Buying secondhand sports gear isn’t as easy as it sounds. Neither is selling the kids’ old hockey skates or baseball bats. It may seem like perfect material for eBay, Craigslist, letgo or Facebook Marketplace, but according to SidelineSwap Co-Founder and CEO Brendan Candon, that can be far from true.
He said that’s why SidelineSwap felt it was important to create a dedicated marketplace for used athletic equipment, which can be extremely specific and niche, even at a non-professional level. Whether they are college athletes, semi-pro or middle and high school students shopping with mom and dad’s credit card, buyers in this category are looking for something particular, and that can be difficult, if not impossible, to track down on generalized marketplaces.
Candon also said parents or athletes who are trying to resell sports gear are a very different type of seller than someone who runs an account on eBay, and they need a different user experience to make it feel valuable — or indeed, even to succeed in offloading whatever they’re trying to get rid of.
Like Poshmark in fashion and Reverb in music equipment, Candon said SidelineSwap aims to help buyers and sellers move these very particular goods in a manner that feels natural and positive rather than overwhelming and stressful. Here’s how the platform is making it happen.
Young baseball players are required to get a certain length of bat for their age group. Hockey players know they’re looking for a specific type of flex on their skate blades. Skiers know the length and width of skis that they want to buy; snowboarders know they want more camber if they’ll be riding in icy conditions.
Candon said platforms like letgo and OfferUp are optimized for simple selling, which works for most goods — how much info does one really need before investing in a used sofa or baby carriage? But in a category like sports, customers are looking for granularity to help them make a purchase decision, and the other platforms out there just don’t go that deep with the data.
Meanwhile, on SidelineSwap, Candon said not only are there more SKUs, the specialty focus means the company can use its employees’ expertise to coach buyers through the decision process.
Platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist aren’t built to provide an amazing shopping experience, Candon said — and there’s nothing wrong with that; they’re useful in many ways.
But with the younger demographic, he said, user experience is everything. It’s important for brands and platforms to create a “window shopping” experience; he said that’s why SidelineSwap was built with the Instagram generation in mind.
Candon said a lot of business in this space comes from the suburbs, where parents are eager to sign their kids up for athletic pursuits and to invest in the right equipment to support those pursuits.
The problem with the suburbs is that they often aren’t dense enough for customers to find the precise athletic item they’re looking for with a local seller. Even if someone is selling the specific item they want, it’s sheer luck to find it in the correct size.
Candon said eBay is slightly better than Craigslist for that, since Craigslist focuses on connecting local buyers and sellers, whereas eBay lets users buy and sell from anyone, anywhere (an approach that SidelineSwap also takes).
But, he said, eBay has its own set of problems in the secondhand sports market…
The parents who are trying to offload Johnny’s old baseball equipment don’t want to become professional sellers; they just want to make some space in their garage. Johnny’s bat, helmet and mitt may be the first and last things they ever sell on an online marketplace.
People in that position can be intimidated by eBay, Candon said. The original online marketplace had to shift its focus to professional “power sellers” to compete with Amazon on convenience and reliability. That means putting obstacles in place to guarantee quality — making it more challenging for the mom or dad who just wants to sell one pair of hockey skates.
Candon said SidelineSwap’s solution is to push the onerous parts of onboarding to later in the experience. To start selling, users need only provide their name, email and the address from which they’ll be shipping — and, of course, a description of the item they’re selling.
The platform creates the seller account for them so they can get started right away and start accepting payments via Stripe. It’s only when the seller is ready to cash out that SidelineSwap asks for additional data, such as bank account information that is needed to route the payment.
One major advantage that SidelineSwap shares with eBay is nationwide shipping — i.e., no sketchy meetings on street corners to hand off cash and a hockey stick. The company provides a payments platform (Stripe) as well as prepaid shipping labels and a buyer guarantee.
The way that works is that SidelineSwap escrows payments until buyers receive the goods and the three-day dispute window has closed; then sellers can collect their earnings. Candon said that’s how the company ensures that listings are high-quality and match the seller’s description.
Luckily, Candon said there haven’t been many issues with counterfeiters and other bad actors trying to abuse the platform. Between the buyer guarantee and built-in policing tools, SidelineSwap is quick to hear about any suspicious activity.
Part of that, too, is the strong community of users. Candon said people can — and do — report their concerns so the company can address suspicious actors quickly, and they help one another out by answering questions on the platform’s chat feature.
He added those questions go beyond simply, “How many times has this been used?” and “Are there any holes in the baseball glove?” Users also ask each other how products compare to another brand they may have used in the past.
“The community layer is built into the marketplace,” Candon said. “That’s better from a pure shopping experience angle — but also, it supports a high level of detail and questions, and, of course, there’s the convenience of not having to meet. We’ve built in many of the traditional marketplace steps to create an all-around better experience.”