Shop globally, drive locally

Heaven knows they tried. Services such as craigslist and Kijiji have attempted valiantly to bring back the essence of the local marketplace to person-to-person Internet sales. Indeed, craigslist enjoins me to “deal locally with folks you can meet in person.” Kijiji itself means “village,” implying local sales.

But once I get my head around the idea of buying a particular type of vintage filing cabinet or a piece of video equipment, I become obsessed with it. The next thing you know, I’m using any means I can think of to frustrate the limitations of these sites, expanding my searches to a thousand kilometres or more, and imagining I can use my car to pick up the item as described, for the price offered.

I blame some of this on eBay sellers who list items at fair prices, then post exorbitant shipping and handling fees. I then turn to Kijiji and craigslist, my gut dictating that I could surely do better by cutting out the middle man and acting as my own delivery service.

The craigslist site is adamant about local buying and selling. To view local ads in another city, you need to sign in to that city’s site and begin your search all over again. It’s an approach fraught with risks. I once tried to find some items in Los Angeles and, when I returned to my local site, the language setting had been permanently changed to Spanish.

Earlier this year, I used craigslist aggregators that search ads all over Canada using a single search engine. Every few days, craigslist changes its programming to prevent the searches from occurring. Every few days, the sites update coding to find a new way to confound craig.

Kijiji has bowed down to the will of the people, allowing me to temporarily increase the radius of searches to 1,000 km from home. I need to do this every couple of days, because the radius eventually collapses back to walking distance by itself. While searching results, the idea of driving 1,000 km and back doesn’t seem to be an issue at all. What’s the cost of my time behind the wheel? How much will I spend on gas? These are irrelevancies. I am confounding and punishing eBay sellers for their prohibitive delivery pricing policies and getting the item I need.

Don’t think my approach to these sales is conceptual. I’m frequently motivated to put misguided ideas into practice.

A few months ago, I drove 215 km to pick up an authentic “Art Deco bookcase with original glass doors” at a bargain price of only $110. After repeated assurances that the item was top-drawer, I cleaned out the trunk of my car and drove out to hell’s half acre with cash in hand. I will give the seller credit for fanciful photography. The picture of the item artfully obscured peeling veneer, purple crayon marks and something greyish-green growing up the back. Cost of not purchasing an Art Deco bookcase with original glass doors: $145 in gas and driving time.

A month later, I drove 85 km to pick up a “Mad Men-era Cole Steel parts drawer” unit at a bargain price. I think the seller knew I was driving a long distance — the area code of my phone call probably gave me away.

By the time I got into the car and skirted an endless horizon of suburban hell, inflation had driven up the cost of the item to twice the price. The seller assured me this was the original price of the item and that I had been mistaken. I cancelled the sale. When I returned home, the original ad was still on the computer screen at the price I remembered. Refreshing the screen, I could see that the seller had simply “updated” the price on the belief that I would simply pay it after such a long car trip. Driving cost of not buying a Mad Men-era Cole Steel parts drawer: approximately $60.

In other failed long-distance transactions, the seller has simply failed to be at home at the appointed time or the item has been inexplicably sold while I was in transit.

Have I learned my lesson about sticking to local transactions? Absolutely. Whenever I drive out to see locally sold misrepresented junk, I can now guarantee I haven’t wasted more than $10 in gas to see it. With the money I save, I can afford to burn a little rubber, as I squeal out of their driveways to register my disapproval.

Photograph by: Peter Kenter