Canadian startup VarageSale aims to make online buying, selling safer for families

To use VarageSale users are required to sign up with their Facebook account to verify who they really are.
To use VarageSale users are required to sign up with their Facebook account to verify who they really are. Handout / VarageSale

TORONTO – Carl Mercier’s wife was nesting. Well into her pregnancy with the couple’s first child, Tami Zuckerman decided it was time to de-clutter and, like many other Canadians, she took to online classified sites like Kijiji and Craigslist to try to make some money while making room for the new baby.

But, after a few bad “creepy” experiences, Zuckerman became fed up with the buying and selling environments offered by these sites.

That’s when she enlisted the help of her husband – a programmer by trade – to design an app specifically to make it easier for families to hold “virtual garage sales” with people in their communities.

Four years later, the couple’s startup – dubbed VarageSale – has raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding and hosts millions of VarageSale users across Canada, the U.S., Europe and even Japan.

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“When we started building VarageSale we didn’t think about building a better classified’s platform – we wanted to build a platform for your local community, for your neighbourhood essentially,” Mercier told Global News.

“We built this platform for families. We wanted to build a family friendly environment that is safe, so we require people to use their real identities to use the platform.”

To use VarageSale users are required to sign up with their Facebook account to verify who they really are. Once you have signed up you can join a community – likely the city or town that you live in – to start browsing listings or to post a listing of your own.

But here’s the catch – before you are accepted into a community, a VarageSale administrator in charge of the community is tasked with combing through your profile to make sure you are who you say you are.

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The admins look for a number of identifiers to make sure the person is from the community and isn’t using a fake profile – for example, do they have mutual friends with other community members, do they have pictures that identify themselves, do they have a lot of friends from surrounding areas.

“Once an admin looks at your profile and accepts you into the community you can start buying, selling and talking to people. But that authentication process, we feel, is really important to the safety of the community,” said Mercier.

“Yes, people can create fake Facebook profiles – but it’s really hard to fake friends in common and a history.”

The goal is to prevent the anonymity that comes with sites like Kijiji, which has had its share of problems surrounding user safety.

In January, two Toronto-area teens were charged with robbery and theft under $5,000 after allegedly luring victims through the popular online marketplace. This is just one of many examples of crime stemming from sites where users can use anonymous screennames.

“Criminals can remain anonymous on the Internet so you don’t know who they are, where they are, and that ability to remain anonymous puts them in a better position to commit fraud,” said Tom Vassos, social marketing expert.

Mercier – who wouldn’t provide exact numbers but noted that the company has “millions” of users – said the platform continues to be popular with families thanks to its community-driven safety features. The site might also provide comfort to those who are uneasy about using other classified sites.

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This week, VarageSale added 24 new communities across Ontario, covering the entire metropolitan Toronto area.

The app has active buy and sell communities across the country; however, the app is still waiting for more members to join in big metropolitan areas like Edmonton, for example.

Tips for selling your stuff online

If you are looking to do a little de-cluttering of your own, Mercier has some tips for posting good listings online:

Good pictures sell items fast

“Make sure that it’s a clean, well lit environment. Most people will only see your picture, so you want your picture to be really attractive,” said Mercier.

Try taking pictures outside, or beside a big window, where the lighting is natural and will light your items better than indoor lighting – this is especially important for furniture items, so people can see the true colour of items.

‘Go crazy’

If you are desperately trying to de-clutter, don’t be shy about listing everything and anything. You never know who might be interested.

“Walk around your house and take pictures of everything you could possibly want to sell, because what’s really amazing about VarageSale is that it’s a platform that favours multiple listings. Things that you would never think of selling on a typical classified platform will sell on VarageSale,” Mercier said.

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He said this is because when people are using the app they are scrolling through listings, not necessarily looking for one particular item. So people end up buying things that they didn’t know they needed.

List multiple items

“People with multiple items on VarageSale tend to sell more because people like to go to someone’s house and buy multiple things at once. So the more stuff people have listed, the more chances they are going to sell it,” he said.

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