Sell Used Boxes Without Predictable Inventory

Sellers who receive boxes sporadically are quite common.  Ideally, we want them to store their boxes and either update their inventory manually or approximate it with an automated schedule.  But what typically happens is that boxes are stored for a short period of time and thrown out and the inventory is never updated.

It’s hard to expect sellers to store boxes and remember to update inventory if they aren’t getting regular orders, which can’t happen until we reach critical mass in their area.  But even if there is high order frequency, many sellers with sporadic supply will not bother with inventory updates and we have no way of doing such updates automatically.

I’ve been thinking about a way to accommodate such sellers for several months.  A wave of crystallization finally hit and I now have a vision of how it can work.

Buyers will be able to request availability from such sellers.  Sellers will still specify boxes and prices, but will not track actual quantities.  Buyer’s availability requests can be processed much like an order and include information such as box quantities needed, minimal contact information, and date range during which boxes are required.  If the seller is able to provide boxes within the date range, buyer is notified and can convert their request into an order by supplying appointment and payment details.  If the seller is unable to provide boxes, their listing can be automatically removed for a few days to minimize unnecessary requests.

This ‘pre-confirm’ approach allows sellers to list their inventory once and only think about boxes when someone says they want them. At that point it is natural to check what’s available and/or store boxes that come in to accommodate an outstanding request.

Of course, there are downsides to this approach.  Availability requests increase the amount of communication buyer and seller need to deal with.  Since requests are unlikely to be binding, sellers will need to field multiple requests per order.

Although I, personally, strongly prefer efficiency and built BoxCycle to minimize work, in practice, many people do not mind the extra communication.  Buyers are often comforted by confirmation prior to purchase and many sellers are quite social and enjoy contact.  And sellers still receive majority of benefits of BoxCycle such as privacy and controlled, limited communication.  Those sellers who want to minimize contact can continue to manage quantities (something that is preferable for us as well.)

This is a substantial addition to how BoxCycle functions and I see a number of other potential issues. However, I’ll let this play out and see which issues actually come out in practice.  I doubt any of them will be absolute deal-breakers.

The thing that really unified the solution for me is recognizing requests as incomplete orders. This allows for a similar checkout process and makes it easy for buyers to convert requests into orders.  It’s quite exciting, for me anyway.

Unlike most previous updates, this post is more about what may happen rather than what has happened.

We did push out a limited version of this capability this morning.  Basically, we can put sellers into pre-confirm mode and buyers will then see a Request Availability link instead of a Buy button.  The link just sends us an email.

This should be enough for us to start gathering information on practical benefits and implications of this feature.  Implementation as described will take at least a few weeks.

If you are an existing or potential seller and want to sell using the pre-confirm mode please let us know so we can enable it for your account.

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