If you’re reading this review, you’ve probably been there: you’ve posted something for sale on Craigslist. After a bit of time, you get a hit; someone has messaged you and want to meet to deal. So after some back-and-forth, you agree on a place and time. You show up, wait 45 minutes, and the other party is a no-show. For a few of us, the other party does show and the ensuing exchange is anything from uncomfortable to seemingly dangerous. Public sites like Craigslist have been great for personal re-sale, but they leave their users vulnerable to misleading or downright nefarious humans looking to take advantage of a situation.
The app VarageSale looks to solve this vulnerability. They do this by creating a more closed community of members in a small geographical area, using their Facebook accounts to verify identity as well as giving other members a preview of who they’re dealing with.
To gain access to the community, there a few steps involved:
Choose your community(ies) by local area (using your zip code). Generally each community gives themselves a cute/clever name.
Setup your account, including name and email.
Link your Facebook account. As stated, this allows other members to confirm you are who you say your are, and gives others a profile pic to see who they’re dealing with. Per the app, they do not post anything to your Facebook account.
Using the app works a lot like most other resale websites, in that various items are listed by individual community members, with usually a photo, title, and price listed. The app uses flat design, with the listings that look and scroll down a lot like Google Now cards. That is to say the design is clean, with enough color and shape to give a great and welcoming aesthetic. For each listing you can share with others (via Facebook, email, or other), comment on the item, or click the “Interested” button, which contacts the seller and saves it for your later viewing. Once you contact the seller and negotiate the price and meeting time/place, off you go to complete the transaction.
In my short truncated experienced with the app, the biggest hurdle to user happiness is currently the dearth of users in a given community, and therefore the variety of items to find.
For every item of a given category in my chosen community in VarageSale, you can find 10-20 of a similar item on the big boys like Craigslist or eBay. Also, the range of items seems to be very limited, mostly to second-hand clothing and crafty, Etsy-type stuff. Given my particular area of residence, downright rural compared to those living in a bigger cities like Chicago, but still the lack of people and stuff was off-putting for me.
It’s analogous to patronizing a local store instead of going across the street to Target. Yes, it feels good to be doing business with someone you know who is local, but did you find what you really wanted? And how did you do on price?
The vitality of any community, virtual or otherwise, is defined by the engagement of its citizens. While VarageSale is really a great idea to solve the potential problems of the public re-sale sites, the greatest hurdle for this and other such apps is traction amongst their potential user base. Right now the question is, “why use VarageSale when Craigslist has so much more to look at?”. The tipping point will be when that question gets reversed.