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Why Vinted and Craigslist Haven’t succeeded in making yard sales obsolete

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After a fallow period due to the coronavirus pandemic, flea markets, yard sales, and garage sales are back and are being taken over by bargain hunters and sellers.

Almost everywhere in the world, the sidewalks are once again transformed into flea market stalls. Since June, yard sales have made a comeback after a long break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A renaissance particularly welcomed with joy by flea market enthusiasts in the US and in Europe. According to one auctioneer at the Tourny auction house, this is “a sign of a resumption of social life, of a return to a normalized life. We can see that the flea market enthusiasts and antique collectors have missed this type of event”. Moreover, according to a study by Businesscoot published in 2020, more than one in two adults in the US and in Europe (54%) visited a flea market in 2019.

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And while one might have thought that online marketplaces such as Vinted or Craigslist would completely nerf yard sales, this is not the case. According to the trend monitoring and forecasting unit of the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop), “Western Europe has turned into a big garage sale in the last few years, there is one in almost every village”. The Businesscoot study estimates that 50,000 garage sales are usually organized each year in France alone. They are a way for villages and small towns to create entertainment, to bring in people, and to get people talking about their town.

Garage sales are places of transgenerational socialization

If people rush to flea markets and garage sales, it is first of all for their friendly side. These events are an opportunity to meet people, and to share a good moment with friends or family. We are moving towards an increasingly dematerialized society, and the Covid-19 pandemic has created social frustration. People want to make up for lost time and get in touch with others. Now, garage sales and flea markets are places of transgenerational socialization, that brings together all social classes.

Of course, the motivation of visitors is also economic. According to the Secretary-General of the French Observatory of society and consumption, “More than one out of two French people regularly buys second-hand products. First, because it allows them to save money. But also because they enjoy being able to give a second life to pre-loved items because they have become aware that the textile industry was harmful to the environment and are increasingly part of a responsible consumption pattern”. It has nowadays become a socially valued practice to buy second-hand goods, or even almost a new snobbery. Even the upper middle class buy second-hand products, which allow them to consume better and more.

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Bargain hunters enjoy the “treasure hunt” dimension of garage sales and the conviviality it brings while making a good deal. The same goes for vendors: Even if they won’t get dramatically richer through this activity, they are almost guaranteed to get rid of a lot of their stuff quickly and to spend a good day socializing with people sharing the same hobby.

And if Americans and Europeans are also fond of classified advertisements websites and online marketplaces dedicated to second-hand products, this practice is not exclusive. Most customers adopt a multi-channel strategy: they buy both online and at garage sales. With the ultimate objective of finding a good deal. Sometimes, it is even more advantageous to buy at yard sales, because when you are face to face with the seller, you can haggle even better. And for collectors who are looking for rare items, flea markets are a real windfall, because sellers may not have done the necessary research on the web to verify the origin of their goods before selling them on their stand, and therefore do not necessarily know the real monetary value of all their possessions.

Not to mention the pleasure of rummaging through the stalls. Every thrift hunters appreciate the ‘treasure hunt’ aspect of yard sales, the pleasure, and excitement of finding an item they couldn’t find elsewhere because it is no longer sold in stores. And at a yard sale, you can judge on the spot, handle an object or try on a pair of shoes, which is not currently possible with digital technology.

A mystery remains though: how to explain the fact that there are so many sellers at yard sales? Because participating in a garage sale, swap meet, or flea market as a vendor is not something you do on a whim. It requires a lot of work, organization, and patience: sorting and packing the items to be sold and gearing up for the event is not always fun, neither holding a stand all day, rain or shine. Especially since most stalls costs between 3 and 20 dollars per sqm. On the other hand, some people find it more constraining to sell on a classified advertisements website, where you have to take and upload pictures, write a description of each item, answer questions and email requests and send a package. Moreover, since second-hand items or clothing garments are often sold cheaper at flea markets than online, it is very advantageous for stock management and turnover.

And that’s without counting the pleasure of playing the merchant. Most vendors who sell at the flea market every once in a while admit that it’s quite fun to set up your stand while chatting with the other exhibitors or tell the story of an object to the visitors.

And while many yard sale enthusiasts were already participating in garage sales on a regular basis before the pandemic, a new breed of aficionados arrived on the market: During the confinements, sorting and tidying have become one of the preferred activities of households. People became aware of what they could live without and now want to declutter their home. And as many need extra money, the garage sale is seen as a way to bail out a little.

So if you’re planning to sell your stuff at a flea market or a yard sale, don’t forget to read first these few basic tips for beginners, so you can put the odds in your favor at the next flea market sale! Our guide covers questions such as what to sell at flea markets and garage sales and shows you step by how to prepare for selling at flea markets.

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