Facebook Marketplace might be the best thing left on Facebook

Despite a persnickety algorithm and a long list of banned items, people are flocking to Facebook Marketplace for their holiday shopping.

Emoji of items not allowed to be sold on Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace has a long list of banned items, but users say it’s far from a deterrent.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When Alex Kelly lists his decorative bourbon barrels on Facebook Marketplace, they sometimes get flagged and taken down. The algorithm chokes on the word “bourbon,” even though the barrels contain no alcohol. The process to get the flagged posts reviewed and reinstated can also be murky at times. It’s just a small reminder that despite running his own small business, he is still at the mercy of a giant social media platform, Kelly said.

Facebook’s algorithm picks up on photos and keywords of banned items not allowed on Marketplace. The list is long, including animals, alcohol, currency, fake currency, guns and much more. But the quirks of Facebook Marketplace appear harmless in comparison to the more controversial troubles found elsewhere within Meta (formerly known as Facebook) — users spreading misinformation, hate speech and its negative influence on children. The contrast is stark. In the world of Facebook Marketplace, shoppers and sellers alike voice that the platform has brought them closer to their communities and that it feels safer than other resale sites because many of the vendors are local and can be verified using the platform.

Currently, over a billion people globally use Facebook Marketplace, Yulie Kwon Kim, VP of Product Management for Facebook App Commerce, told Protocol.

Kelly, who is based in North Carolina, said he first started using Facebook Marketplace about two and half years ago to declutter and combine households with his new wife. Now, he has a small business he runs in his free time selling authentic whiskey and bourbon barrels that he also customizes for home decor, signs and events.

He likes the flexibility of running a virtual storefront in his spare time and said a big draw has been the community aspect of selling locally. While he said it’s been an enjoyable experience, there are certain reminders that he’s on a social media platform. While many of Kelly’s posts get a great deal of interaction, others get zero views at all despite featuring a popular home decor item. And when Facebook was down for a day in October, he said his business was down as well.

Brittany Dyer and her wife started selling items from their woodworking furniture business on Facebook Marketplace in 2016 and have made it their full-time business and career. The small business, Beautiful Fight Woodworking, also has a website, but Dyer told Protocol much of their website sales are from people who found them on Facebook Marketplace. Briefly during the pandemic they maintained an Etsy shop, but shut it down due to the amount of fees Etsy charges.

The most popular types of items on the site in the U.S. are still household items, furniture, baby and children’s items, women's clothing and shoes, as well as cars, trucks and motorcycles. And as supply chain issues persist, more people have become willing to purchase gently used gifts and services locally. In the past month alone, Facebook has seen an 80% increase in items listed and described as "gifts" on the site, a 20% increase from the same time period last year.

More shoppers are searching for gifts as well. In the past month, there has been a 40% increase in people searching the term “gifts,” said Kim.

“So on both sides, more people [are] selling items that they are listing as great gift ideas and more people [are] actually coming and actively searching for gifts on Marketplace,” said Kim.

Some shoppers say they are more willing to engage with Facebook Marketplace sellers because of an increased feeling of safety. Brittany Martello, a shopper and seller in North Carolina, said that unlike on other resale sites she likes, she can check out the profiles of the people she’s buying from or selling to before messaging them and she doesn’t have to travel to meet someone or pay for postage.

“I like that I can click on someone's profile and I can generally tell within a short amount of time if it is a real person. I like on Marketplace that you can see their commerce profile,” she said. “I don't give you my address until I stalk you online. And once I do that, then I feel more comfortable.”

Users must have a Facebook account in order to buy and sell on Facebook Marketplace, an obstacle for those who deleted their accounts following hate speech and privacy concerns.

For Martello, the convenience of having people pick up items is a major motivator, and she’s taken to selling a variety of products she might not have been driven to sell before using the platform.

Martello recently listed her Xbox Series X console on the website for $850. Within three days she received a total of 10 offers and sold it for $750.

Taylor Lampert-Ventura, a seller and shopper, has run into similar algorithmic trouble as Kelly. When she lists horse-boarding on Facebook Marketplace with a photo of a horse, her posts sometimes get flagged and taken down. You can’t sell a horse on Facebook — not that she’s tried.

Even with the small challenges with listing, she’s not deterred. Lampert-Ventura’s posts have brought her some business in the past and she herself has used the site to purchase a children’s saddle, small items for her animals and a rabbit hutch (she runs a rescue). She said when she did buy a horse for a client, she went to Craigslist.

“I literally buy anything. Anything I need, I just go to Facebook Marketplace. If I don't want to buy it new, I go there. Chances are, they have it,” she said.

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