You probably have noticed a strange abomination in your Facebook mobile app recently. On the bottom row of buttons, right next to the Notifications button, there’s a cute little shop awning icon. Errantly tap into it and you're instantly transported to the most depressive bazaar of Shit. Welcome to Marketplace. It sucks.
Marketplace launched this October, and it’s basically Craigslist lite. Facebook doesn’t even make any money from it — no cut from sales or payment processing. As far as a piece of technology, it’s not particularly exciting.
Plenty of social good comes from selling used stuff — it’s environmentally friendly, and hey, cheap! I fully appreciate that buying and selling used stuff is incredibly worthy and valuable. It’s just that Marketplace is a crap feature for Facebook.
You can totally imagine how Marketplace seemed like a great idea on paper. There were already tons of buy/sell/trade groups springing up organically — according to Facebook, 450 million people a month visited a buy/sell group before Marketplace launched. Some of these are location-based; some are interest-based, like this group where furries trade and sell fursuits. Buying and selling your old junk is as old as time: Yard sales, penny-saver circulars, and even AM radio swap shows known as “tradio” all existed as peer-to-peer networks for selling used shit long before the two dominant used-shit sites, Craigslist and eBay, came around.
But eBay involves the hassle of shipping, and Craigslist has a reputation for stranger danger. Facebook Marketplace offers a solution: You can see the Facebook profile of the buyer/seller, so you don’t have to worry about some creepy perv or a scammer. Plus, it harnesses the power of everything Facebook knows about you (age, gender, interests) to tailor the main feed of products for sale right to you. Great, right?
And yet somehow Marketplace manages to be not quite as whimsical as Craigslist, less thorough than eBay, and kind of just, well, depressing. It’s the technology equivalent of a bundle of unworn corporate fun run T-shirts at Goodwill.
For example, one day I saw a Ikea Bjursta dining table for $99 (retails at $149 new, so this is a bad deal) and a very ugly 60-piece set of ’70s-looking dishware for $125 (I could see the seller had tried to list this a few times; no one wants it). Outdated video game systems, used cat carriers, Uggs, baby clothes, baby strollers, baby bouncers. A used yoga mat (ew) for $5.
The vibe is definitely more “I need to get rid of this crap” than great finds. This is shit you do not want. I mean, maybe you do, I don’t know your tastes. But probably you don’t want it.
One thing Marketplace reveals is that left to ourselves, we’re terrible free market capitalists. Sellers aren’t coming up with a price based on competition, partly because there’s not enough stuff on there to actually compete with. So what you get is people just making up a price based on what they think it should be, and somehow a whole lot of people think a 25% discount on the retail price for a year-old used Ikea dresser is reasonable. Buddy, let me tell you something: When you drive that Malm off the lot, you lose 50% right there.
What you also see is a poor sense of “what will someone drive over to my house in person to pick up?” Inexpensive goods, like a $10 sweater, are better suited to thrift store shopping, and not worth schlepping to someone else’s house to pick up. But not everyone realizes this.
Marketplace’s prominent position on the app
Here’s what’s truly baffling about it: its placement on the Facebook app. The Marketplace tab occupies the most primo real estate, right in the bottom center, between the Notifications and Video buttons.
Think about how often you actually buy or sell something on Craigslist. Maybe only when you’re moving, or looking for something specific. But how many times a day do you open the Facebook app? Lots! You’re not looking to shop for used couches or cars every time you open Facebook.
Marketplace is much more hidden on the website version of Facebook. It’s tucked into the sidebar options, but hidden down where you have to click to see the full list.
Facebook did not provide a reason for why Marketplace is positioned so prominently on the app, and said that the app design changes all the time, which is true (remember when the Messenger button was on the bottom?).
A reasonable explanation here is that Marketplace is brand-new, and the only way it will become truly useful is if there’s a critical mass of people buying and selling on there. So by putting it right in front of so many people, it will raise awareness of the feature enough to get it up and running with lots of stuff to buy. Then, they can move it somewhere less noticeable, but people will know that Marketplace is a good place to sell that used guitar. I’ve been checking out Marketplace almost daily since it launched, and I can confirm that from what I can see, there’s definitely lots more stuff available in lots more categories.
A place for strangers
Perhaps the weirdest element of Marketplace is that it offers something completely different than the core Facebook experience: You see strangers. Normally, you’re only ever seeing people you know, or perhaps friends of friends tagged in a photo or post. Aside from Groups (which is where all the fun is at, trust me), Facebook doesn’t give you much opportunity to ever see strangers.
As more people use it, Marketplace will undoubtedly get better. And a lot of its problems — crappy merchandise, bad pricing — are exactly the same on Craigslist or similar sites. And I can’t complain too much myself: Last weekend I finally wall-mounted my TV and posted my used hideous Ikea TV stand on there for $10. Someone responded right away.