Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Buyer [Seller, Trader] Beware - Who Wants You to Join Their Facebook Selling Group and Why?

So apropos! (credit: Dilbert.com)

UPDATE 4/4: The app development team have removed themselves from the Lululemon Buy Sell Trade Group and turned over management of the group to people from the wider lululemon BST community. They have decided to focus their efforts on other brands, including the large Anthropologie group.


Back in December 2015 a sponsored ad for a lululemon-related page started appearing in sidebars on Facebook. The About description said they were a fan page and included a link to their new BST (buy, sell, trade) group. The group quickly grew to over 32,000 members by March 2016. Just to let you know how extraordinary this is, one of the oldest lululemon selling groups I am aware of took over four years to get to that size, growing organically, by word of mouth.

I did a post four years ago about the secondhand lululemon re-sale market. It’s a huge factor in the brand’s popularity – you buy the clothes, wear them for a while, then resell and get some of your money back. That money is usually plowed right back into buying new lululemon.  Re-selling happens in various venues - eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, Poshmark, and numerous private Facebook groups. The Facebook groups have grown in number over the years and are in the hundreds these days. There are country groups, state groups, province groups, city groups, Speed Shorts groups - you name it. Lululemon isn’t the only brand that has Facebook chat and swap groups devoted to it, either - brands like Anthropologie, Pandora, Boden, Modcloth, Tea Collection are among some others.

Back to the group I started out talking about – it never really caught my eye because I don’t click on sponsored ads regarding lululemon but the group did come up recently in discussion in one of my chat groups when it was rumored that one of the admins, whom people had never heard of, was making a $60,000 salary. It caused a big stir since all the lululemon chat and sale groups I am aware of have unpaid volunteer admins.  The groups, admins, and members have usually arisen out of the lululemon Facebook chat community, too, so many of us are familiar with names of who is active in these communities. The new group admins were people no one in the lululemon Facebook community had ever heard of. Put together with the sponsored ads to grow the group and a paid admin, people were rightly suspicious of what was going on. Moreover, it was said the group was full of newbies that people had never heard of and numerous transactions were going bad, with false PayPal claims abounding and/or items never being sent.

It turns out that the same core group of admins have been opening Facebook BST groups across several clothing brands – lululemon, Modcloth, Anthropologie, and MiniBoden – all started in the same time frame. They’ve also been lurking in some other large re-sale groups, such as Tea Collection. The Anthropologie group is very large, at about 38,000 members (not to confused with the very reputable and smaller Anthopologie BST group). And, it was recently learned, will be shutting down and porting their membership into an app called FAM.  Ding, ding, ding! To add insult to injury, the admins of the group claimed the move to the app grew out of a desire by the group members for better functionality. However, minimal research shows this app was in development well before the sponsored ads went live.

Moreover, people’s listings were taken from the Anthropologie Buy Sell & Trade group and ported into the app without their knowledge or explicit permission. People were pretty horrified to learn their Facebook profile information and photos from a Closed Group were wide open to the web. That "bug" has been fixed now but I have screenshots of what it looked like to non-members at the time.

Equally bad, both the Anthropologie and lululemon groups kept a "feedback leaderboard" document in Google docs that contained member's names and their Facebook profile URLs. This is important because many people choose to set Facebook so their profile is not linkable by search engines. The document was open to anyone who had the link, which was published on the page of the group. I believe public Google Docs are available to web crawlers (this seems to indicate it is).  As a confirmation of sorts, I've read numerous stories about people getting a noticeable increase in phishing emails and things like LinkedIn requests since joining these groups. As an admin of a group, I've seen firsthand that there are always fake profiles who try to infiltrate groups for their own ends so I'd theorize that an interested party got in, grabbed the link for the google docs and sold the contact info accordingly.

It didn’t take much digging to figure out the people behind the new BST groups and app are professional Facebook platform application developers. Whether they will sell advertising on the new app, charge fees to use the app, or eventually try to sell the app back to Facebook is unclear. All we know is that the new selling group did not organically arise out of a shared interest in lululemon, as has been the case with all the selling groups until now. In fact, the lululemon selling community was targeted, along with many others, for inclusion into the app.

