March 22, 2015 (TFC) – Corporate America has turned materialism into culture. It has taken away variety and individualism from the consumer experience. Instead of unique communities with varied shops, prices, restaurants and merchandise, we have an entire nation full of the same stores with never ending concrete parking lots and bland strip malls. All stores have exactly the same merchandise and prices. Consumers now expect and, to a certain degree hope for, ubiquitous, streamlined convenience. Corporate chains have no real identity. They pander to consumers. Minimum wage workers usually have no understanding of the products they sell. They cannot offer advice and are generally completely apathetic about their employer and their customers.
The advent of the digital marketplace has changed retail shopping forever. Consumers are now more informed about what they buy than ever before. With skyrocketing inflation and reduced incomes, more and more people are looking to buy used goods to save money. Companies like Amazon and Ebay have set the standard for the digital marketplace. In many ways, they have become the Wal-Mart and Target of online shopping. They are both multi-billion dollar corporations. Even though these are great ways to save money that provide an outlet for entrepreneurs and individuals alike, when using these sites we are still “feeding the beast” of corporate dominance in many ways. Thrift stores and second hand shops are a great way to avoid corporate monopolies, but organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army are unsavory organizations with deplorable business models and practices that take advantage of the tax breaks that come with being a “charitable organization.” Craigslist is an excellent way around all of this.
Craigslist encourages the system of bartering and trade between individuals in the community
Long before corporations took over, communities and cities had downtown marketplaces full of family owned businesses. Instead of everything being in one store, there were multiple specialty stores. If you bought something and it broke, instead of just throwing it away and buying a cheap replacement like we do now, there were repair stores for just about everything you could image, from shoes to upholstery and electronics. Often times prices were not firm, either. Haggling with a shop owner was commonplace. If someone owns the store and the merchandise, they can sell things at whatever price they deem fair. Craigslist uses the same kind of system.
You can haggle with people or pay their asking price. You can arrange delivery of the item or pick it up yourself. If you’re selling something on Craigslist, you can take the first good offer or sit back and wait for people to compete for what you’re selling, similar to Ebay.
Craigslist has virtually everything you could ever want or need
Individuals list everything you can imagine on Craigslist at prices they determine. Make an offer and it could be yours within an hour. Everything you could ever want is on Craigslist. Where you live determines how robust the marketplace is. There is even a section for free things that people are giving away. Almost everything I own, which is admittedly not much, has come from Craigslist. You could find a job and an apartment, furnish the entire apartment, hire someone to move the furniture, buy a flat screen, a blu-ray player, a library of movies, and a guitar on Craigslist in the same day. Then, you could find someone to give you guitar lessons. If you decide you hate the guitar, you could sell it and buy something else to use for a hobby. You could rent a cabin and buy a boat to take on the lake. You could find someone to babysit your kids in the meantime. If you’re feeling frisky, you could find an intimate companion to accompany you to the cabin. If he/she steals your car, hire someone to give you a ride home. You can do just about anything with Craigslist.
Craigslist puts money in the pockets of people, not corporations
If you are buying used goods from individuals, you are not contributing to the profit of corporate chains. While it’s true what you’re buying most likely came from a retail chain originally, instead of paying a higher price for a new one in a store, you’re paying a cheaper price and giving money to a person. It is a form of recycling. The amount of electronic waste produced in the world today is staggering. This has the potential to lower electronic waste output and increase the shelf-life of electronics.
Over time, if enough people are using Craigslist, corporations will have to respond. Already, Wal-Mart has started a new policy of matching any online price for a product. In some places, they’ve instigated the same video game trade-in policy as Gamestop. Consumers’ voices are heard through where they spend their money. If you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, it will be forced to make changes to entice you back into shopping there.
I single out Wal-Mart because its exploitative business model sets the trends for the rest of the retail market. When Wal-Mart does it, it’s only a matter of time before every other major retail chain follows suit. Imagine if Craigslist became the trendsetter. Imagine being able to walk into a Wal-Mart and haggle with an associate over the price of a new TV. Imagine actually having power over how much you pay for what you buy.
