Judge tosses charges against 7 state officials in Flint water crisis

Pointes moms swap ‘stuff’ as online swap sites grow

Karen Dybis
Special to The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe – —About a year ago, Michelle Werner was looking to connect with other parents in the Pointes. So she set up a Facebook page where they could trade kids’ toys and talk about everyday challenges.

The result — Grosse Pointe Mom’s Swap and Chat — has grown way beyond her expectations. The page now has more than 1,500 members, spawning related groups including a book club as well as a place to buy and sell nearly anything.

Want a Coach purse or Louis Vuitton baby bag? Perhaps a pair of new Tory Burch boots with the tags still on? Imagine any kind of high-end goodie, and chances are someone is selling it on the GP Mom’s site. There’s also practical items, such as household goods, high chairs and more.

“I thought maybe a handful of moms would join and we could discuss happenings in our neighborhood, arrange some playground dates and maybe sell some of our baby stuff,” said Werner, a 34-year-old Grosse Pointe resident and Younique cosmetics company rep. “I’m proud to say that the group has grown so much beyond that.”

The group has grown so large that new members can only be invited to join through a member. The site is not visible in a Facebook search.

Online swap sites have grown into full-fledged marketplaces to buy and sell almost anything these days. It is new kind of economy that blends swap meet with garage sale with social media, and consumer-behavior experts say it is a selling extravaganza that is likely to grow in the years to come.

“It’s part of the retail industry’s evolution,” said Michael Bernacchi, a professor of business administration at the University of Detroit Mercy. “The Internet has changed the way people do everything — it has changed how we consume media, products and services.”

These swap sites are like a modern-day trading post, he noted. Consumers are drawn to it because it is shopping at its best — efficient, effective and immediate, Bernacchi said. Other online retailers may find it hard to compete because there is no wait time like an auction site and it is faster than Amazon.

“It is interpersonal commerce that happens at all (economic) levels, ages and geographies,” Bernacchi added. “It’s about being able to embrace garage-sale-ism and including more than one block or two. It really is a bonanza to those interested in this kind of thing.”

These Facebook pages have spawned their own language. For example, the acronym POOS means “Posted on Other Sites,” warning people that they better snap up the item quickly. It also has its own rules of etiquette, usually established through trial and error.

There are swap sites across Metro Detroit. Most focus on a narrow band of geography to make merchandise pickups and drop offs easier. Some are broad in focus, allowing sellers to post just about anything. Others target certain items, such as bicycle parts or dance apparel and accessories.

Prices are kept low: think garage sale, not retail store, Werner noted. Recently, one mom sold an “EUC” or excellent used condition princess Halloween costume for $12 that she bought for $45. It was snagged in minutes.

“People love these groups because they love to bargain hunt,” she said. “Children’s clothing is a huge seller in my group because the kids wear it for such a short time and if you buy in store, you are easily spending hundreds every few months. Groups like these offer a way for families to pass on those gently used items, put a little cash in their pockets and turn around and buy the next size up for a fraction of the cost.”

Some participants say they feel addicted to the sites to the point where they’re posting constantly or searching for items via their Facebook feed multiple times a day. GP Mom’s Swap and Chat has new items hourly, so there is always something new to see.

Patty Greenen of Grosse Pointe Woods recently snagged a KitchenAid stand mixer for $100; it normally would retail for about $300. She also has picked up clothing for her 4-month-old daughter, outfits for a baby gift with tags still attached, and shoes for herself.

Greenen admits she would never sell anything on the site, mostly because of the time it would take. But it’s tempting — she knows of one shopaholic mom who told her that she’s made more than $2,000 selling her extra items on GP Mom’s Swap.

“I’m not buying something just to buy something. These are things I needed or wanted anyway,” Greenen said. “It’s like a different form of Craigslist, but it’s more local and convenient.”

Gina Rennpage created Online Family-to-Family as a way to let people “recycle” their belongings in a way that benefited her community. The mother of three and former teacher said she got tired of seeing people store their stuff, throw it away or face mom-to-mom sales with “crowds of crazy moms.”

The Facebook page has about 375 members, many of whom give away their gently used children’s clothing, older electronics or furniture. Unlike many swap sites, Online Family-to-Family is a closed system, meaning you need approval from another member to join. But Rennpage said she welcomes anyone to sign on.

“The more people on (the site), the better,” said Rennpage, who also lives in the Pointes. “Not everyone who uses these sites is there to make money. Most of us have everything we need. Mostly, you want to see these items go to a good home and be reused.”

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.