On a related note, one of the new trends I wasn’t aware of, this group started it but it's spread to some of my older lululemon selling groups, too, is that to close a sale, selling groups want you to post your PayPal email address right to the public wall of the group. Not all do this, many let you handle the conclusion of the transaction via PMs (private messages). I would be leery of any group that required you to do this. People have told me once they do this they start to have problems with their PayPal accounts since there isn’t a lot of screening done when people join a large selling group.

I’ve always liked to do my selling on eBay since there is a degree of anonymity and a formal weed out system for people who don’t follow the rules. The fees are high but I feel the protections are worth it. I have bought off the various Facebook sale boards with success but it’s usually on boards I have known about for years, run by people I am familiar with, and populated by people I am familiar with, or at least people who know the same people I do to some extent.

I wanted to make you aware of what is going on. The numerous Facebook groups are a wonderful outgrowth of a shared interest in the lululemon brand that has led to a lot of lasting friendships. However, people are being misled and preyed upon, particularly inexperienced re-sellers. If there is a sponsored post or ad pointing you towards a selling group, I’d do my research before joining it.

Update 4/4 - The app development team removed themselves from the large lululemon group today and turned over administration to a new team. Full disclosure, I signed on to help. We're going to work on re-screening the group and making sure there are no scripts or software hooks into the group.

Update 4/2 - A new approach seems to have been decided on: notices were posted in the groups yesterday that the groups will not be shutting down as originally planned. Instead, new admins will be found from the communities (but no statement was made as whether they would leave the groups.) Last night, in the ModCloth Mavens group, the smallest of the groups at about 3,000 members the app developers turned over the group to new people and removed themselves from the group. So far, there has been no change in the Anthropologie, lululemon, and Hanna Andersson/MiniBoden BST groups. It was also noted that there was another group the app developers started, J. Crew Buy, Sell & Trade, with about 3,400 members, which had its status changed today from Closed to Secret. Their associated Indie Vinyl group also similarly changed its status today, too.

Update 3/30 evening - a lengthy rebuttal to this article was posted on the lululemon BST group wall this evening, largely conceding everything I've posted here: Yes, there is a paid admin. Yes, they want to monetize the app. Yes, they are going to shut the group down when the app starts up. (You were just sheep gathered to be shorn. Feels good, doesn't it?) Yes, the app will go live in a couple of months. No, there haven't been a lot of transactions going bad. (Really. In a group of 32,000+ people, grown at the rate of 300+ people a day so essentially zero screening, down to only three newbie admins, filled with people so new to selling they don't know how PayPal works and what luon is? The other similarly sized lulu selling group, that took four years to grow so large, has six admins who know their stuff. And, they share info across multiple selling groups.) No, they didn't port sales posts without permission. (Not according the the Anthropologie chat group posts I've seen and have screenshots of. I could give them names if they like). No, their only goal was to build a great and big lulu BST group, learn more about BST groups (that, I can believe) and "figure out if there were things we could build that would make this group better. As the group grew quickly, we decided that building features on a site separate from the group would be just too confusing, so we decided that instead we should just build the whole experience as an actual mobile app." Lord. Just own it. You should have been more transparent from the beginning.





36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post, LLA. I don't do much buying or selling on facebook but joined out of pure curiosity. When I saw that sale items were posted with a tagged location, and members had to claim items using their paypal email address, it raised a red flag. Though I absolutely will never use it to buy or sell, I am still a member of the group and see all kinds of posts from people who never received their purchase, got blocked by the seller after sending funds, or otherwise scammed.

LuluAddict said...

Yeah, it's unfortunate. People like to save money by avoiding eBay fees and the admins of the smaller FB selling groups try to do their best weeding out the bad characters but it's tough to avoid getting scammed these days when PayPal is so favorable to buyers.

Anonymous said...

