China’s shopping extravaganza Singles’ Day finished two weeks ago, but the aftermath of the 24-hour madness is going to span a whole year. Idle Fish, more commonly known by its Chinese name Xianyu (闲鱼), is helping China’s online consumers to cash in their second-hand or idle items online, not only for alieving financial pressure but also for the joy of getting connected with new friends.

Born out of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, the three-year-old company is now a top second-hand trading platform. It now claims 200 million users and 16 million active users—on par with the active users of China’s largest online marketplace Taobao. Although the low-profile company has never made it public, local media reported two years ago that its valuation hit $3 billion then.

Idle Fish is often referred to as a second-hand goods exchange platform. Instead of second-hand or used goods, which may invoke negative feelings, especially in China, Idle Fish, as well as its users, tend to shift to a more neutral term—idle items—to emphasize the values in these goods.

What’s more, second-hand goods wouldn’t be a term big enough to cover it all. “Idle goods is a broader concept that not only cover used stuff that still has value but also brand new items that are valued by the owners, such as an ill-chosen gift from friends,” Chen said.

Vern Chen, founder of Idle Fish, gave the secret recipe to their success at TechCrunch Shanghai 2017 this Monday. “Since the very beginning of our entrepreneurial journey, the team has laid out four principles that are defining what Idle Fish is about. We are improving the product based on these cornerstones,” said Chen.

1. Mobility-first platform. Compared with PC, a dominating portion of our energy and resources are invested in the development of Xianyu mobile app. “This largely determined by the nature of our service. Idle item sharing is highly dependent on cameras, which is a crucial part of displaying the goods,” said Chen. Of course, the choice is greatly facilitated by the popularity of smartphone and thus the mobility trend in China.

Also, this is a “have-to” decision, according to him, “…because we had but around 20 members of staff in the early days and was beyond our capability to develop both the mobile and desktop sites. Luckily, the users have been quite supportive of this option and we won’t launch PC platform, at least in the short term,” Chen added.

2. Easy to get started. “Idle sharing is for everyone. We are trying to lower the threshold for entry. Every adult user with a Taobao or Alipay account can log in and start to share their goods.”

3. Communication. Compared to Taobao or Tmall where people purchase goods from small retailers, trust is an even a bigger issue among Idle Fish users and this kind of trust is built through detailed communication before or even after the actual purchase. There are 510,000 Fish Ponds, free-flow fish trading units on the platform based either on geographical location or interest. “Around 41% of Idle Fish users would chat or leave messages to others.”

4. Easy transaction. “Facilitating the transaction process is a top priority for us,” said Chen. The reason behind this is straightforward because the final transaction is where all the communication goes toward and you don’t want technical problems to mess it up.

To some extent, Idle Fish fully meets the qualifications for a “sharing economy” business in its truest sense, where the value of idle resources can be rediscovered by those who need it, rather than the “rental economy“ in which case new products are being created to cater for a certain demand. Started as a consumer-targeted model, the app is now expanding to public idle resources from enterprises and judicial sales, for instance.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.

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