A pioneering online community platform: Circles Marketplace
Since CirclesUBI was launched in October 2020, it gathered significant attention worldwide, with more than 100,000 wallets deployed to date and many communities interested in Circles from different parts of the world. Since the launch, we have been tirelessly working to bring Unconditional Basic Income to the world, starting with the Berlin Open Pilot, holding monthly local and international assemblies & participating in the wider UBI debates worldwide. In Berlin, we have been working on creating a strong cooperative business network. So far, we are working with 19 official business partners, and additionally, other affiliated businesses and organizations created a broad range of spending opportunities for the Circles community with products and services of foods/drinks, care, health, co-working spaces, arts, bikes, services, logistics, and clothing. Although we are organizing monthly local CRC markets to create spaces for the vendors and the buyers to come together, there was the curiosity and the need to create an online platform for our community to exchange products and services.
Digital commerce became quite common, especially after the worldwide pandemic. People started to prefer getting their needs online. Although there are many advantages to digital commerce, it can feel impersonal and lacks a personal touch. So, as Circles, we started to think about how to create a platform that is used/owned by people who issue their own money while still connected with the sense of community. This is the seed that we initiated building a community-owned online marketplace.
Marketplace for the community: B2B, B2C and peer-to-peer
The already existing Circles community in Berlin is an opportunity to embed circular values into this marketplace and essentially encourage less excess consumption while facilitating ease of access to more sustainable ways of shopping. Our motivations behind this were accessing the products and services more frequently, having a variety of products on display, allowing for peer-to-peer exchange, while focussing on a B2B as well as B2C strategy internally at the Circles Coop, and eventually boosting the Circles economy. The marketplace supports the ongoing work on the Berlin pilot project, helping businesses grow their community, and creating more incentives to use Circles. For businesses, the marketplace brings customers, and in the future, it will even help them tackle taxes. It also brings peers together and potentially matches supply & demand, while giving people more opportunities to earn Circles. It’s planned that the marketplace will allow people to rate their experience with sellers, rate products, handle shipping, and message in the app. We believe that the marketplace can also become an interaction point for possible partners from the cooperative economy while making collaborations between communities easier.
The idea is first to develop an online marketplace for the Berlin community that organically grows toward a global audience. As we consider Circles UBI and the work we do at the Circles Coop as highly aligned with cooperative principles, we will not push to expand the Circles marketplace globally in a top-down approach, but rather create opportunities to multiply the instances of the marketplace in the different communities that are looking to use CRC in their regions, making the technological stack modular so that people everywhere can self-host and co-own their marketplace platform, maintained by the Circles Coop as a service. Are you part of a community that is interested in using CRC? Please reach out!
Trust brings back the connection
The Circles Marketplace brings together the community, personal aspect of commerce, and the convenience of using online platforms. To make a transaction on Circles, you need to have a direct or indirect trust connection with the seller. Trust has value. When a seller trusts you, it means your CRC will be accepted directly by them. Otherwise, payment will happen transitively via the personal CRC that the seller trusts.
Requiring trust connections between the buyer and the seller includes the community’s decisions on how money circulates within the community. A transaction on the Circles Marketplace is much more than a simple transaction. It also implies collective decision-making, coming back to the true meaning of money as a promise, while reclaiming the community’s power over its economy. You can think about this as a chain of promises.
Circles is a system of trust and the transfers will only work based on the collection of trust decisions made by the community before the purchase. This not only prevents fake accounts, but also creates a more engaged economy by its users, and promotes offering more products and services to create value in the system. This is a unique approach, and although it can feel quite peculiar initially, it revolutionizes the habitual practices of online shopping and the way we relate to money.
A marketplace for the local economy
When people use online platforms to buy their needs, they rarely pay attention to where the product is coming from. Therefore, online purchases take money out of the local economy, which makes it difficult for local communities of producers to compete and survive. Circles Marketplace is designed for the use of communities where people directly connect to local vendors. One of the important features of the marketplace is that you can search the products based on location. It currently works based on the zip code, and the features to be able to search by cities and distances are coming soon. Along with the location feature and the trusted network mentioned above, the purchases happen within the community, supporting the local economy to thrive.
We soft-launched the Circles Marketplace for the local community in Berlin, in November 2021. Thus, for a good year or so, we’ve been collecting feedback from our pioneering users, fixing bugs, and implementing desired features. Since then, the marketplace has generated quite some traction: 40 - 80K page views per month by 1-2K unique users we can consider this a great start at a time when we have not actively promoted it. Also, the marketplace has been used by 182 business accounts including some of our official business partners, as well as the 412 individuals, both together offering about 1150 products and services at the moment, while over its lifetime approximately 1500 articles were sold. There are more than 10 major categories and 26 sub-categories, including foods/drinks, care, health, co-working spaces, arts, bikes, services, logistics, rentals, and clothing. Some offers include vouchers for the shops and gift cards.
