Wednesday, March 30, 2016

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

So apropos! (credit:

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.