When my father-in-law asked me to help him offload his old furniture, I immediately thought of Craigslist. But after digging around, I realized there were plenty of other sites out there that were an option. There was Move Loot, a San Francisco-based startup that connects used-furniture sellers with buyers, and Chairish, a design-centric curated marketplace for used furniture and decor. There were plenty of others. But I kept coming back to Move Loot and Chairish because both seemed to offer something wholly refreshing: a viable way to kill Craigslist.
Buying and selling on Craigslist can be risky. As a buyer, it’s very hard to tell if the listing is accurate — or that the seller isn’t trying to scam you or worse. As a seller, the logistics are tedious. Skip delivery, and you’re opening your home to a stranger. Pay for delivery, and, well, you’re spending money you’d rather use on something else. The used-furniture startups are trying to change this. They know you don’t want to deal with delivery or some random person showing up at your door. And they realize you’re probably lazy — you’re not going to research that dresser, are you? But for all of these perks — nicer websites among them — do they have what it takes to beat Craigslist? Here’s a look at their strategies to corner the used-furniture market and how they differ from Craigslist. (Craigslist did not immediately respond to request for comment to this article.)
A Stylish Solution
No one ever said Craigslist’s website was sexy. Functional, yes, but not sexy. Perhaps that’s why Chairish, founded in 2013 by a husband and wife who wanted to offload their high-end furnishings, is all about making things easy on the eyes. It certainly makes shopping more-streamlined. And way more fun. “Instead of going through pages and pages, we want to take that work off the buyer, and frankly off the seller as well,” Eric Grosse, a co-founder and chief executive of Chairish, said. “We just want to have quality items that we know are going to sell.” Curation is the best way to do this, even if it means weeding out popular but not fancy items from Ikea.
Whereas on Craigslist you’re basically on your own, said Grosse, Chairish acts as sort of a guide with sections pertaining to style and sometimes even era. The photos are cleaner than those found on Craigslist, and the “What we’re digging …” banner helps users discover new looks. “If you happen to have a thing for Shaker furniture, you’re going to find some items here,” Grosse said. And since the site does its homework, making sure every listing is accurate, buyers can rest easy. “There’s a scrubbing that we do to make sure we have a very high-quality experience that’s again different from Craigslist,” he said of the vetting process.
Positioning itself as the stylish, smarter alternative to Craigslist seems to be working. With 70,000 unique listings and counting, Chairish has already been named a best shopping app by Architectural Digest and the design nerd blog Design Sponge. Grosse also said that Chairish, which has taken $13 million in funding, draws 400,000 unique visitors per month and has seen rapid growth across a number of metrics. (It’s free to list items, but Chairish takes a 20% commission on each sale.) But despite features like “Local Pickup,” which lets buyers skip delivery costs altogether by picking up an item themselves, I have to wonder whether the average Joe is savvy enough to seek out the site. Could it be that there’s more to used-furniture shopping than scoring a pair of Victorian armchairs?
Logistics Made Simple
Move Loot bills itself as the easiest way to buy and sell furniture, but it might consider playing up the fact that it does all the hard work for you. I’m not talking about wiping furniture for photos. I’m talking about delivering and installing all the items you’ve purchased, or, in a seller’s case, handling everything to get the furniture out of your home. No one wants to deal with these headaches, and the logistics part is Move Loot’s “best chance of beating the competition,” to quote Bloomberg. “From a seller’s perspective, we handle all of the heavy lifting from both sides,” co-founder and CMO Jenny Morrill said. “We’ll go and pick up pieces in the home, assemble everything, bring it back and store items until they sell, and deliver it to the end buyer. You have a trusted professional coming into your home instead of dealing with someone you haven’t met before.”
No one would argue with that, but for those outside major hubs like Los Angeles, New York or the Bay Area, where Move Loot is based, how will they get their design fix? I also wonder how the startup can scale if it’s not passing on the cost of handling furniture to customers. Do people really buy that much furniture?
The need for Move Loot and Chairish may be “restricted to urban areas,” said Quentin Fleming, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. “I don’t see this taking off in the middle of Oklahoma or a big demand for certain pieces of furniture.” In order to succeed, he said, these sites need to target their audience and not waste resources trying to appeal to people who wouldn’t possibly use them. “This is more of a niche business,” Fleming said of used-furniture shopping, “so they may have to go high-end, like in the New York City area and wealthy suburbs where there’s a demand for that type of stuff.”
To list on Move Loot, sellers agree to pay a pre-outlined consignment fee from a curator when they get their offer. If the item does not sell quickly, the price may be lowered up to 40% and if it doesn’t sell after 60 days, you’ll have to pay a $65 fee to have it delivered back to you (you can also opt donate it or list it in a flash sale.)
Fleming was also quick to point out that sell-it-all sites like eBay and Amazon present a big challenge. While they don’t offer the sleek, curated experience that Chairish does, or take care of logistics like Move Loot, their variety alone is what helps them scale. Still, I have faith that these sites can find a small audience. With more people in their mid-20s and 30s starting families and buying homes, there’s a real need for affordable and chic decor as anyone can see from the boom in design and DIY blogs. (You can see how any high credit cardbalances related to furniture shopping are affecting your credit score by viewing your free credit report summary each month on Credit.com.) Then there are people like my father-in-law, who just want to downsize. They may no longer love their rickety dresser, but there’s someone out there who might. If sites like Chairish and Move Loot can connect them, it may be enough to rival the best of Craigslist.