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Facebook Marketplace: The good, bad and ugly — and why Canadians remain loyal to declining platform

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“I have definitely wanted to deactivate my Facebook account, but I don’t know if I can quit Marketplace.”

Brianna Sharpe is a freelance writer from Cochrane, Alta., and she jokes that Meta‘s Facebook Marketplace knows her tastes better than her own husband.

“I told my husband I was doing this interview. He was like, ‘Yeah, you should get her to talk to me, I have some thoughts about Facebook Marketplace,'” Sharpe laughed, adding, “He’s not on Facebook.”

While her husband isn’t enthused at being beaten by an algorithm, the community organizer and working parent of two can’t stop using the platform.

Brianna Sharpe, a freelance writer from Alberta, wearing a wool Roots coat she thrifted off of Facebook Marketplace. Brianna Sharpe

More than one billion people around the world visit Facebook Marketplace every month, according to Meta spokesperson David Troya-Alvarez. And even as daily active users for Facebook decline, the Marketplace feature seems to be going strong.

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Its proponents sing its praises for being an affordable, accessible and sustainable alternative to buying new, but frustrated sellers say the platform is prone to ghosting and haggling, and even cautious people can be vulnerable to scammers.

Read more: Some Etsy sellers strike as e-commerce site hikes fees for shop owners

Mach, an IT professional living in Halifax who asked that we only use his first name, says he was one such unlucky Marketplace buyer. Mach is a video game collector who frequents multiple buy-and-sell sites, and he’s not a newbie when it comes to buying second-hand items online — but even still, he says he was the victim of a scam on Facebook Marketplace.

Mach tried to get a seller in Ontario to send him a Nintendo 2DS through the mail and said he was defrauded out of half the price of the console.

He told Global News that both the police and Meta were ineffective at helping him recoup his money. Mach wishes that ratings were more explicit on the site and his desire for more transparency is also shared by sellers who use the platform.

Read more: Calgary thrift store limiting number of items that resellers can buy

Sarah Daou owns an online thrift store, Armoire Chique, and she has trouble building a dedicated community of patrons on the site when compared with her main platform (Instagram, also owned by Meta).

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The images in listings are heavily emphasized in Facebook Marketplace’s design — making it incredibly user-friendly — but the site doesn’t prominently display seller information, meaning the platform is difficult to use professionally and safely.

Still, Daou recommends Marketplace to other sellers, and Mach continues to use the platform despite being scammed.

So why are people so hesitant to break up with Facebook Marketplace?

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Donations triple at Salvation Army thrift stores as people purge amid the pandemic – Feb 9, 2021

The Good

Gabrielle Drolet, a writer and cartoonist from Montreal, says that she doesn’t use Facebook “in the way Facebook was intended to be used very much anymore. I think a lot of young people don’t.”

In recent years, Facebook has been at the centre of repeated negative coverage for rampant misinformation on the site, its policies towards hate speech, and for illegally allowing third parties to access user’s data. Coupled with a general feeling among young people that Facebook is for “Boomers,” it’s the perfect recipe for declining daily users.

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Drolet still uses the app — which was once the king of social networking — not as a social media platform, but as an online thrift store. For her, the option of shopping second-hand without having to go outside is important for accessibility and affordability.

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“I’m a disabled person. I’m pretty worried about getting sick,” she said. “So being able to thrift without leaving home does feel good, especially during the peaks of waves when I’m really not leaving home as much as maybe the average person.”

Drolet is in the midst of furnishing a new apartment. With Marketplace, the car-less professional can set location parameters to find items in a walkable distance and arrange deliveries and local pick-ups for big items like armchairs and desks. If she were buying everything new, the bill would quickly rack up.

A pink velvet armchair thrifted by Gabrielle Drolet off Facebook Marketplace for $30. Gabrielle Drolet

“If you’re buying even just a frame to put art in new, depending on how big it is, that can be usually upwards of $50. Right? Whereas on Facebook Marketplace, you can get a frame with the coolest art you’ve ever seen, already in it, for maybe $10.”

