Buying stuff online has become so ridiculously easy that I’m more likely to impulse-purchase a book on my Kindle than borrow it for free from my local library. But what about selling stuff online? For many of us, it’s a daunting pain in the butt. Taking the right photos, writing the description, choosing the marketplace, choosing the right price, boxing the damn thing up when someone buys it—ugh. Sold, a new iOS app created by a team of MIT Media Lab graduates, aims to kill that feeling by literally doing almost everything about online selling for you. "If you’ve never experienced what having a personal assistant devoted to selling your stuff is like, now you can," Sold cofounder Tony DeVincenzi tells Co.Design.
So is Sold a replacement for Craigslist and eBay? "Absolutely not," DeVincenzi says. Like Simple for personal banking or Uber for hailing taxis, Sold is a "service layer" on top of online marketplaces that already exist. When you list an item with Sold, the app acts like a concierge that "automates a lot of the manual stuff that goes into selling something online," says cofounder and product lead Matt Blackshaw. "We wanted to make selling as easy as one-click buying."
According to Blackshaw, Sold uses data-mining and statistical analysis of online markets to "generate a price curve" and determine the optimal price to sell any item you feed it. The catch is that Sold won’t sell just anything: It’s limited to "items of value" such as phones, laptops, cameras, and certain fashion items like handbags. Restricting itself to these kinds of products lets Sold build up what Blackshaw calls "an ontology" of item-specific knowledge, which leads to more effective automatic selling.
"Most people don’t know that if you’re selling your iPhone on eBay, you need to take a photo of it with the screen on or else it’ll sell for less money," he explains. "For certain types of handbags, you need to take a photo of a tiny label inside with a number on it. We’re using all this information to make sure we ask you the right questions up front in a way that is seamless and that can also extract the most value for you. We take these answers into account when setting a price for your item."
Not surprisingly, this system isn’t totally automated yet, Blackshaw says, "but we would like to work towards that." Currently, Sold uses crowdsourced human intelligence (Blackshaw wasn’t willing to go into details about their methods yet) to augment its algorithms. "Every item in the system has at least one human look at it," he says. "To call it this massively intelligent thing right now would be overselling it, but it’s a seed. We’re pretty optimized for selling most homogenous goods in tech, and we’re pretty optimized for selling fashion as well. But if we see a lot of people wanting to sell Beanie Babies on Sold, we’ll add another node to our ontology and become experts in that, too."
But the real point of Sold, the founders assert, is that you don’t have to know or care about the techno-wizardry working on your behalf. What good is a sales concierge who bothers you with details? "There are no features or dials we put in front of the user, like "adjust the price and see if it sells faster,'" DeVincenzi says. "Our North Star is keeping the experience as simple and seamless as possible, and we think that means creating as few touch points as possible—being bothered as few times as possible." You still have to ship your item to the buyer that Sold finds for it, but Sold sends you a pre-labeled box and lets you schedule a UPS pickup with just a tap (operations and pricing analytics are managed out of Boston by Sold’s third cofounder, Dávid Lakatos). And when the buyer pays, Sold drops the dough right into your bank account. No fuss, no muss.
As with Simple and Uber, Sold is part of a trend of apps that create value not by reinventing broken products and services, but by simply creating a better "interface layer" on top of them so that using them doesn’t suck anymore. "Selling your valuable stuff online doesn’t have to be a heavy, dark, daunting thing," DeVincenzi says. "Especially if someone else does the work for you. That’s what we’re offering. An important piece of the service experience is feeling like we’ve got your back."