Carousell, how do I love thee, let me count the ways…

All my life I’ve been a fan of buying second-hand stuff at thrift stores, fall festival charity fundraisers, yard sales, garage sales, and online.

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many thrift stores in Singapore, and the few I’ve seen don’t have the variety, quality, or ludicrously attractive prices that their American counterparts do. There is no fall festival because there’s no fall. Practically nobody has a yard or a garage. But we do have the internet.

And what is the internet but a huge marketplace? A marketplace of ideas, yes, but also lots and lots of stuff. I love stuff. And Carousell is a great place to get it. See below for why.

Welcome, new player in the online classifieds business…

Even back in 2008 when I moved to Singapore, it was possible to buy and sell things on Craigslist (and Gumtree), though eBay wasn’t as popular as I was expecting. Craigslist has been blown out of the water by a locally headquartered e-commerce company Carousell (which also serves Australia, and parts of East and Southeast Asia).

In addition to the IP violation, fraud, and harassment issues that any platform attracts, the website/app has some annoying technological and user-experience flaws. Yet with all its flaws, Carousell is a godsend. Why?

Carousell’s Advantages

  • Most importantly, more people use it in Singapore than ever used Craigslist in Singapore. Nobody uses a platform that nobody uses… and nothing succeeds like success.
  • Everyone posts at least one photo for the item being offered (because it’s a phone app and—NEWSFLASH!—phones can take photos).
  • In the time I’ve been using it regularly (since June 2018), the interface has improved more than Craigslist’s has in two and a half decades.
  • Carousell now offers payment integration (though not everyone uses it) and optional delivery services.

Some Great Experiences

I started using Carousell to buy books.
In particular, I was looking for used copies of locally published books and book club books that I wanted to buy cheap. People are willing to mail the books after being paid for the item and the postage by CarouPay or a streamlined bank transfer such as PayNow (which is what I use) or PayLah. Delivery only takes a couple of days; mailing saves the time and trouble of a meetup.

One Carouseller decided to give me the two like-new books I wanted for free, even though she had listed them for $10 for both (retail price ~$25 each). Then she dropped them off at my front door. When I reiterated my willingness to pay, she requested that I give the $10 to Orchard Road buskers instead. So I did! Furthermore, now I give $2 to anybody I pass whose music I find enjoyable, something I never did before.

I eventually succeeded in using Carousell to sell some books.
Long ago, I posted a set of books I wanted to sell. They sat there so long I thought they were never going to sell. Then, one day, I got an enquiry asking if they were still available. Yes. I arranged to meet the buyer, who showed up at the arranged time and place with exact change, accepted the books, and went her own way. More than I was glad about the money I received, I was glad the books found another reader: I didn’t have to keep them any longer… or throw them away.

When I moved, I used Carousell to buy furniture.
I bought an awesome pair of rosewood cabinets to use as living room side tables. I never met the seller; after looking at the photos online, I sent a payment that included a delivery fee, and the cabinets showed up at my door.

Solid rosewood cabinets.

Strangely, they had a bunch of stuff still inside!

Dude, what even?

I was worried I’d have to physically take the stuff back to the seller, but she said she didn’t want any of it. Some of the things I threw away, some I gave away, and some I kept. I kept three pleasing round things:

Seiko wall clock, crystal candy dish, Burmese lacquer box.

Later, I bought a pair of pine bedside tables. When I went to fetch them in person, I somehow managed to spend 15 or 20 minutes riding the MRT away from Punggol instead of towards, and had to backtrack, feeling sheepish. I felt even more sheepish after I arrived in Punggol and proceeded to get on the wrong LRT…. I arrived eventually, after asking myself belatedly whether it was really a good idea to show up at a stranger’s door alone, late and far from home, to pay cash for some cheap second-hand furniture. However, once I arrived, the transaction went smoothly, and since I was returning by taxi, I didn’t have to retrace any part of my embarrassing train journey.

I bought a shoe cabinet without seeing it in person first or meeting the seller. There were a couple of keys inside which I mailed back.

I bought a mattress, and it magically showed up at my door, no issues whatsoever.

I wish I could say the same about the folding screen.

Imagine you made an instant bank transfer of $200 to the wrong person…

What happens next?

( A ) you call the bank, they cancel the transfer, all is well
( B ) you call the bank, they say they MIGHT be able to help within the next several months, for a fee of $20
( C ) you call the recipient, recipient ignores you
( D ) you call the recipient, recipient gloats that possession is nine-tenths of the law
( E ) you call the recipient, recipient apologises and returns the money within an hour
( F ) meanwhile, the seller denies responsibility for any miscommunication and nervously insists on payment in full before goods transfer
( G ) meanwhile, the seller offers to pay half the loss if the money is not returned

Okay so obviously it wasn’t (A) because that’s a really boring story I wouldn’t have bothered to start to tell. I think (D) is pretty dumb… if the recipient wants to keep the money, he can… there is no need for mustache twirling. Here’s what happened:

( B ) I called the bank, they said they MIGHT be able to help within the next several months, for a fee of $20
( E ) I called the recipient, recipient apologised (!!!) and returned the money within an hour
( G ) meanwhile, the seller offered to pay half the loss if the money was not returned (!!!)

Being scammed is losing money when you don’t deserve to. What happened to me was the opposite: because of my carelessness, I (arguably) deserved to lose money, but I didn’t… The experience definitely bolstered my faith in humanity.

And I’m happy with the screen.

Nice, right?