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Sharpe thinks the platform is unmatched. With three jobs and three volunteer gigs, Sharpe doesn’t have time to check other buy-and-sell platforms like Kijiji, and she says that “Craigslist is just hilariously clunky at this point.”

So every day, she checks her messages on Facebook, then pops onto Marketplace.

Its integration into an app that many people already have makes the feature easy to access. And once you’re on it, the picture-heavy and infinite scroll design keeps your attention locked.

A screenshot of the Facebook Marketplace app showing listings for bikes, a backpack, and clothing. Global News

Facebook Marketplace also remembers what you like to look at, and tailors recommended listings.

The platform at times has pre-emptively shown Sharpe exactly what she already wanted to buy, saving her time and money. It also leaves her with a feeling of “abstract creepiness,” but she accepts that data collection is the “price of having any sort of social media presence.”

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Sharpe stomachs the unease because she wants to live more sustainably, which she points out can come at a premium cost.

Research conducted by consulting firm Kearney found that sustainable products are, on average, 75 to 85 per cent more expensive than conventional goods. Sustainable clothing and beauty products have the highest markups: between 150 and 210 per cent.

For Sharpe, the answer to living sustainably without breaking the bank is Marketplace, since she already loves “the character of used things.”

A corner table that Gabrielle Drolet got for $25 on Facebook Marketplace. Gabrielle Drolet

Drolet agrees, and finds that vintage objects she’s found on Marketplace are often of better quality than what she could get with the same money if buying new.

“I have a few things from IKEA and they’re not solid wood. They come in so many boxes and little things. And, you know, it’s nice, and it’s fine, it does the job, but when you’re buying from Facebook Marketplace, you can get something that’s quality,” Drolet said. “It’s solid wood, it’s maybe used — but not in a way that cleaning it won’t fix — and it’s affordable, and it’s beautiful.”

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Drolet and Sharpe both use the platform to search for specific items, but also just to browse. And while they are two happy users, they are also primarily buyers, not sellers.

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The Bad

While inconveniences for buyers can arise on the site — including sellers who aren’t upfront about the cost of items, businesses who spam the platform to advertise their stores, and the extra hassle of arranging delivery if needed — most of the larger issues with Marketplace derive from sellers’ concerns.

Meera Watts is the founder of Siddhi Yoga and she wrote to Global News saying that her experience selling on the platform has been average.

“The reason why I’m saying ‘average’ is the people who have no intention to buy but still ask everything about the product,” she explained. “I’ve talked to several people who have just asked about its availability and features and then disappear.”

Read more: Selling your stuff online? Don’t make these mistakes

Daou, whose business is based on selling vintage clothing on various social media platforms, has also found that buyers on Facebook Marketplace are more likely to “ghost” (i.e. disappear without a trace) than buyers on other sites. She likes to confirm multiple times with Facebook clients because it’s common for people to just stop replying.

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Ghosting means wasted time and effort for the business owner, who packages every purchase. “We sanitize and clean the clothes and everything. So it’s very important for us to make sure that the customers are sure about buying the product.”

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She says that a lot of her reselling peers also run into similar issues, and that haggling is another concern.

“A lot of people tend to decrease the price. They would give prices that aren’t very reasonable. I would say very lowball prices.”

Daou’s primary marketplace is her Armoire Chique Instagram page. There, she can connect with clients easily through direct messages, and her followers can stay up to date with everything she lists by going to her profile. Daou also conducts bidding on select items in the comments of her posts.

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All of these things are technically possible using Marketplace, but Daou has found it much harder to gain a dedicated following on Facebook. She said that buyers who ghost or lowball are much less common on Instagram because people can connect more easily with her as a seller and relate to the community she has built.

She lamented that on Marketplace, where listings are centralized, buyers have a hard time getting to know who she is as a seller and what her business is all about. She thinks that the lack of community between buyers and sellers on the platform may be the reason that ghosting and haggling are more common issues there.

