A few weeks ago, PandoDaily managing editor Nathan Pensky had a foosball table to get rid of, and wanted to sell it on the Internet. This was clearly intern work, but Sarah Lacy (being the angel that she is) suggested I make a story out of it. So for the past month, I’ve been going from cyber door to cyber door to sell Nathan’s foosball table, posting it as well as four other items donated by the staff onto a bevy of “sell your stuff” sites. 

News sites like ours would have you believe the Web has come a long way since the time when eBay and Craigslist were the only options, with sites tailored towards selling all kinds of things. But while huge strides have been made on the listing experience and the look and feel of these sites, if our experience is any indication, this nut hasn’t been cracked. Put simply: No one wanted our stuff.

Is it us or them? Read about my experience and you be the judge.

The items, and the sites I attempted to sell them on, were as follows: PandoDaily’s illustrator Hallie Bateman offered a Gunne Sax vintage dress to be sold on Etsy for all of the lovers of quirky items. Nathan’s Foosball table would go up on Ebay, a place where I assumed anything you needed to get rid of could easily be sold. PandoDaily’s general manager Oni Rovatti graciously let me post her one-of-a-kind Cartier Train Traveller on Threadflip, a site that I hoped would appreciate the rarity of such a bag. Whitney Phanuef offered her lightly used speakers to be sold on Krrb, a place that promised that a “neighbor” would want such an item. Finally, I would sell Sarah Lacy’s unopened “Game of Thrones” Season 1 (Blu-ray) on Zaarly, which she offered due to her lack of a Blu-ray player. Surely — given the “Game of Thrones” mania–  someone would want this discontinued item?

I tried to sell Mr. Pensky’s table on Ebay, but the process put me through such a rage that I am surprised every table in my home is not flipped over and stomped on. Frustrated by everything from the needless hurdles in building an Ebay account to the requirement of yet another account on PayPal, there was no way I was going to make it to the step that allowed me to actually sell my item. Hence, I decided to sell it on Krrb, and gave the speakers a new home to be sold at: Amazon. 

Each site (after I ditched eBay) had a very simple and streamlined process of how to post items on their site. After uploading a picture, pricing, and posting details, they were ready to be sold within minutes.

I was highly impressed with Threadflip’s ability to cater this process to the specific items they sold. Being able to drag and drop photos, categorize by brand, color, and size, was everything I needed to post Oni’s one-of-a-kind Cartier bag with all of the necessary details.

Etsy allowed categories such as “hippie” and “vintage” to clearly describe Hallie’s billowy dress, showing me that for people interested in fashion, it is all in the details. At Zaarly and Krrb, their processes were more geared towards getting me on and off of the site as quickly as possible, giving me no more than a text box to describe what I wanted to sell. At Amazon, I needed to create a “Seller” account but the site carefully guided me through the process, making it far less painful than my previous experience with eBay.

Yet, even with my fantastic posting skills, no one seemed to be interested in purchasing the Cartier bag, or any of the items for that matter. On the fashion sites people would “like” or “love” the white-lace prairie dress, or comment on what a magnificent piece the Cartier bag was, but no one was willing to spend a dime on what I wanted to sell. My PandoDaily virtual garage sale was — it seemed — stuck in a Pinterest/Facebook world where we had lots of fans but no buyers. Thumbs up and pins don’t pay the rent — or clean out the garage.

After some time had passed, I decided it wasn’t the sites’ fault for my lack of success. It was my inability to put the items on sites where people would want to actually buy them. On Etsy there was an array of Gunne Sax dresses being sold, but maybe it was the fact that my “store” only sold one item that people did not come to take a look. On Amazon, out of the top 10 items sold in Electronics, half of the list is comprised of Kindles. In the cases of Zaarly and Krrb, maybe it was just the people in my area that simply had no interest in my items. For Threadflip, the bag was a tad pricey compared to the rest of the fashion pieces.

I decided to move some of them to different sites to see what would happen.

Both the vintage dress and the Foosball Table would be sold on applications on my iPhone, so as to alert me once they sold, at Ketup and Yardsale respectively. “Game of Thrones” Season 1 would be put up for sale on Amazon, a place I thought someone looking to purchase Blu-ray discs would look first. And last but not least, the Cartier Train Traveller would be sold on Refashioner, another fashion site that was interested in the bag’s rich backstory.

Ketup and Yardsale can boast the fastest posting times. I took the picture, gave it details, and posted the items all in one shot. Unlike selling items on my computer, there was no need to wait for the picture to upload, or clicking through multiple pages to get to that glorious button that lets you start the selling. You could start the selling as fast as the application itself downloaded.

That was perfect for me, the seller, but again where were the buyers? On Refashioner it was still all about people loving the item and its backstory, but unfortunately no sales were made. Yardsale ended up being a convenient and mobile way to sell the Foosball Table on Craigslist (as in the application just sits on top of Craigslist, listing your item on it for you), and I found with the dress that people still only chose to enjoy its presence on their screens without any inclination to have it in their closet.

It seemed all hope was lost until finally, one item sold: “Game of Thrones.” HBO inept digital strategy be praised! Maybe it was my genius move of pricing it slightly lower than all of the others being sold on Amazon, or maybe it was the fact that it was a discontinued product, but it sold within 48 hours of being put online. I hoped I was on a roll when one woman on Etsy was genuinely interested in purchasing the Vintage dress, but unfortunately her size and the dress did not match up.

Many companies have found ways to make selling your unwanted items as easy as possible. In fact, you can put an item up for sale within my record: 45 seconds. The issue is not that it is complicated to sell something, the issue is that these environments are not places that people want to actually purchase your items.

It is clear that when people put an item for sale, it is because they want it out of their homes as soon as possible, but that doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it with the same amount of desperation.

It turns out that creating an environment that entices people to purchase an item is a hard thing to pull off, especially with “like” buttons that let people enjoy the lovely picture on their screen, giving them no notion to reach towards their wallets. It creates a culture of “cyber-window shopping” where commenters are praised for their desire for an item rather than kicked out of a physical store for loitering without any intent to purchase.

This is not a bad thing. Heck, I frequent sites such as Pintrest to do just that: to ogle at items and let my imagination run wild. But when I need to actually buy a dress my instinct does not tell me to go to a “sell your stuff” website. Instinct tells me to drag my butt to the mall to try on a dresses that will fit in all the right places. And at 18-years-old, I’m in that grew-up-with-computers demographic.

On the other hand, when I am looking to buy a movie, who wants the hassle of driving from store to store looking for a place that still sells DVDs? It becomes a far simpler task to click a button on my computer to find exactly what I am looking for.

There are many sites that are trying to do this, and in theory their numbers show that it is working, but if “sell your stuff” sites truly want to make quality places for people to buy and sell, they either need to create an environment that betters both, or change the way I, as a customer, think about online shopping.

Maybe we had lame stuff. But it’s likely no worse than the things in other people’s garages they want gone.

[Yardsale image via Ecoki]