. Also, since Craigslist communication gets initiated through email, as most sellers don’t provide a phone number, it can take a lot longer to connect and communicate back and forth. While email communication works just fine it does require that both buyer and sellers stay responsive.
The Facebook Marketplace was originally launched in 2016 and has become an incredibly popular way of getting rid of your stuff. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, recently reported that Marketplace was being used in 70 countries by 800 million people PER MONTH. There is going to be definitely be someone looking for that poodle statue you’re getting rid of!
Facebook Marketplace Buy & Sell Groups
Besides the Marketplace itself, there are also Buy & Sell Groups that are set up and administered by local people (or small groups of people). These groups will have their own administrators, rules for entry (some require an admin to accept your request to join), others will have very specific rules for posting and others will curate the content that is allowed to be posted. The Buy & Sell Groups, besides being narrowed to a geographic location, can also be curated to specific categories such as clothing, or household items. Some cater to those categories, but will only accept higher-end, luxury or brand name items. Again, depending on what you are selling, it may be worthwhile to join these more specific groups.
Facebook groups can range from general (household items) to more specific (e.g. kids toys, maternity clothing, sports gear and so on). Look around and join the ones that you think will be most useful to you.
With more than one billion users worldwide, Facebook marketplace has a huge potential audience. The vast majority of profiles on Facebook are real people, like you and I, and this visibility brings at least a small added layer of security. That things are more transparent is useful and tends to lend itself to being a somewhat more trustworthy platform for both buyers and sellers. Having said that, it is useful in ANY buy & sell interactions to do a bit of due diligence especially if you are the buyer. If you plan to do a lot of selling using Facebook, you may want to make sure that your profile has your photo and that it looks ‘normal’. Normal in this case would be an account with activity such as posts with comments, a profile photo and so on.
One new feature that has been recently added to Facebook Marketplace is the ability to rate buyers and sellers. Having a mechanism to provide feedback (or warn others about any bad behaviour) will hopefully elevate or eliminate some bad behaviour. Craigslist is notorious for people being flakey. And it is really frustrating to be waiting at home at a pre-arranged time and not ever hearing from the buyer again. Really bad people probably don’t care if they have bad ratings, but at least you can now have a choice in not to make a deal with someone that others have found unreliable or unethical.
A buyer with a positive rating is more likely going to provide you with a positive experience.
People spend a lot of time on their phones and the Facebook app means that people can be viewing items for sale on the fly. This makes transactions on Facebook Marketplace much faster in general. People cruise Facebook multiple times per day and so you are likely going to get more eyeballs on your ad as soon as it is posted. Facebook also allows you to boost the visibility of your sales item by turning into an ad which will then be directly beamed into people’s newsfeed. Presumably, Facebook has a variety of algorithms that operate in the background so that your sale item will then be seen by people most likely to be interested in it for a small cost. However, if you are not interested in paying to sell your item, and if you place the price low-enough, it is likely that you will be getting some interest shortly after placing the ad.
With the Facebook and Messenger Apps, it is very easy for potential buyers to reach out and discussions about the item can be had in real-time or with little delay. Assuming, of course, that people have their notifications on and are actively managing their listings. I should also point out for those that have concerns about the Messenger App, you can still communicate with buyers using the Inbox section of the Marketplace in the Facebook App.
Posting on FB is a little easier (all really, all these sites are pretty easy) in that you take care of the entire posting on one screen. On Craigslist, you add the location and photos from separate pages. One issue with Craigslist is that the page will time out quite quickly and you can inadvertently lose the brilliant and well-crafted verbiage of the ad you just painstakingly crafted. Facebook also allows you to post easily from your phone, which means you don’t have to upload photos to a computer in order to create your ad.
Another benefit of posting on Facebook Marketplace is that you can easily cross-post the same ad to any other Buy & Sell groups that you are a part of. Note that most of these groups will require you to request entry and it make take several days for an administrator to approve your request to join. The Buy & Sell groups can be very handy as potential buyers have already pre-qualified themselves to a degree, whether by virtue of geography or being interested in a specific category of goods. It is probably not erroneous to presume that photography enthusiasts interested in photography equipment would be the audience most interested in joining a photography Buy & Sell group. This is obviously handy and efficient.
One last thing to note is that if you have cross-posted a number of ads into various groups, you may need to make changes to each of the ads individually as there doesn’t seem to be a global feature to amend all the ads at once time.
Restrictions on selling some items
Another issue that I’ve run into are the rules regarding what can and can’t be posted. Occasionally an item you will post will be rejected and it will not be clear, even after you’ve reviewed the rules, how your item may have infringed them. For instance, I recently posted a home security system (cameras and a DVR) and it was flagged. There is a policy against equipment that can be used to surreptitiously surveil people, this is a very common home security system with plenty of them already being found for sale.
A friend had the recent experience of selling some items from WalMart and others made by UGG and both were refused. Her work-a-round was remove the brand name and that seemed to do the trick. Again, there is nothing in the rules that clearly would limit the sale of these items and it is not always clear why things get rejected.
While Craigslist does have rules regarding what you can and cannot post, the rules are detailed and clear. When an item is rejected by Facebook, you can appeal the decision, but don’t expect to have any of your burning questions answered by them. Someone will review the item and it will either go through or not.
Some Additional Thoughts and tips!
There is certainly no rule against you posting across multiple platforms and I’m sure those people without Facebook accounts would welcome the opportunity to potentially buy your used items. I continue to post to both Craiglist and Facebook as its quite easy to cut and paste my ads. I generally leave my posting to when I’m in front of my computer and have easy access to any images I’ve uploaded. It is a bit more work to manage the items, and at least for me, the effort still feels worthwhile.
If you are somewhat unorganized and its easier for you to manage one platform, then your best bet will be Facebook Marketplace. My experience this past year has been that Marketplace has yielded the most leads and most sales. I’m probably at 70% sales through Marketplace and only 30% on Craigslist.
I think it’s worth reminding everyone to practice good ethics and display some integrity with their sales. Take good pictures, accurate measurements and make sure that your descriptions are thorough. Good pictures means a clear documentation of your item from all angles and should include both micro and macro photos. You can also photo document any major scratches or blemishes. Using natural light so that the true colour of your item is reflected in the photo is also important. Include any additional details that you think people need to know and update your ads if necessary. And certainly, it never hurts to tell people they need a large vehicle or a helping hand to move the item out of your home. Answer all inquiries promptly and take ads down when items are sold. I think we could die quite happily without having to deal with anyone being unnecessarily flaky. Happy sales everyone!