The platform is highly geared towards individual buying and selling; while that maximizes convenience and is primed for casual exchanges, the site does little to encourage good buy-and-sell etiquette.

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And the Ugly

In February, Mach found a $200 Nintendo 2DS on sale in Ontario — two provinces over from his home in Nova Scotia — and thought it was a good price for the retro game console. The fact that the seller wasn’t local didn’t perturb him.

“I’m aware that somebody’s got to go first. It’s kind of a game of chicken, either the seller needs to send the item first, and then the buyer needs to pay them, or the buyer prepays and crosses their fingers in hopes that the item shows up,” he said.

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To protect against the very situation he says he ended up in, Mach asks cross-province sellers to send him a tracking number of his package or to take photos of the item being packaged with a shot of his address on the postage label. He said he’s fine with taking on the risk because, up until this past February, this strategy had always worked.

Unfortunately, he says the person he bought from took $135 up front (half the price of the item and half the price of the purported delivery fees) and provided him with a phoney tracking number in return.

Mach says every time he asked for his money back or the correct tracking number, the seller had another excuse ready. He began to lose hope that he’d ever see the package arrive, so he started to look for another 2DS on Facebook Marketplace.

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During his search, he “came across this guy who had posted a screenshot of (the same) ad, it looked identical to hers, except he had written in the ad that that person was a scammer, and he’d been scammed out of money.”

After chatting with the man, Mach says he realized they had been scammed by the same person, and that two other people had also been victims.

“And at this point, everything hit the fan.”

Mach filed a police report with the OPP and Halifax Regional Police. The OPP rejected his claim because he was out of province, and Mach said that Halifax police couldn’t help him either.

When asked about how Meta deals with scammers on Marketplace, a spokesperson wrote: “We take the threat of scams seriously and rely heavily on our regularly trained enforcement and review teams, as well as specialized detection tools, to identify compromised accounts and other fraudulent activity.”

Mach said he reported the fraudulent seller and listing internally through Facebook but nothing came of it.

Read more: Peterborough man charged with fraud involving items sold via Facebook Marketplace

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In the end, Mach launched what he described as a “smear campaign” against the seller, plastering her name and image in ads across Marketplace and posting about his experience in as many Ontario buy-and-sell groups as he could find.

Eventually, Mach said his scammer — who used her real Facebook account to lead on buyers — found the negative posts and started responding to him again.

“Her tune changed very quickly after she saw that the smear campaign was in full force. She immediately was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to send your money back.'” Mach was able to get his $135 sent back within a couple of hours, and said that the three other victims also received refunds.

Despite the bad experience, Mach continues to use Facebook Marketplace.

“I literally have packages coming right now,” he said. “I’ve only been burned once and, maybe for some people, that’s once too many — but, you know, the batting average is pretty good.”

For him, the affordability of the rare items he’s looking for is too good to pass up, though he admits that the experience has made him more stringent about getting photo proof first before sending money to anyone.

Read more: More than 1,500 of Betty White’s personal items to hit the auction block

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It seems that, for all its faults, Marketplace is still engendering loyalty among its users.

Even Daou, who finds that the customer base on Marketplace can be frustrating, still recommends the site to other resellers.

“I have seen other sellers who have an Instagram page, are on Marketplace as well. It’s just the strategy that everyone uses to reach more people and more clients,” she said.

So perhaps the popularity of the platform is creating a positive feedback loop. The more sellers who use it to reach a bigger audience, the more interesting things one can find. And the more buying that goes on, the more sellers are attracted to list things on the site.

One reason Drolet prefers Marketplace to other buy-and-sell sites is because she can find new and better items more consistently than on other platforms, incentivizing her to keep using Marketplace despite its faults.

Regardless of where you shop, experts say that participating in the second-hand economy can be a great way to limit your consumption, and that overconsumption, especially in developed countries like Canada, is a key driver of climate change.

While Facebook Marketplace is far from a perfect platform, it certainly has a low barrier to entry. And perhaps, in the end, that’s what’s most important for getting more Canadians to consume less.

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