Priceonomics

This post was written by Daniel Mrdjenovich. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

 

The month of June proved quite exciting for the Priceonomics team. Over the course of three weeks our team doubled in size as we welcomed James, Daniel and Forrest. Although we couldn’t be happier with the growth, it meant that we now have a shortage of office chairs. This might have proven a non-issue at any large corporation, but as a startup we don’t exactly stockpile dozens of chairs in the hopes of one day entertaining visitors.

 

In order to make sure that everyone had a productive first day, Michael researched the prices of new Herman Miller Aeron Chairs. As awesome as the interns might prove to be, Priceonomics was surely not going to pay $800+ per chair. Based on Priceonomics data, Michael determined used Size B Aeron chairs were valued at $450 on used markets. Whew, much better!

 

 

Fortunately, all of our new hires today sit comfortably on office chairs. Throughout the course of the process, Michael learned quite a bit about the craigslist market for office chairs. We hope this post offers tips buyers and sellers tips on how to assess the value of Aeron chairs.

 

Don't Be Satisfied with "Excellent Condition"

 

Even at the used price of $450 per Aeron chair, that's still a lot of money. We wanted to be sure they were of good quality, here's our five-step inspection checklist:

 

1. Sizing: Turns out, Herman Miller actually offers three different sizes for Aeron chairs: A, B, and C. Here’s a breakdown of the appropriate size based on height and weight from the Aeron Chair Blog:

 

 

Michael found that in most listings sellers don’t mention size. Since Aeron chairs look similar regardless of size, you can figure out a chair’s size by placing your hand under the back’s flap. You should feel one, two, or three bumps corresponding to sizes A, B, or C.

 

 

2. Mesh Quality: Unlike other office chairs, the Aeron chair relies on mesh rather than cushion for support. Damaged, torn, or frayed mesh will likely require an expensive replacement in the near future.

 

3. Working Levers: Let’s be honest, as ergonomic as this chair might seem, it’s useless if you can’t adjust it.

 

4. Armrest Damage: Aeron chairs are designed to fit underneath your desk. Unfortunately, many armrest are often scuffed or dislodged by rubbing up against the underside of the desk. If you don’t mind ugly armrests, you could still buy one of these and ask for a discount.

 

5. Proper Lumbar Support: Unless you plan to suffer through nine hours of agony each day, inspect the lumbar support quality. Since it only costs around $60 for these replacement parts, damaged lumbar support could prove a bargaining tactic with the seller.

 

 

Mastering the Craigslist Game

 

When people refer to Craiglist as a “broken system”, they’re usually frustrated at the fact they can’t always buy or sell exactly what they want. Although you might not always land the item you wanted at your desired price, Michael discovered you can take some steps to ensure you find something as close as possible. In our case, we wanted a black Aeron Size B chair for under $450 delivered to our offices. Here's how we made it happen:

 

1. Alerts: Timing is key in a market like Craigslist. If an item in high demand appears on Craigslist at a good price, it probably won’t last long. In order to remedy this, Michael developed a quick hack using Craigslist RSS and Google Reader. Visit your local Craigslist site and enter a search similar to what’s shown below:

 

 

Once you’re satisfied with your search, scroll and click the RSS button located at the bottom right of the page. You should see something like this:

 

 

Copy the URL of the new page. Open Google Reader and subscribe to this URL. Boom, your own personalized Craigslist feed!

 

 

2. Short and Direct Intros: Chances are that most sellers will quickly scan through your first email so it’s probably best not to load it with unnecessary information. Our messages read something like this:

 

“Hey there, we are a company located in “X neighborhood” in need of office chairs. Are you willing to deliver? Best, Michael.”

Short and to the point. In a market full of scams, it’s best to leave your name and number to prove you’re a real person.

 

3. Delivery Request: Since we all live in the city, none of us had a car to transport our coveted new office chairs. Michael found that in some cases sellers were more than willing to deliver to our offices to finalize the sale. In other cases, the seller could be coaxed into delivery by offering another $25. If you need something delivered, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

4. Payment Process: Make sure to agree upon a final price (plus delivery or minus defects) and payment type. Although we intended to pay with a company check, most sellers would only accept cash. Would’ve been a bit awkward if we hadn’t fleshed out these details ahead of time.

 

Conclusion

 

While this post won’t single handedly solve the Craigslist dilemma, we hope it provides some useful perspective for large and expensive items such as the Aeron chair. Throughout the process, Michael learned to make the used market work. At first, he restricted his search to listings below $375, well below the fair price indicated by our data. Within a few days only a few listings appeared and it seemed as if the new hires were destined to work from the floor. Once Michael moved his price range closer to the used market price, multiple options quickly popped up.

 

Oh yeah, Priceonomics is hiring engineers!

 

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