I have had success buying and selling without problems on these pages, but the shadiness of the BST being advertised, then switched to an app because isn't that what we all really want, another app, thanks admins, is super sketchy.

Anonymous said...

I keep trying to join the lulu angel group and keep getting rejected so that's frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Thanks LLA. I resell on eBay only, for the reasons you mention.



Anonymous said...

Wow thanks LLA! Very informative. I am not on any Facebook LLL groups but agree the nature of the true ones is a nice community. How shady of the professional Facebook platform developers and holy hannah on violating privacy and requiring paypal e-mail to be posted. As sly (they would say 'smart') as these developers have been, they are very stupid in that regard.

I'll continue selling my stuff locally on Kijiji in a major city. I usually deal with serious people who do not low ball me and it goes pretty quickly. My stuff is immaculate/like new or sometimes BNWT. I'm sure I could get more on eBay and the fees don't bother me (agree with your point of view on that) but Kijiji works for me.

Anonymous said...

I've had all positive experiences buying and selling on lulu Facebook groups. I guess I don't really understand why there's uproar. A group that large does need a full time admin. And I get why they want to make an app. Only makes sense there's money to be made here?! Idk I'm going to continue Facebook sales and I would also probably use any lulu resale app.

Anonymous said...

Great post ! And precisely why I sell on eBay. Fees are high, but they have excellent customer service for the one issue I had.

LuluAddict said...

@ anon 7:19 pm - a 30,000 + member group needs many, many admins. However, only one was getting paid. And from what I have heard, this group really had no idea how to run a buy, sell, trade group, particularly one with many Canadians in it. Quote - "for 'professionals' they are the most disorganized, haphazard sales group I have ever sold in." They had no idea of the products on the page, which is why these groups work better when dedicated people who know the product and who are experienced in buying and selling run them. They recruited volunteer admins from the page who knew the product and knew the pitfalls of running selling groups and worked them pretty hard.

JenniferK said...

^ Oh yes.....and BST has "special" selling rules just for Canadians to participte too......which is why this Canuck will be taking her EUC items elsewhere to sell.....and just left the group :)

Brynn Seever said...

Appreciate it!!! Good to know since most comments were deleted anytime anyone asked

Anonymous said...

Great post, and the issues you highlight are why I only sell through eBay. I also only do BIN. Fees are high, but I think it's worth it for the reasons previously mentioned. I guess my eBay selling and my lulu (and Athleta) spending have a relationship of sorts!

LuluAddict said...

The boards are a little more wild west than eBay but if you stick with people you know, or friends of friends of friends, I think you can be ok. As a seller, PayPayl is truly not on your side these days, though. I also only buy NWT or NWOT since I am continually disappointed by people's definitions of EUC and VG condition.

Anonymous said...

You know, now that I think of it, in the huge Anthro group, they really do not know brands and allow so many brands. Strange. Makes me wonder how well they know Anthro!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this article. I know that the admins were extremely over worked as "volunteers" in this group. I have since removed myself from both groups.

Anonymous said...

I've started looking VERY skeptically at all the claimed eBay "new" items. Too often people say NWOT and then they say in the comments, "oh, well, I only wore it once a week for 2 years - it's really just like new!" Shameful, but what can you do? I'm even leery of the tagged items, since someone can wear stuff for a while and then reattach the tag. For most clothing, I don't care much if people have worn it a few times, but for some things, like Speed Shorts, where a lot of people - me included - like to go commando, I can be a little paranoid.

Anonymous said...

The Lulu BST group just posted that they're moving to an app... aaand I'm done with them. I thought it was weird when a while back I had an issue and the admin didn't seem to care or try to stop it (someone was ripping people off). Anyone who was really into Lulu and cared about the brand/community of Lulu would have proactively stopped the person rather than let them do what they were doing and then ban then later.

Anonymous said...

I only buy and sell through eBay (and direct purchase, of course). I've also been disappointed with others' perceptions of condition. I've also contacted the seller, and if needed, opened a case to protect myself from these sellers. Honestly, the only things that I 99.9% trust are NWT.

