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Summary:

My weekend walks with the dog have turned from quiet reveries into trips through a neighborhood bazaar. Driveway after driveway is packed with garage sales and people selling old DVD players, lamps, old books, anything, everything. Part of this is a natural summer decluttering ritual, but […]

My weekend walks with the dog have turned from quiet reveries into trips through a neighborhood bazaar. Driveway after driveway is packed with garage sales and people selling old DVD players, lamps, old books, anything, everything. Part of this is a natural summer decluttering ritual, but with gas and food prices through the roof, it’s seems like it’s becoming a quick way to make a little extra scratch.

My curiosity was piqued by this anecdotal evidence, so I decided to check with the online gurus of getting rid of your crap, Craigslist, to see if they had any data that showed a similar spike in activity. The numbers speak for themselves. There were a total of 129,653 garage sales posted to Craigslist nationwide in May of 2007. In May 2008 there were 252,561. And while that number dipped during the winter months (too cold to sit outside), it really took off after March.

But people aren’t just hawking their junk on their front lawns; there’s also been a big increase in the number of general “For Sale” postings. There was a total of 888,7291 “For Sale” posts on Craigslist nationwide in June of 2007, that number rose to 17,795,940 in June of 2008. (A Craigslist rep said June is a little lower than other months because it only has 30 days.) That number has been on a pretty steady incline, but it too saw a big jump from February to March.

What are people selling? The top five items for sale on Craigslist are:

  1. cars/trucks
  2. furniture
  3. electronics
  4. baby/kid stuff
  5. motorcycles

I also contacted eBay to see if it had similar data, but didn’t hear back.

This data won’t change the world, but it gives us an interesting peek into it — and into our neighbor’s yard.

  1. Since Craigslist use overall continues to grow, don’t you need to divide out the overall increase in listings before making conclusions about the economy?

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  2. Fun graphs, but neither one of them is normalized to account for overall growth in Craigslist use. To take a simple example:

    Compete reports that the number of CL visits more than doubled from (eyeballing this) about 7M in 12/07 (they don’t have earlier data) to 15.3M in 06/08; ~120% growth. During the same period, your “For Sale” listings appear to rise from about 1.1M to about 1.8M, or 64%. That suggests that the number of For Sale listings per user is actually declining.

    However, the garage sale graph shape notably does not mirror the overall CL visits graph shape, so it would no doubt remain interesting even after it had been normalized for regular traffic growth.

    Of course, there are all kinds of other biases here that don’t show up in these very high-level analyses, such as total and average dollar value of the items sold, regional variations (do areas with more distressed residential real estate have more sales?), changes in the mix of products offered, and so on. CL has all this data; it would be interesting if they made it available for crunching.

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  3. I’m in Gabe and Adam’s camp; your data is meaningless if it is not accurately portrayed in terms of craigslist growth. This might be an easy mistake to make in a larger metropolitan area where it seems established, but they have been growing in medium and small-sized cities. So sorry if I have to say somewhat sloppy post.

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  4. We’d have to agree with the first poster – we’d probably attribute this growth to the popularity of Craigslist increasing as well as maybe the economy but certainly not based on the economy alone.

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  5. But simply normalizing to factor out Craiglist’s overall growth would hide more information than it reveals. Hitwise’s numbers (URL below) indicate that in the U.S. Craiglist’s usage is growing much faster than the rest of the Internet — rising from the 39th most visited site in March 07, to 23rd most visited site in March 08, in the U.S. For a long established site in a mature Internet market, that growth is remarkable. Chris’ hypothesis that more people are turning to Craiglist as the economy stagnates and foreclosures climb seems pretty logical. Of course, one would have to properly survey the Craigslist users to be sure. But economists routinely make much flimsier logical leaps:

    http://weblogs.hitwise.com/us-heather-hopkins/2008/03/craigslist_traffic_nearly_doub.html

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  6. [...] entrada en GigaOM, “The economic gist via Craigslist“, en la que se muestran el número de entradas etiquetadas como “garage sale” en [...]

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  7. this is great news, way too much crap in the world

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  8. [...] GigaOM’s Chris Albrecht did some research suggesting that as the economy goes down, Craigslist activity goes up. [...]

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  9. The first commenter is correct. Craigslist is still relatively unknown to a large part of the population.

    Not to make any generalizations, but it’s possible that the people that are later to become aware of Craigslist are less technically inclined and more likely to have yard sales.

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  10. I had the same initial thought: you don’t account for the growth in Craigslist postings. Are there more garage sales or just more people going online to publicize their garage sales? One way to check the posting traffic on Craigslist would be to determine the growth in other, nonfinancial parts of Craigslist. For instance, is there a rise in posts looking for someone to date? (This should be adjusted for population size). Once you can determine the overall growth in Craigslist posts, then you can determine how much of the growth in garage sale posts is due to a change in the economy.

    Methodology aside, it’s a good question. And the online commerce and publicity outlets (ebay, Amazon, craigslist) could become a valuable source of information on the economy.

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