“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come great responsibility!”
– Spiderman/ Amazing Fantasy, 1962, Marvel Comics.
My dear reader, I have a confession to make: I have, in recent days, abused a certain power of mine.
Blessed with a deft hand in the English language, I’ve only ever used my writing powers for good (Mamamia, Outlander fan-fic, excellent birthday card messages, etc.), and have never even considered using it for dirty money.
Alas, this week past I have discovered a darker side to my powers.
Gumtree – the online garage sale, where old couches and barbeques and rusty golf clubs go for a new life – has created a monster in me. And it’s time to come clean.
It all begun last year when my partner's former apartment was finally sold. We went over and sorted through rooms of junk, filling garbage bags with the flotsam and jetsam of life that a home invariably captures.
But even when we finished cleaning, the house was still full of furniture, and perfectly good furniture at that. "Let's just put it in storage," I suggested innocently, "at least until we figure out what we're doing."
Six months on and the aforementioned furniture was still in a storage unit that costed more per day than it does to feed a small family. We threw a mutual tantrum and decided to move it all into our garage, whereupon we would sell it ASAP.
Well, fast forward a few months again, and it hasn't moved.
My boyfriend's car hasn't seen the ticket-free safety of our garage for months, and I am quite sure there is a small colony of possums living in my collection of faux furs in the corner. It's full to the brim with dressers, beds, couches, outdoors sets, rugs, dining tables and chairs, armchairs, and drawers. Shame that garage isn't bigger, because we could be renting it out as a fully furnished home...
Anyway, the weather has begun to cool down here in Sydney, and my precious winter threads are being held hostage at the back of the garage by this tetris of furniture/possum clan. Enough was enough. It was time to do what women do best, and cull. Ruthlessly.
I had photographs of all of the furniture, thankfully, snapped when it was being shifted from the Shangri-La of furniture storage into our garage. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, and load the photos up onto Gumtree. The rest was in the lap of the gods, what will happen, will happen.
And then it begun.
At first, uploading the items was like a little game. For a task I had been dreading for weeks, I was actually rather enjoying myself. It was a test to my skills as a writer: how could I transform these shockingly poor quality photographs into items that someone would actually want to purchase?
I begun to google the names for different shades of wood, for different shapes of armchairs, for natural fibre floor rugs (turns out, they're called 'nature fibre floor rugs') - working overtime to spruik the oodles of furniture that was weighing heavily on our shoulders. And our garage space.
But somewhere in between the standard upsell and a bit of friendly buyer-seller banter, I fell into a deep, dark place of ruthless capitalism. Oh my god, I became a GUMTREE MONSTER.
It all peaked last night when I was perched, Gollum-like, over my laptop in my pink dressing gown, clutching a glass of red wine. "What year did you buy that dining set?" I barked across the room at my boyfriend, who looked up from his laptop in surprise.
"Um, I didn't. I think I just got it off a work mate who didn't want it anymore." he replied.
"Are you serious? Are you SERIOUS?" I spluttered. "I hope it's not you who's home when the buyer comes to collect it. And, if you are?" - I shot him a dangerous glare - "You will NOT mention what you just told me. OK?"
He stopped typing for a moment and stood up.
"Maggie, show me your computer."
"Maggie, show me the Gumtree account."
Needless to say, he won. Reading through all of the Gumtree ads I created, his eyes widened in disbelief as I sat perched on the edge of the couch, nibbling on my nails and throwing nervous looks in his direction. I was busted.
Half amused, half horrified, my boyfriend - a yacht salesman himself - gave me a little talk about maintaining a level of, er, honesty when it came to selling.
He gently explained the legalities around the flagrant disregard for the truth I had shown in my Gumtree ads, not to mention the angry customers we would be dealing with when they discovered their 'original art-deco, french-style bucket armchairs with original upholstery' were actual from Freedom Furniture.
I am starting to come out the other side, a recovered Gumtree addict.
I have seen the error of my ways, and worked my hardest to 'tone down' the ads I currently have going. But I cannot help but think that I am not alone in my wayward selling ways. If I was hiking up prices and embellishing details, surely everyone else on Gumtree was, too?
Was there a psychology behind Crazy Seller Syndrome?
Simply put, yes. According to Colleen Francis, Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions Inc, there are three reasons why people lie during selling.
In her article, “The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth: Why Sales People Lie to their Clients – and Why You Need to Stop”, Francis lists the top three reasons for what I now refer to as Manic Gumtree Syndrome.
1. They don’t know their product.
Some sales people lie by accident because they’re unsure or uninformed about the products they’re selling. In many cases, they lie simply because they’re too embarrassed to say, “I don’t know.”
2. They’re too empathetic.
Some sales people lie because they’re insecure about themselves, or their relationship with their prospect. They just want the customer to like them, so they stretch the truth to tell the customer what they think they want to hear. Lying then becomes an inappropriate vehicle to build a friend first, and a customer second.
3. They’re only focused on the money.
Some sales people see lying as an easy way to make a quick buck. Sales people who lie for this reason do it because they want the prospect to move too quickly, so that they can make a quick sale, pocket the commission – and move on to the next prospect before the first customer can have any second thoughts.
(Source: Engage Selling)
The biggest lie I ever told. (Post continues after video)
To my horror, I learnt that there are [on average] 250 calls a week to police regarding Gumtree scams. People complain about getting ripped off, undersold, or blatantly lied to.
But what exactly quantifies 'lying' when it comes to the old Gumtree spruik?
Surely it is acceptable - nay, expected - to breathe some new life into your old wares. Necessary, even. I mean, you might really, really hate that teak dresser your mum gave you at 18, but one man's trash is, after all, another man's treasure. Should you not treat it as such...?
At the end of the day, our garage remains full of furniture.
Every bite I get from an advertisement brings with it a tug of guilt, too. How were these people actually prepared to pay these prices? And did it make me a bad person - or them a bad buyer?
Either way, reader, I have learnt that indeed great power comes with great responsibility. I have banned my golden keyboard from the realms of Gumtree for the near future, until I learnt the skills of subtle selling. (Or, more accurately, the art of Not Ripping People Off.)
But if you're in the market for a beautiful dark-walnut dining table with matching cream suede chairs, I'll give you a great price. I'm really rather good at it.
"And so a legend is born and a new name is added to the roster of those who make the world of fantasy the most exciting realm of all!"
- Spiderman/ Amazing Fantasy, 1962, Marvel Comics.