Clutter turns to cash as buy and sell sites give shopping a facelift


The latest social media shopping phenomenon is an online version of the car boot sale

The contraceptive coil, the parrot and the empty Tiffany box – not a pulp fiction title but sale items and talking points on the shoppers’ soap opera that is the Greystones buy, sell or swap group on Facebook.

The Co Wicklow town is the latest to succumb to a social media shopping phenomenon sweeping the country. Since the group launched two months ago, it has grown to 1,600 members, mostly female, a tenth of the local population, and for many its mix of barter and banter has become addictive.

It is like a virtual car boot sale or a local version of eBay, where traders are not anonymous but neighbours, so there is no postage and packing costs, no fee to middle-men, just a rendezvous at home, a supermarket car park or (shop while you drop) the school run.

For some, it keeps their shopping muscles toned, trading in for fresh bargains the excess baggage of the boom, many still BNWT (brand new with tags). For others, it’s a lifeline, a downsizing of possessions in the downturn to buy necessities.

The group took its inspiration from Emma Lawlor in Malahide, who is credited with starting the original Irish trading group on Facebook.

While most cities and counties have their own group, the figures on the east coast are striking. Lawlor’s group has more than 5,000 members, a third of the town’s population, and has inspired spin-off sites in Donabate, Swords and Drogheda, which have almost 9,000 members in total.

Lawlor’s frustration with existing websites was that their deals were not local. Her group was initially promoted on the Enjoy Malahide Facebook page. The first thing she sold was a pair of runners, “and it just grew legs from there”.

Lawlor acts as gatekeeper. “If I see someone starting an argument, I step in. It can become libellous very quickly.” She has had to bar just five people, who repeatedly failed to keep appointments to buy or sell.

One member posted that she had made more than €1,000. Lawlor’s biggest coup was to buy for €300 a good-as-new sofa worth over €1,000. There are other rewards.

“The amount of people who’ve said I don’t have two pennies to rub together but because I can sell a few things it means I can buy things for the children. A lot of people are doing their Santa list on the site. There is a social aspect, too, lots of people making friends.

“I’m not in it for profit. All I’m interested in is for people to earn some money by having a clear-out . . . It also gives a platform to people who make their own jewellery or knitwear to get it out to the public.”

Ruth Spurling runs the Greystones site with Sarah Coffey and Victoria Hudson Malone. They put in a lot of hours, enforcing the rules and keeping things civil. Their reward, apart from good-value purchases, is the entertainment value. Having a parrot (BNIC – brand new in cage) for sale on the site was a hoot, as was the posting of an empty Tiffany box for sale, proof that people will sell and buy almost anything. Buyers were queuing up to buy a contraceptive coil (BNIB – brand new in box) until someone pointed out you can’t sell prescribed items online. “Waste not, want not,” says Spurling. “Some people can’t afford €120 to have a coil fitted, or to have a baby.”

Every day brings a new storyline: the woman who told her husband she’d sold his old bag, only to be told he was hiding his Christmas cash inside; the unseemly row over who was first in line for a €20 pair of Uggs; or a seller’s waspish putdown to two low bidders that his sofa was from Habitat, not Bargaintown. “If a thread has more than 20 posts, you know something’s going on,” says Hudson Malone.

It has also deepened a sense of community. A coffee morning for a member whose car was stolen raised over €1,000.

Deirdre Doyle runs the St Vincent de Paul shop in Greystones. Has it been affected? “It’s too early to tell,” she said. “We’re still getting lots of people coming in making donations.” A potential threat could be an opportunity, perhaps, if the charity were to use the site to sell some stock.

The group has spawned its own jargon. GFS means Good For Santa, a way of protecting children’s innocence as they watch their mothers browse for festive deals. Come the January sales, present-givers of a nervous disposition are advised to look away.

Social shopping In numbers

Members of Greystones group since it launched two months ago

5,324Members of Malahide group since it launched six months ago

4,429Members of Swords site

4,900Items currently for sale on Greystones site

10Number of items one can sell at any one time

£600Original price of Christian Louboutin shoes, worn once, now for sale on Greystones site for €240

€895Price paid at Brown Thomas for Prada bag, now on sale for €400 on Greystones site

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