What to Know Before Shopping from Facebook Marketplace and Buy Nothing Groups

These marketplaces might seem like the Wild West of online selling, but it’s helpful to know proper etiquette and best practices.

January 05, 2022


Photo by: Cultura RM Exclusive/BRETT STEVENS/Getty

Cultura RM Exclusive/BRETT STEVENS/Getty

The old saying goes that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. While that might be hyperbolic on both ends, it’s certainly true that when one person doesn’t need something anymore, there’s someone else out there who does. The second-hand economy — buying, selling, gifting or trading used goods — has existed pretty much forever.

And in more recent years, online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp (formerly LetGo), TradeMade and Poshmark have made it easier than ever to sell or give away things you no longer need, or buy used stuff at deep discounts. Such platforms have also breathed new life into the gift economy, which is all about exchanging goods and services without exchanging cash.

But before you swear off retail and vow to only shop for used stuff online, there are some things you need to know about how to navigate these groups and make sure you’re getting what you need.

Buy Nothing groups are about more than just used goods.

Founded in 2013, the Buy Nothing Project is an international movement with many local chapters, or groups. It’s just what it sounds like: A place where people give things, ask for things, lend things and borrow things for free. But the groups, which often exist on Facebook, are about so much more than that. “I truly believe that Buy Nothing is more than just the stuff,” says Tamara Nagelberg, who founded a Buy Nothing group in the Raleigh, NC area and became a member of the Buy Nothing community in 2018. “The stuff is great, and getting rid of stuff is nice, but as I drive around the area of my own Buy Nothing Group, I know that if I were to break down, for example, I likely know someone now in that relatively close by area because of the relationships.”

Because Buy Nothing groups are as much about community as they are about stuff, most have a rule that you’re only allowed to be part of one group (the one most local to you). “A lot of times we find that folks are joining multiple groups for the ‘stuff’ versus the relationships, and usually dishonestly or with the intent to obtain items to sell without disclosing that,” Nagelberg says. Before you join a Buy Nothing group, familiarize yourself with the rules published here, and be willing to give as well as receive.

Elsewhere on Facebook Marketplace, there aren’t really any rules.

One nice thing about Buy Nothing groups is that the relationships they’re built upon provide some accountability. People are far less likely to mislead you about how well something works or the condition it’s in if they know you, or if doing so might cause tension in the group. On Facebook Marketplace and other second-hand buying and selling platforms, that accountability isn’t there, and there are no universal rules. That said, plenty of people on Facebook Marketplace have good intentions, and it’s totally possible to find great stuff there.

Buy Nothing groups are great for smaller-ticket items like clothes, shoes, household goods and toys.

Think about the things that friends often swap or gift each other. These are great things to look for in a Buy Nothing group, which is meant to serve as an extended network of friends. Nagelberg loves getting and gifting children’s toys and clothing, as these things are often only usable for a short time. “So much of my own toddler's clothing and toys from birth to now 3 years old has just been gifted,” she says. “As my daughter has outgrown some of the gifts we've received in the past, we just pass it along again in Buy Nothing.” Many people also share photos of an item being used, which builds the sense of community and can be really satisfying for whoever gifted it.

These groups are also great for gifting or finding novelty items that typically only get used once. “One time, a ‘Happy Birthday’ balloon banner started making its rounds throughout the Buy Nothing group because it just didn't deflate and was perfectly usable again until the next birthday,” Nagelberg says.

A mixer working making a papaya smoothie


A mixer working making a papaya smoothie

Photo by: ondacaracola photography/Getty

ondacaracola photography/Getty

Facebook Marketplace is good for larger items like furniture and appliances, or if you want a very specific product.

If you’re a member of your local Buy Nothing group, it’s always worth asking there first when you need something — you just never know if someone might be hoping or willing to give that same item away. But if that’s not the case, or if you’re looking for a specific make or model of something, it’s time to try Facebook Marketplace or a similar platform. Before you start making offers on the first items you see, here are some things to keep in mind:

To buy second hand, opt for a local pickup instead of having something shipped.

Because Facebook Marketplace is so popular, it’s no longer just a second-hand marketplace. You’ll also see new items listed by various shops, even after you set your location and the radius in which you’re looking for goods. The best way to avoid this is to adjust your “Delivery Method” filters to only include “Local Pickup” items. This eliminates everything that needs to be shipped, which means you’re likely filtering out all of the shops and instead just buying from your neighbors.

Feel free to ask for additional photos or videos of a product.

Often, a seller might only include one or two photos when listing an item. Or, they might include images from the original retailer; for example including images from the Target website of a dresser they bought from Target years ago. These product images can be helpful and often include useful information like size specifications, but you shouldn’t assume that what you’re buying will be as good as new.

If you’re buying a used item, always feel free to ask for additional photos or videos before committing. For furniture, you should be able to see all sides of the item in photos to make sure there are no major breaks, stains or flaws that you don’t know about. Even if you’re OK with a few scuffs or signs of wear – which you should be when you’re buying second hand — it’s important to know what you’re getting.

If you’re buying an appliance, ask for a short video of it in action.

You can find everything from toasters to refrigerators on Facebook Marketplace. Buying a used appliance can be a great way to save money, but only if the appliance is fully functional. To make sure that there are no operational hiccups, ask the seller to send you a video of the appliance in action. You might want to see a video of a piece of bread going into a toaster and coming out (not burnt, hopefully), a blender making a smoothie, a TV screen working and turning on/off or a vacuum cleaning a carpet. You can also do these things during pick-up, but videos make it easier to weed out things that really don’t work.

Double check the size and other specifications before heading out to pick something up.

I once helped a guy carry a mattress out of my house, only for him to realize when we couldn’t fit it in his truck that it was king size, not queen size. It was frustrating for him, because he’d driven all the way to get it. And it was frustrating for me, because I had turned down another offer that came in after his. Turns out, the description in my post was correct, but he skimmed over it. Just because you search for a certain size or color, doesn’t mean that you won’t also get other sizes and colors in your search results. Before you commit to something, make sure you have all the details right.

Instead of sending just a canned “is this still available?” message, specify when you’ll be able to pick an item up.

Sellers are often inundated with messages that say, “Hi [seller’s name’, is this still available?” It’s the canned message that Facebook autofills for all interested buyers, and it’s incredibly annoying to receive dozens of these without any real commitment. If you’re really interested in buying something, include some concrete information in your message. Tell the seller when you might be able to pick up the item, and state the price you’re willing to pay for it (whether that’s asking price or something lower). This way, the seller doesn’t have to do all the legwork of gauging your interest and setting up a pickup time.

If you need to go into someone’s home, don’t go alone.

It’s an old rule that bears repeating: Don’t go into a stranger’s house alone, even if you’re just running in to pick up a TV or a plant. If you need to enter someone’s home during a Facebook Marketplace transaction, bring a friend as a safety precaution. If you can’t wrangle anyone to come with you for pick-up, ask for a no-contact pick-up, where the seller will leave your item outside their home for you to retrieve it, and you’ll send payment through a cash app or leave cash.

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