NWOT is pretty much, in my experience, an item a person wore a few times but is in awesome condition. I'm sorry, but you can tell true new versus 'worn a few times'. I've received NWOT items with snags and unraveling seams already. Hey seller! Send unraveling seams back to Lulu for a full credit! Don't off it on eBay as NWOT. You better believe it's coming back at ya!

And the reason NWT can be a crapshoot is that the item may have acquired stains or other unfortunate damages while hanging around the home. Unless it's factory-sealed, it's still a risk and any issues must be documented, or my money comes back. I'm protected by eBay and will happily pay the eBay and PayPal selling fees for this protective service as a buyer (and seller).

One more thing... NWT does NOT mean that you still have the hang tag! I roll my eyes every time I see NWT in the description and as the condition but then come to read the description that the item was "worn only twice". WTH?!?

Anonymous said...

Hey there -- the Anthro Facebook group you mention is called "Anthropologie Buy, Sell & Trade." That's the one with administrators who have created an app and migrated posts. There is a much smaller, non-affiliated BST group that has existed for a lot longer called "Anthropologie BST." I'm worried this post will have people thinking our smaller BST is the one with the controversial app!

Wonder if you could edit your post to reflect the actual name of the Anthro group with admins who have created an app.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Any advice on which groups to stay away from?

LuluAddict said...

@ anon 7:10 am - Sure, I can fix it. I did say it was a huge group.

I think I have another post on this coming up. It seems there was an analytics company behind this after all and they were all about studying us and consumer behavior. I need to do some more digging.

Anonymous said...

The response post in the Lulu group is such crap! They claim some people already knew what was happening- oh, really? Who? Like a handful out of 30,000+ people? They also claim to not know how they will make money off the app. Really? All this time/energy/money is put into somethings without knowing how/if it will make money? Right. I don't care what they do, but just be honest about it. Lucky for them most of the people in that group don't seem to care. I left the group and plan on encouraging my friends who are in it to leave to.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post LuluAddict, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

@ anon 5:27 and 12:47AM: Those sellers unfortunately give the honest sellers a bad name. It really sucks. I recently purchased an item that supposedly had only been worn for a half-hour, but the item clearly had more wear, and it had a defect! I recently bought an item that was supposed to be NWT, but the waistband had been stretched, and the plastic thing that attaches the tag to the item wasn't the ones that lulu uses (I used to work for lulu so I pay attention to this stuff). The lulu plastic things have a thicker plastic on one end if that makes sense, unlike a lot of the ones other retailers use. I am an honest seller, and I pride myself on accurate representations of my product descriptions (my seller reviews also reflect this, too), but it is unfortunate that the dishonest negatively impact the selling environment.

Kym Phan said...

I was one of the former admins of the large BST group and can confirm that no precautions were taken to screen member requests nor verify legitimate members from scammers. It was a policy of "we'll deal with issues when they come up" which did not sit well with me personally.

I don't have an issue with that company creating an app. What I do have a problem with is how they treated me (and the other admins) and how they went about their business venture. They are trying to capitalize on an existing community and culture that took about a hundred volunteer admins over five years to grow and cultivate. And they were doing so in a deceitful and malicious way.

The Lulu community that existed before this BST group has a very valid right to be angry.. This affects them. The lack of screening that BST did means that the spillover of member requests whenever they close up shop will rest upon the admins of other groups. BST is responsible for the huge influx of scammers and flippers in our community and it sucks for the admins who've built this town to have to deal with that. The whole dynamic is very reminiscent of large oil companies exploiting the environment and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.

Anonymous said...

I have purchased only on ebay and never had an issue. It was 3 lift and separate bras ,but that was in 2010.
I have often thought about re-selling since I own a ton of lulu, like 6 years worth. It is a bit embarrassing to open my closet, all that I have in it is lulu stuff a lot of it unworn.
After reading this post I am a bit discouraged.


M

LuluAddict said...

