The Real Reasons People Love Craigslist for Buying Everything


I was browsing Craigslist looking for a car the other day when something occurred to me. Craigslist shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t be the first place that people stop when looking for anything from a boat or RV to a treadmill or refrigerator.

The site is not attractive. It’s not fancy. It’s not modern. By most standards, it’s a site that shouldn’t be as popular as it is. However, it works because it’s not attractive, it’s not fancy, and it’s not modern. It works because it helps us find things in the ways that we’ve always been accustomed to finding them, even before the days of Google.

There are three truly psychological reasons that Craiglists, works, but I want to start with the obvious reasons. It’s like the old newspaper classified ads on steroids. People can find pretty much anything they want being sold by both individuals and companies. Most of the things that appear on Craigslist are either discounted or give the impression that they’re discounted (don’t burst my bubble – I know I’m getting a great deal if it’s on Craigslist!).

Unlike the old classified ads, they have information. Lots of it. They can have every bit of detail that we could possibly want about a vehicle, treadmill, or refrigerator including tons of images and plenty of words to boot.

“A picture might say a thousand words, but the details you can put into the descriptions of your vehicles have a big impact on your ability to move those units,” said Jim Jabaay,  Vice President of Sales at LotVantage. “Sites like Craigslist and eBay Motors offer plenty of room to be as descriptive as you want, so use that space to its fullest potential.”

Those things make sense, but one would think that there’s a better way by now, a more attractive format for these things to happen. In all actuality there are, but Craiglist has three things that most of the other classified sites do not have (this is where we get psychological):

  1. Real People – Correct or not, the perception of Craigslist is that there are real humans on the other end of the listings. The diversity of styles of listings confirms this for shoppers and the format is conducive to this perception. In fact, if Craigslist were to modernize, there’s a good chance that they would lose users because it would no longer have the “raw” feeling that it currently possesses. This is part of the reason that the great-deal-mentality still permeates.
  2. Real-Time Listings – Shoppers, particularly those who are buying high-value items like cars or boats, don’t want to visit sites where the top listings are bought. People are becoming very aware that being at the top of a listings page means that someone is paying more money than everyone else to be there. On Craigslist, the listings are set to default to show the most recent listings. This allows shoppers to come back or refresh and know what’s new and what they already saw last time.
  3. Real Traffic – People gather where people gather. It sounds like nonsense but it’s not. What I mean is that shoppers will go where the items are being sold and people will try to sell their items where the shoppers are going. In essence, Craiglist’s popularity has helped to keep Craigslist so popular.

They may or may not ever try to modernize their interface, but today’s site looks very similar to the way it looked a decade ago. This is only one of the reasons that people buy so much from the site. As long as it’s familiar, it will remain a popular shopping destination.