September 28, 2004

Big Red Exchange: Students Create Online Auction

Print More is a new auction website created by students and specifically tailored to the Cornell community. Launched at the beginning of the fall semester, students, faculty, and staff can now buy and sell textbooks, list rental housing, and auction just about anything else to other Cornellians through the website.

“My goal is to build a vibrant online community that is a subset, as it were, of the existing Cornell community and hopefully it will make student life better on campus,” said Will Jessop ’06 president of Big Red Exchange.

The idea for creating an auction website for Cornell was originally sparked last winter over a discussion about the inadequacies Cornell’s currently existing classifieds e-mails. Jessop noted that the e-mails are difficult for buyers to use, with no filters by category. For searching, the consumer is forced to scroll through the entire email to find a specific item. A seller is limited to 4 or 5 lines of description and can not post pictures. Finally, to conduct the actual transaction it is up to the buyer to contact the seller and negotiate a price and place to meet.

Jessop describes his site as more user friendly. On Big Red Exchange, buyers can search by item or category and determine the quality of the item before they bid on it through pictures and descriptions. Sellers can post photos, have unlimited description space, and sell their item in an EBay auction-style fashion. The website takes care of negotiating the price so there are only one or two e-mails back and forth between the seller and highest bidder to determine the time and place to conduct the transaction.

“The main thing is that [Big Red Exchange] is easy to use and doesn’t cost anything,” said Sean Branagan ’06 vice president of public relations for Big Red Exchange, referring to the free registration to bid and list products.

Currently, there are only a few items listed on the website.

Jessop explained, “This is one of the periods when not a lot of stuff is bought and sold … I expect it to be used at the beginning and the end of the semester, for now.”

One of Jessop’s goals for the website is to eventually have it used actively by students continually throughout the semester.

“It’s going to get more use as time goes on because more people are going to remember it,” Jessop said.

Denice Cassaro, assistant director for community center programs, was very supportive of the student’s new site.

“I think it’s great what their doing,” Cassaro said. “It really is about students being able to get what they need.”

Cassaro began her information e-mail nine years ago as a way to build community. Soon after she added the classifieds and it eventually grew to be so popular as to require a whole separate e-mail simply for the classifieds.

“The number of people has grown, its staggering,” said Cassaro.

Cassaro further explained that she keeps with the simple style of the email so that anyone from any computer can open the email. This year she tried such simple style changes as adding bold font but she received complaints that the email “mussed up” on some computers.

Jessop hopes that the main draw of the website will be students buying and selling textbooks to each other without the need for the middleman of the Cornell Store.

Currently, the Cornell Store offers textbook buyback at the end of each semester. The Store will buy a book back if there is a faculty request submitted. According to Margie Whiteleather, project manager of The Cornell Store and Cornell Business Services, in May 2004 there were 3,200 copies of books of 24 different titles for which the Store was paying $50 or more.

If there is no faculty request for a textbook, students can still sell their textbooks during buyback at a used wholesale price. Those transactions usually range around the $5 to $10 per book.

When selling books, The Cornell Store usually applies a 25-percent selling price mark-up from the publisher’s price on new books. On used books, The Cornell Store marks the book 25 percent less than the new copy.

“The more options students have the better,” Whiteleather said.

Big Red Exchange had its debut at the student fair on August 28th, where members of the organization handed out fliers to passing students.

“There was quite a bit of interest at the student fair,” Branagan said.

Jessop choose not to run Big Red Exchange independently because he did not want to figure out a way to make money off the site which might mean charging users for the service. Big Red Exchange is an officially recognized Cornell student organization.

“It’s basically a community volunteer organization and that’s what student groups are designed for,” Jessop said.

The current members of Big Red Exchange are all juniors. They hope to recruit younger members to the organization so that the website can be sustained after the current members graduate.

“It’s something I wish had been a part of Cornell when I had come here. It wasn’t and now it is,” Jessop said.

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer