How to effectively use craigslist©.

In case you are not familiar with craigslist, it’s essentially an online free classified ad website. It was started by Craig Newmark in the mid 1990’s to highlight events in and around the San Francisco Bay area. It is now used in nearly 70 countries and in multiple languages and has many categories such as job postings, housing, services & community events. I have been using the site for years to buy inventory for my store as well as items for myself. I look at the site almost daily.

Many people use craigslist to buy & sell their items. It can be an effective tool, but can be even more effective if used properly. Although it’s free, it has rules just like anything else. These rules are called Terms of Use or TOU for short.

Terms of Use (or sometimes Terms of Service) exist for many things but we are most familiar with their use in the software industry. Remember when you installed a new program and you had to click on “I have read and understood these conditions?” This was the TOU. (No one ever actually read them, they just clicked yes and proceeded to use the new software.)

TOU spell out each parties’ responsibilities in case there is a problem. It deals with issues and liabilities arising from use of the company’s product and is a legal contract that you essentially consent to by using the service.

Craigslist has several TOU items that, if followed, allows the platform to function fairly for all.

The first is the prohibited items list. This is simply a list of items that craigslist says you cannot sell on their site. Weapons are top of the list. No firearms (or parts of)…, no BB guns, spearguns etc… no ammunition, (or devices to hold ammunition in a firearm); no reloading supplies and no gunpowder. This makes sense as there is a huge liability here if you sell something like this to a prohibited person.

Other items are also straight forward: no pornography, no exploitation of minors or others, no drug sales (prescription or otherwise). No alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics, altered foodstuffs, no pet sales, no illegal species trade (e.g reptiles), no government controlled assistance/ID cards, no stolen property, no counterfeit items or prostitution.  Most of their prohibited list makes pretty good sense. Getting around these rules using bait & switch using keywords in searches is also prohibited. (We all know when you say “Home Defense Item” you mean firearm.)

The next item on the play fair agenda is the posting frequency rule. You can post to one category and in one city only once in 48 hours. This gives everyone a chance to post. Craigslist records 20 billion page views per month, 2 million new job postings per month, & has more than 49.4 million unique monthly visitors in the US alone!

When you violate the TOU, your posting can be removed. This happens several ways. One is for their automated systems to remove your ad. Another is by having your ad “flagged”. This is done by other users policing the site. If someone sees you have posted something that violates craigslist policy or is listed improperly, they can flag it for review. If it gets enough flags, it will be removed automatically and you may be blocked for a period of time.

Craigslist can be an effective tool for both buyers and sellers, but there are people who just don’t seem to want to follow the rules. If they did, they might have more success.

Here are some tips for successful postings on craigslist.

  1. Don’t post multiple listings for the same item right after one another or in multiple categories. It’s not only against the rules, it’s annoying to see several listings for the same item three times in a row and it wastes people’s time.
  2. Don’t keep posting the same item over and over again. I see ads for items that have been on the site for years. Same listing, same photos, same price. Change it up. Lower the price, shoot new and better photos, or take a break and re-post it later.
  3. Post in the proper category. (This is a big pet peeve of mine.) I know you think if you post your item in all the categories it will sell faster. Nope. If your item is posted in the wrong category, it’s not going to be seen by the audience you are trying to reach! Your collectible plates don’t go under the antique category. (Antiques by definition are 100 or more years old). Likewise, don’t post your car for sale in the photo category (yes, people do this). When you post in the wrong category, people will flag your ad because it’s in the wrong place, and it won’t be seen at all.
  4. Don’t fish for a high price. Do your homework & research your item’s value. Don’t put an item up for an inflated price assuming that it’s rare just because it’s the only one you have ever seen. Be fair, leave a bit of haggle room, and you will have more success.
  5. Trade and sale prices are the same! People will downgrade a trade value because it’s not cash. If you are trading something, or taking something on trade towards your item, it’s worth what it’s worth. If something is worth $500 to sell, then it should be worth $500 trade value. I have never understood this practice. If you devalue trades, your barter ad isn’t going to work well.
  6. There is an entire section for wanted ads. Don’t put your ads searching for something in other categories. If you buy knives, put your ad in the wanted section. Then, if I have a several knives for sale, I will go to the wanted section to see who has an ad that says “I buy knives!” This allows me to sell my knives in one shot instead of listing them myself.
  7. Use good clear photos and write a good description. Many times photos are posted sideways, blurry or exposed improperly. Take good photos showing your item from all sides. Show any defects and tell your possible buyer everything you can to help them decide to call you.
  8. If you see something posted that shouldn’t be, flag it. This lets the system administrators know there is a problem. If everyone did this, many of the scams and fake ads would eventually dwindle. If it’s in the wrong category, flag it so the appropriate items are in the proper categories. This helps everyone.
  9. If you make an appointment to meet someone to look at an item or to buy it, SHOW UP! I have heard many times over the years that people stopped using craigslist because they kept getting blown off by buyers. People will stop listing great stuff if they feel abused and then everyone misses out. Be respectful. If you can’t make the appointment, or change your mind, call and say so.
  10. If your item sells, take down your listing. No one wants to call about an item only to hear it’s been sold. If you take the ad down, you don’t have to answer a bunch of calls telling people it’s gone. Some ads take up to 45 days to expire!

Lastly, it’s okay to be cautious while using craigslist. In fact it’s prudent. Meet people in a public place. Use it locally (don’t try to buy & sell across states as this sets up options for scams). Be careful about how and when you invite people into your home. (I wrote an entire column about this. It’s on our website.) Don’t give out personal details because you get a “good vibe” from someone. And generally remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Things work best when everyone plays fair and follows the rules. Craigslist is not an exception just because it’s free and online.


Published Florida Today online edition 5/13/21

Published Florida Today print edition 6/6/21