There’s no doubt that online platforms have it made it easier than ever for people to buy and sell used items.
But Carl Mercier says there’s something missing from those platforms, the human touch that came with the old garage sale.
Mercier is the co-founder and CEO of VarageSale, an online community-based marketplace and one of the finalists for Startup of the Year at the Canadian Startup awards. He says what sets VarageSale apart is that it’s locally focused and users are identified by their real names.
“People love transacting with real people,” he says, “in a friendly environment.”
Because people use their real identities, Mercier says VarageSale has become a “safe, trusted environment.”
That’s made particularly appealing for women, especially mothers.
“They don’t feel comfortable meeting strangers,” he says. On other platforms, like Kijiji and Criagslist “it’s so anonymous, it’s so sketchy.”
The site requires users to log-in through their Facebook account, while it’s not perfect, Mercier says it’s the “closest thing to real identity on the Internet.”
The site is divided into “communities,” most of which correspond with real-world neighbourhoods and towns. In order to be able to buy and sell in many of those communities, users must be approved by an administrator, adding an extra layer of scrutiny and keeping things locally focused.
The site isn’t just aimed at moms, Mercier says that in addition to baby items and clothing, its also been used to sell cars, trucks and even a live goat. It’s particularly popular in the Southern United States, Mercier says.
On the platform itself, users can comment on the items posted by sellers. It’s particularly reminiscent of Facebook. This has led the site to become something of a social network, Mercier says, something that caught him a little by surprise.
“You go to Kijiji or Craigslist when you’re looking for something specific,” he says “you don’t go to Craigslist to hang out.”
That’s exactly what’s happening tough. Part of it is the fact the site is “very fast-paced,” Mercier says, “people come back all the time to see if there’s a great deal.” But sometimes the comments on an item will just turn into a conversation.
The byproduct of VarageSale is that “people start meeting, people make friends,” Mercier says. “We’ve heard ‘VarageSale brings back this old small-town feeling.’”
The site hasn’t started to monetize and Mercier says his main focus is on “growing very quickly.”
“We want to bring VarageSale to as many people as possible,” he says. While the site has over a million members in Canada, Europe, the U.S. and Australia, it’s still rather under the radar.
“We’re one of Canada’s hottest startups that no one’s heard of,” Mercier says.