Is Craigslist Truly an Alternative to eBay?

Often at Vendio we hear about some of our users trying out Craigslist as an alternative to selling on eBay.  They typically cite eBay’s fees, policies, or continual changes as the reasons why they are trying out Craigslist.  For those not familiar Craigslist, it is an online classifieds website that doesn’t charge anything to post or to sell an item on the site.  Without any costs about which to worry, it makes perfect sense to give it a try.  However, the fact that it’s free and doesn’t require any registration results in a few unwanted consequences.  Also, because it is set up very similarly to newspaper classifieds, it limits the amount of exposure an item can receive.  Even when an item does get traffic, buyer confidence is limited due to the lack of a third party to regulate pre- and post-sale activity.  Lastly, increased exposure to fraud is one of the risks of using the site.

To shop on Craigslist, no registration is required whatsoever.  This lack of a barrier to entry allows poor quality browsers to message sellers.  Every listing has a publicly displayed random contact email address that forwards emails to the seller.  So once someone finds an item they would like purchase, they simply email the random email address that is displayed in every item listing.  No verification or login is required.  This often results in lots of unwanted inquiries about an item that is for sale.  In particular, many people that are running phishing scams will send you emails.  For instance, “I am in Nigeria.  I will pay $150 for shipping on top of asking price to send it to my kid for his birthday.  Please take the listing down and setup the transaction via PayPal.”  Well, that “PayPal” at the end is a link to a fake PayPal site that attempts to get your login and password.  There are also some categories of listings where legitimate offers come but are probably unwanted.  For example, when listing gift cards, a seller is more likely to get a trade offer rather than someone willing to purchase the card.  Some people will even offer a card of lesser value and make up the difference in cash.  This could be fine in some cases, but most likely the seller just wanted to liquidate the card.  On eBay, sellers won’t run into either these problems.  Registration is required to message a seller, and there is a well defined expectation of how a transaction works.

As mentioned earlier Craigslist is an online classifieds website.  As such, it is setup that when someone lists an item for sale it is listed by geographical location.  It’s very similar to listing an item in the classifieds of a local newspaper.  Items will get limited exposure equivalent to the newspaper readership and circulation.  It wouldn’t be as much of a problem if you could search the whole website at once.  However, you have to click into certain geographically areas, again limiting exposure to something similar to a local newspaper’s circulation.  Rumor is that the site was designed like this on purpose to help build community interaction, but it’s a major factor that stops it from being an eBay alternative.

Even though many sellers have had their disagreements with eBay, it does offer something Craigslist does not – protection.  This works for sellers in two ways.  They cannot get stuck with a fraudulent payment after already giving the merchandise to a buyer.  It also instills confidence in buyers.  They know that they have a means for recourse if the item they receive is fake, broken, or not as described.  On Craigslist this is not the case.  Take the gift card example.  What would happen if someone paid for a card with a $50 balance, but the card had less on it?  Nothing.  The buyer couldn’t dispute it anywhere and would be out some cash.

Transactions on Craigslist also require an extra level of effort and risk typically not seen on eBay.  On Craigslist it’s the norm to have to meet the buyer in person.   Selling something through eBay typically provides a level of insulation from the buyer.  It’s almost always done completely online via messages and email.  Sellers don’t have to meet buyers.  When a transaction is setup on Craigslist, most people don’t want strangers visiting their home.  Therefore, they meet the buyers in public/neutral areas for safety reasons.  At an extreme, there have been some very bad cases of Craigslist transactions where someone will list an expensive item; and when someone comes to buy it, either the buyer will steal it or the seller was a fraud and robs the legitimate buy of his/her money.  Although this typically doesn’t happen, it’s something that should be noted.

Craigslist has its purposes and serves as a fantastic medium for some types of transactions.  However, it has its limitations when it’s considered as an alternative to eBay.  Sellers don’t receive the same type of traffic because of the site’s design and the lack of buyer recourse.  The traffic that it does get often can be of lower quality. It also requires increased effort and risk for transactions to be completed.  So before any seller switches completely over to Craigslist, they should realize all that they are leaving behind at eBay.

2 Responses to “Is Craigslist Truly an Alternative to eBay?”

  1. Erika Says:

    Doesn’t this sound like an ebay employee trying to dissuade people from selling on craigslist? Ebay fees and paypal fees can cut into profit margins, ebay buyers have all the control over the sale, there is less and less control for the seller to leave feedback,
    or deal with issues if the BUYER is dishonest. So we pay higher fees all around and we are supposed to believe we get more security in the sale, but Ebays continued rule changes work against sellers who are not performing in a tightening arena of rules where ebay buyers with only 1 feedback can extort merchandise and destroy a buyer’s rating with a negative feedback when the buyer may be a vindictive person. So, read the above with a grain of salt and realize someone employed by ebay.com probably wrote it.

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