No Shows unravelled
One issue that plagues many groups that freecycle is the issue of No Shows. A No Show occurs when one person offers an item, and accepts that another person can have it, only to find that the other person never shows up to collect the item. I have looked at what is available as advice on the issue of No Shows, and given its importance and prevalence I think it is high time someone told the truth. So here goes.
Firstly you have to understand what is happening. Simply put, you are trying to give something away. Some people think because they are giving something away that it is going to be easy to do that. It is not and to assume that leads to false aspirations and to disappointment, time and time again.
Before we delve into that statement in depth, you simply must get it into your head that though you are giving something away you would be better thinking of it as a sale. A principle of freecycling for many people is to stay away from capitalist thoughts but if you do not create a feeling of need in a potential collector of the item – then you really are going to suffer from a higher rate of no shows. So the ultimate responsibility for reducing No Shows is you – the offerer.
There are many aspects where people who offer items fail, and fail miserably. The starting point has to be the item: is it worth it? A broken TV will not easily find a collector if there are lots of working TVs on offer. Even more important to the issue of No Shows is providing an appropriate description. What kind of transport does someone need to collect the item? Is it heavy and cumbersome? Will it take two people to carry it? If someone does collect it can they have confidence that it will fit into their home – before they start travelling!
Remember that. Before you accept someone to take the item ensure that YOU have confidence that THEY have confidence that they understand the item properly. If both parties go through this thought process – then you are beginning to have commitment.
Is the item description appropriate. Everyone knows what a kettle looks like, and unless yours is unique the description is easily guessed. But some items may need to be a particular colour scheme, or the object may need to fit into a tight space or through a doorway. If you have supplied a picture then also a potential collector is more likely to gauge the state of the item. For example an old sofa might look very tatty but otherwise be very comfortable, so someone is prepared to cover it with a throw and understands that BEFORE they start traveling to collect…
Talking of commitment, learn to build a rapport with the other party. I am not talking about telling them your life story, not at all. However some kind of brief exchange may help them feel more obligated to collect the item – and you more obligated to give it to them. I remember collecting one plant and before I collected it I had some feeling for the effort involved by the offerer in nurturing that plant.
And now we come to the knotty issue of location. I have seen so many posts that do not specify a location, that is where they live that it is small wonder such people ever have any success with freecycle groups. Location is just so important. Remember the cliche, “Location, location, location.” If you don’t specify a location then you are your own worst enemy.
You have to consider the concept of location in terms of the geography of the area served by your freecycle group. This includes understanding how people might get to your home (will they use public transport such as buses, or cycle to you). You have to look at this in context of what the item is, and how much the potential taker is in need of it. It is unrealistic for someone on a bike to collect ten heavy pots of old paint.
Also it is worthwhile considering the item’s value. It may be old and nearly valueless, but to someone else it may be a lifeline. That said, are they prepared to travel all that way from their house to yours. If I need a fully functioning fridge then I am prepared to travel if I need one. However a fridge will require a car or a van. Now if I am a student I might need to ask a favour of a friend to use their car. Not only that I might have to ask another friend to accompany me and assist in lifting…
So now let us come to crafting the post. The standard format for the subject is
Offer: Blue Fridge (location)
Many people cannot get a grasp on this. They even miss the word offer and as such any person who does not follow this format – well I for one think if they cannot be bothered getting the subject field correct then I am suspicious over whether they really know what they are doing. In such a case they really are inviting No Shows. Specifying location is more nebulous, though again critical. It could be a village name, or a neighbourhood. In the UK some groups specify the first three or four characters of the postcode.
It is good for the group’s owners to set the appropriate guidelines on this. Not only should they set guidelines they should also enforce them. A group that has a high degree of No Shows where location is often not provided – well, in my opinion a moderator is simply not doing their job properly. Moderators should permit the odd mistake, but repeat offenders simply must be put on moderation – for the health of the group and as a general courtesy to other members. Offending members should only be removed from moderation when they demonstrate they can post properly.
So, we now have a subject field being properly used, we have an item that is ready to go, what happens next?
Well if your item is popular and your group is a busy one (say more than one offer per day) then you can expect a host of replies saying “yes please”. Now you the offerer have to make a choice, who is going to get the item. There is a strong, well experienced school of thought that says NEVER accept the first responder. The principle is that the first person to respond is more likely to be someone who has not thought about the item properly.
Your chances of finding a potential collector increases if you cross-post only two or more groups. Or does it? Here, again you really need to think about where your audience lives. No one is going to travel 30 miles each way for a couple of old candles. Nor should someone.
This is key to freecycling goals. The purpose of freecycling is to reduce landfill. Well, landfill is an ecology issue. There is no point in people guzzling up petrol or diesel traveling many miles for something they actually consider a trivial item. I remember collecting some unused shampoo bottles from the furthest corner of my city, but that was only sensible because I was already going that way and needed only to take a small detour en-route.
We next come to finding an easy way for the taker to collect the item. Once a potential collector has been agreed I often give them a couple of days to collect, possibly including the weekend. Remember not everyone works 9am until 5pm. Some people do not like traveling in the dark, especially if they don’t know exactly where they are going.
So a great principle is give them good information on how to find your home. For some homes that is more than just an address. I remember going to one persons home on the particular tree-lined road the guideline was to look for the yellow dustbin bag hanging from a branch, I kid you not. Help the other party know how to get to you easily, give them confidence in how long it might take.
Underpinning this – ask yourself, “would you undertake the journey for this item if you were the potential taker?” No blithe answers please. Think about it in context of the item.
Phew, we are almost there. Ask yourself is the item small enough simply to be left on the doorstep, or behind a bin or in the garden – perhaps wrapped in a plastic bag! If so then any potential taker can collect at a time of their choosing, even when you are not there. This really helps, it really does.
Some people don’t like to leave items out – it might advertise the house is empty or something. Or perhaps there is nowhere safe to leave the item. Or of course the item is large, valuable, heavy or requires you both to meet for other reasons. If so then you simply have to arrange a suitable time and day.
If you do have to meet – be flexible. If you put down too many constraints then you may become unrealistic. For example it can take some people several days to arrange transport. They may even have to arrange for a friend to collect. It all takes time.
This is not to say you should not set deadlines. If someone has not collected something in a week it is probably not going to go. That said, make sure you are available. If you are likely go shopping then your potential taker might turn up and you might not be there. That is everyone’s loss.
If all else fails, and you have followed the above thoughts then it is still possible that you will have a No Show. If that happens do not get upset. Ensure that other people who wanted the item are told where they stand in the queue. Make sure everyone knows about the queue. Move onto the next person after a week and start the process again.
Underpinning everything is respect. Treat your potential taker with respect, get them to respect the time and effort you take and I am sure your number of no shows will reduce to a minimum.
I would say at this point good luck, but with these thoughts in your mind you shouldn’t need it!