What’s with Vancouver’s Weird Obsession with Craigslist?

We might be devoted to this particular brand of online classifieds, but nationally, we're outliers.

May 8, 2017

By Maansi Pandya

We all love a deal, but in über-pricey Vancouver finding bargains on the internet is basically a way of life. Whether we’re looking for a place to live, or looking buy a new couch for our humble abodes, Vancouverites seem to favour one place in particular: Craigslist. The website is alarmingly popular in Vancouver, so much so that it became the subject of a musical back in 2012. But while overwhelming love for Craigslist is commonplace on the West Coast, nationally, we’re outliers. Go apartment-hunting in locales across the country and you’ll find Kijiji is the undisputed king of the classifieds scene from Toronto to Calgary.

So what makes Vancouverites cling to Craigslist like a savvy shopper to a designer blouse in the discount bin? It could boil down to social influence, says Darrel Dahl, a professor at UBC and an expert in consumer behaviour and social marketing. “If everyone else in the area is using Craigslist, that’s probably where the action is,” says Dahl. It’s also about comfort, Dahl adds. If one site has consistently worked for someone, there’s a chance they won’t want to switch to another. But it can also depend on what the site is used for.

Tim Lukian, a Vancouver resident and avid Craigslist user, believes Craigslist is more popular than Kijiji for selling products. “If I was to buy or sell a piece of equipment, the market on Craigslist is more dominant,” he says, “The perception is that Craigslist has a larger user base.” Lukian has used Craigslist for everything from searching for apartments to buying and selling products, both in Toronto and Vancouver.

You never know what weird and wonderful offerings you’re gonna find on Craigslist’s Vancouver site.

But for former Calgarian Colter Smyth, the opposite is true. “People in Calgary definitely use Kijiji more,” he says, “it’s definitely a thing there. I think Craigslist is seen as a great place to get scammed on an apartment deposit.” Since recently moving to Vancouver, Smyth says he has tried out Craigslist, but mostly to sell items. Of the two sites, he finds Kijiji more user friendly and thinks Vancouver’s love of Craiglist is a little peculiar. “It seems like an older website,” Smyth adds, “but I find Vancouver a mix of low and high tech, so it makes sense.”

Sylvia Nicholles, a Vancouver expat now living in Edmonton, echoes Smyth’s views on Kijiji being the preference elsewhere. “I have had to adjust to using Kijiji here, or I would never have been able to sublet my place for the summer!” she says. Since moving to Edmonton, Nicholles says choosing between Craigslist and Kijiji is less about personal preference and m0re about which site is more likely to sell an item or have greater selection. “As far as platforms go, Kijiji isn’t terrible,” says Nicholles, “The ads look nicer but Craigslist has more functionality.”

One person who knows a thing or two about Craigslist is Veda Hille, one of the creative minds behind Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, the popular musical on Craigslist ads she co-created in 2012. “I do think Craigslist is more popular on the West Coast, since it was started here,” she says, “I like to think it has a certain West Coast sensibility.” Hille appreciates how “unpretentious” Craiglist is and was inspired by how creative and funny some of the ads were. Funny enough, she says, that she’s seen people snag comedy gigs as a result of certain ads!

Some people are so moved by Craigslist they just have to sing about it. Like in the 2012 musical by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson.

The Craigslist musical has played in cities like Toronto and Saskatoon, but Hille says the most successful run by far was in Vancouver. “We thought we would try out this weird musical, and it turns out people really liked it,” she says, “Maybe it’s because Craigslist is so beloved here, or there are just a lot of users.”

Hille finds Craigslist and Kijiji similar, but says timing could play a factor in Craigslist’s popularity with Vancouverites. “If Kijiji had managed to get started a week earlier, maybe things might be different,” she says, “It might be hard to make Kijiji a thing in Vancouver now, especially since Craigslist has worked so well for people.”

In the end, Dahl says we’re all different. “There could be loyalty to one because of satisfaction, or because switching to another site is costly or because socially one is used more than the other and there hasn’t been a social driver pushing them to use something else.”

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