@M - don't be. This is unusual. I can point you to some good groups run by reputable, long time lulu people.

Vend 1100 said...

Very insightful

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thread and comments.

The group is only interested in taking advantage of people. They were absolutely surreptitious. They are not interested in quality or taking care of the community. Weeding out or preventing scammers or bad product and violating privacy - "deal with it later" (or never) mentality approach - this is amateur hour.

@M - take LLA's advice if you want to start culling. You will feel a lot lighter once you do it and the funds you make will go towards something else that satisfies you, even if it is more LLL. (It's also payment for your efforts in selling, as it is work.) I really do not miss anything I let go of, whether NWT (I've been there!) or not. Even though I work out a lot I just had to admit it is not possible to wear it all or keep it all. I imagine you will be quite successful with your sales :)

On quality/NWT/EUC: that sucks that people misrepresent their items. I sell my stuff locally. I post clear, detailed pictures and do not state NWT unless it is and will say EUC or like new condition for other. You can see that my stuff is pristine, even if I wore it once or twice. As in: another CRB I DON'T need and is not getting chosen? Same goes for Speed Shorts (and I don't go commando). When something is not getting chosen, time for us to part ways. (I have hung onto older LLL such as crops as I don't have faith in the newer product.) When I meet people in person, the repeated question I get is: "Did you even wear this?" Yes, even though I do declare in the ad that I did. (Of course washed immediately and stored well.) I wouldn't appreciate someone selling me something flawed (snags, holes, loose threads, abrasion, pilling, smells) so I would never do this to someone. It's unethical. Also, meeting someone face-to-face allows them to examine and say yay/nay (nay has never happened) and I have had repeat customers (they also tell me to contact them before posting).

I could never conduct myself as a shady person, unlike these bad sellers and the poseur FB pages/app creators. Hats off the the real LLL community groups and the admins that do all that work to take care of people. Thanks again to you LLA for keeping people informed.

LuluAddict said...

@ 3/30 anon 9:25 pm - They don't know Anthro. From what I was told they didn't know the approved Anthro brands.

@ anon 12:20 am - I was able to talk to one of them and got filed in. It sounds like the volunteer admins did all the heavy work since they knew the product best and how to run a selling group.

@ anon 12:27 am - I agree. However, PayPal is on the buyer's side so I tend to take a chance on eBay. On the boards I usually need to know someone or get a referral from someone else on the seller's reputation. OMG, I've heard such horror stories about dirty Speed shorts - like people getting them unwashed with "unclean" areas, shall we say. I don't think I would ever buy them used unless I knew the person.

@ anon 5:27 am - that is my expectation of NWOT - they wore it a couple of times but it still looks mostly new.

@ anon 8:24 am - I know. You're paying for a group of 7 people to develop this app, run a bunch of ads on Facebook and now, Instagram and you 'don't know' how you're going to make money. I had heard the number for the FB ads was ~$15,000 and I don't know if that was just for one of the groups or all of them.

@ anon 6:51 pm - I have a 100% feedback rating on eBay because I try to be as honest as possible and always under-represent the condition. It's just not worth hassle to me to deal with claims.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see that woman selling a "BNWT" bra on one of the groups yesterday that her daughter had literally burned a hole through with a candle? Classy...

LuluAddict said...

Lol, stuff like that happens all over. People find things in pockets and bags, stains, including bodily fluids!, it's terrible.

Alexis said...

I just noticed that the original BST group is "moving" to another group with about 3,000 people. I was in the first BST and since left, should I join the smaller BST group? Is this the new group that you are working to screen? Any clarification on this would be appreciated, thanks!

LuluAddict said...

@ Alexis - yes, join the new one! I am an admin in both right now. The most active buyers and sellers have moved to the new group and cross posting is allowed between both groups. Because we weren't the creator of the original group the best way to ensure the privacy and security of the members is to move to another group that the new admins created.

Alexis said...

Great- thanks so much! I'll put in a join request :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the suggestions and ideas.

M