How to enlist Gmail to sell your Craigslist items for you

A friend from our previous church sent me an e-mail tonight. Because we’ve been buried in 1.2 miles of snow for the past few days, she had the opportunity to pile through some projects. She had just gotten to a pile of stuff she had been meaning to sell for quite some time, and e-mailed me to ask for help since I had offered before.

I explained how she could get an estimate of market value through eBay for the things she wanted to sell, then gave some suggestions on when to sell on eBay and when to sell on Craigslist.

Some kinds of items, especially big ones, can do better on Craigslist.  For those items, I told her how I would go about selling them there:

  1. Prior to listing the item on Craigslist, I’d sign up for a Gmail account, or use one that I didn’t mind getting passed around the Internet via Craigslist.  Like or something like that.
  2. I’d write a fairly detailed description of what I was selling.
  3. I’d take pictures of the item(s) and put them up on Flickr someplace that allowed me to post items for sale.  These would be linked to in my description.
  4. I’d use the Vacation Responder feature in Gmail to deliver my description on demand.  To get there, go to the Settings link in the upper-right of the main Gmail screen, and go to (almost) the bottom of the General tab.
  5. Then I’d put the ad up, which would be an attention-grabbing headline of some kind, plus the following:  “Send a blank e-mail to for instant details, plus contact information.  Your e-mail address will be used only to send you this information (once) and will not be sold or rented.”

What are the advantages of doing it this way? There are several:

  1. It screens out many who aren’t serious about buying the item. Providing an e-mail address is a barrier.  Not everyone will do it.  Serious buyers will.  These are the ones you want to hear from, not the tire-kickers.
  2. You can answer common questions in the auto-reply. There’s a surprising amount of space available in the Vacation Responder.  If you answer questions there, they won’t call you up to ask them.  Saves time and screens out more would-be non-buyers.
  3. You aren’t posting your phone number on Craigslist. You’re posting an e-mail address, but not your phone number.  Heck, you don’t even have to post your phone number in the autoresponder message:  Ask them to e-mail you with more questions.  More screening.
  4. By the time people get on the phone with you, they should be pretty serious about buying the item.
  5. Once the items are sold, you can delete any personal information you put in the autoresponder.  Or replace it with this message:  “Thanks for requesting information about this item, but it’s already been sold.  Have a nice day!”

Craigslist is free, but free comes at a price:  your time.  Following this kind of selling process will reduce the time you spend screening out people who aren’t really serious buyers.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. says

    This is a nice trick.

    I have a few questions:

    1. Your mailbox could be flooded by a number of mails, which would all get a Vacation Reply, but the second third etc mails sent by the same person, will have to be replied to manually. how do you identify these mails?

    2. Can you use the same account for listing multiple items?

    I think I have a workaround to the second question, but I’m interested in knowing what you think.

    For selling Item 1, I would send out my email address as where is my actual address.

    Likewise, for Item 2, the email address will be, and so on.

    By setting the correct filters, I can set the correct vacation responder (will still have to check this out), or at least I can label the mails correctly, for easier response.

  2. says

    This is brilliant. I hate dealing with shady craigslist stuff. This would help weed out the not so serious types. Brief ad online and then much more detail here. I love it.

  3. Jonathan says

    I agree, it seems better to put this information in the ad itself. The more robust the ad, the more likely I am to pursue it. Also, this is not helpful if you are selling multiple items.

  4. Beth says

    This is interesting, but as a frequent Craigslist buyer I would find it as annoying as the posts that insist on phone calls only. Craigslist’s great innovation is its immediacy: if I’m interested in purchasing such-and-such an item, I want to see the item and its price, and since I’m already at my computer, I want to email you to buy it. Placing any impediment in my way (whether that is the telephone, a visit to Flickr, or an automated response) will cause my flickering attention to flit elsewhere.

    Why not just post the picture and description in your ad, check your new gmail account at your leisure, and answer only those correspondents capable of composing a reasonable request?

  5. Catherine says

    I do a lot of buying on craigslist, and I don’t even consider items that don’t have a thorough description and at least one picture of the item. I think it is also important to price based on what an item is going for on craigslist in your local area. I never understand when people post something that is used for nearly the price it would be in the store.

  6. Paul says

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t really see the point of this method. To go down your list of “advantages”:

    1) (Getting an email address) – How is this any different than getting someone to email you using craigslist’s normal email reply system? The only difference I see is that you are giving an email address instead of hiding it behind a cragislist email forwarder. That doesn’t help you get serious buyers, I think it might actually be the opposite because now people see they are sending their email to a relatively safe domain and would be more likely to email you.

    2) (Answer questions) – Why can’t you answer common questions in the ad? Plus, my natural tendency would be to suspect something shady and not contact the poster if they were withholding info that should have been in the post.

    3) Again, I don’t see how not having to provide your phone number in the post is any different than how most craigslist posts are already. Its very common for people to say ’email me for contact info’, and thats understandable because no one wants their phone number on the web.

    4) So, your saying because you forced people to read item details in two places rather than one, this makes them more serious about buying it? I don’t see the connection.

    5) Why would you bother with changing the auto responder etc when you can just take down the post? The item was sold… why even keep the post up?

  7. says

    Well, I think it’s a great idea! :>) We actually don’t have craigslist in our immediate area, but we’re on the fringes. Really, I think the best part of this article is that it’s pointing out another way to make technology work for us, to make our life easier instead of just wasting time. (Not that I’d know anything about that… :>)) I linked to this on my weekly roundup, the post is under my name. Thanks!

  8. says

    As someone who does use Craigslist, I think you are misusing it to not even put a description of the item up, but force them to mail an autoresponder to get it.

    I also think you would be shutting yourself off from a lot of legitimate buyers (like me) who would not do what you ask because, no matter what you say, this IS the way email harvesters get addresses, etc. And if you can’t even post the item description in the ad, why should I believe you are legitimate seller?

    How many items have you sold this way?

  9. says

    Looks like there are two camps here. Thanks everyone for the great discussion!

    My Boaz’s Ruth: I haven’t sold any items this way. I read an article on using this technique in conjunction with classified ads and thought it would apply to Craigslist as well. What was made clear through the discussion here is that it’s not exactly the same thing, mainly because you get a lot more room for descriptions with Craigslist.

    I had also thought that I’d be saving myself a lot of time by screening out tire-kickers. Well, I did the opposite of what I proposed here, put the entire description right in the ad, and haven’t had a single bite. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that screening is worthless. I just haven’t tested it enough.

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