Craigslist is a corporation that doesn’t have an unquenchable thirst for profit
Amazingly, Craigslist is actually a corporation. Craigslist became an incorporated for-profit institution in 1999. It was started by Craig Newmark in 1995 as an email based classified ad list in San Francisco. It grew rapidly during the early days of the web and by 2000, 9 people were working for Craig and running Craigslist from his apartment in San Francisco. Current CEO Jim Buckmaster joined the team in 2000 as lead programmer. Now, Craigslist operates in over 50 countries around the world.
It makes money by charging small fees for apartment listings and job postings in certain metropolitan areas. It charges a $25 listing fee for jobs in six major US cities, $75 for a job posting in San Francisco, and $10 for an apartment listing in New York. Despite its global network, Buckmaster has for years ignored constant urging from Wall Street “experts” to use banner ads on the site to generate revenue. He says that revenue streams are not the goal of Craigslist. It is a free, open source tool for the public, and it will stay that way, according to Buckmaster. Since Buckmaster took over operations in 2000, newspaper classified ad revenue dropped from $19.6 billion to under $6 billion in 2010. That is a colossal impact in only a decade.
Remarkably, even though Craigslist operates in the complete polar opposite manner as nearly every other for-profit corporation that exists, it is still worth over $400 million. It has a staff of only 28 people and even though Craig Newmark is not in direct control, he is still actively involved with the site. Over 60 billion people use Craigslist all over the world each month. Craigslist is the most definitive proof that a small company can become hugely successful without devouring small businesses and amassing billions of dollars of yearly revenue. Moral corporations are not just a theoretical possibility.
Craigslist is a tool for Activists
Aside from the endless list of products to buy, job offers, and apartments for rent, Craigslist also has a huge social forum. This is a great means for activists to raise awareness about important events, both local and global. If there is something important happening that people need to know about, anyone in the world can post information about it in the Craigslist forums. They can also post ads that redirect people to the information. A well organized Craigslist campaign could potentially allow one person to organize a massive global protest by using targeted city demographics. Unlike Facebook, Craigslist does not have censorship algorithms that prevent you from seeing certain information. It is completely open source. If 60 billion people are using Craigslist a month, the likelihood of your information being seen by many people is very high.
Craigslist is safe, if you’re smart and responsible
Just like with anything else, Craigslist is demonized by some for its easy to use “bait and trap” potential for criminals. Michael Anderson, aka the “Craigslist Killer”, is principally responsible for this stigma. Murders and other serious crimes are extremely uncommon on Craigslist. Just like every time you get in a car or plane you could die in a fiery explosion, you take a certain risk by using Craigslist. However, the odds of something terrible happening to you are extremely small. Like anything else, personal responsibility plays a big part in the equation. It is not a person’s fault if they get shot by a maniac that was pretending to sell an Ipod, but avoiding suspicious ads or situations will go a long way in preventing that from ever happening.
Scammers and spammers are common on Craigslist and, most often, blatantly obvious. If someone asks for your social security number or bank routing number before you ever meet them in person it is probably a bad idea to give it to them. I have personally been scammed once by an individual that I rented an apartment from. It can happen but it’s not Craigslist’s fault.
Craigslist is a free, open source resource for the public. The public is full of maniacs and criminals. It makes perfect logical sense that maniacs and criminals would infiltrate it and try to exploit it. Just like there are people you may take a wide berth to avoid when walking into a retail store, there are people to avoid on Craigslist. I have made close to a hundred transactions on Craigslist with only one instance of unscrupulous activity.
Craigslist is an excellent resource that is still young and growing. It has proved that the public will take advantage of free resources when presented with them. It has proved that the current corporate structure doesn’t have to exist. It is a waypoint for the world to connect, trade, organize and potentially rebel. I suggest we all start taking full advantage of it.