However, what makes the Circles Marketplace very special is that it’s the platform of the community, for the community. Here are a couple of stories showing the community aspect of the marketplace.
One of our business partners, Anna from MadameZorro, shared a nice story about the marketplace. She received an order for a voucher from someone, and when she contacted them to deliver the vouchers, she was told that they lived outside of Germany and they really liked the Circles project and they wanted to send the vouchers as a gift and to support the project and the marketplace. Another story comes from a local gardening project. They are raising CRC donations to be able to present their products and services at a local zero-waste festival. With these donations, they will be able to afford the rentals for the market stand.
Designing the marketplace
Circles Marketplace aligns with the values of Circles Coop, where we promote circularity, i.e. sharing, repair, reuse, upcycling, designed longevity, zero waste, and service over reproduction. We also prioritize closing the supply-chain economic loops, while supporting the businesses with tax handling.
Before we launched the marketplace in the local community, we asked for the help of the community. 30 pioneers volunteered to use the marketplace and gave us feedback on how to improve the system. After incorporating the feedback, we went forward with the initial phase of the marketplace launch and let the Berlin community experience the marketplace. While building the marketplace, we used a simple user interface and got the community involved at every step.
Some features of the current marketplace:
- Search for a specific article using the search bar or browse the catalog by clicking through the categories or on a specific seller’s catalog
- You may offer an article, either as a private seller or as a business entity
- Each article contains a picture and a detailed description, as well as an excerpt of the seller’s profile
- If you add your Circles wallet to your profile, it will be checked automatically when viewing an article to make sure your balance and trust network allows for the required payment
- Add as many articles as you like to your cart and order them in one go, choosing from various shipping options
- You may check out the seller’s profiles, with legal information, a link to their Circles wallet, and a way to contact them directly
- Display of product categories and product/service listings
- Private and business profiles, with descriptions, contact details, and communication channel
- Simple search functionality
- Product cart, including checkout and automated confirmations
- CRC balance and trust network check
We are currently working on improving the Circles Marketplace with new features, which will be launched soon, such as:
- Language feature to switch between languages
- Berlin-wide local delivery by one of our business partners
- Rebranded design and UI
- Extended search functionality
- Community and item maps
- Wallet API
- Possibly other payment options, e.g. other community currencies and embedding CRC within other payment infrastructures, leveraging the Euros that people already have to co-pay with CRC
- Display of payment status for items sold
- Rating sellers and products/services
- Sales dashboard with tax statements
As Circles, we aim to support thriving sustainable local economies, and our online marketplace would serve to support this vision, and provide communities with a tool to meet their needs. Circles can touch on degrowth, climate impact, and sustainability by way of the marketplace logic, and can invite people to consider their impact when they use both local currency and the marketplace itself to get the stuff that they need to live with their basic income. Thus, Circles Marketplace is not an online shopping mall, but a space for solidarity.
Lastly, we would like to share the feedback we got from one of the Marketplace users, Ramona:
“The online marketplace is a great idea! I hope it is user-friendly and not just for selling stuff but also for donations, renting, maintenance, repair, food rescue and reclamation, reuse, etc. Something where people can post underused items/machines so that others can use them. A place where small acts of kindness are possible because, in combination with relationships of trust, they make it easier to share underused resources. It is crucial to show how a UBI in Circles can help with equitable access to these productivity gains, that's the whole point. Because ultimately something real like productivity gains will 'back' the value of a token in a better way compared to 'speculation'.”
You may visit our marketplace here: market.joincircles.net, and follow the guide that is available at the end of this article. If you are not in Berlin, you could create your community with Circles and start using the marketplace right away by using your location/zip code. Please refer to our handbook and contact us if you’d like to initiate a hub where you are.
Guide to start using the Circles Marketplace
For using the Circles Marketplace, users need to register an account at market.joincircles.net. In the process of doing so, you can link a Circles Wallet by stating your wallet’s name, which in turn will suggest using the same user name. Feel free to change that, nevertheless, the linkage between the marketplace account and wallet needs to be set up since some of the marketplace's unique features are based on the wallet. In order to buy something at the marketplace, your account will check the balance you hold in your Circles Wallet, if it is sufficient to buy a certain product or service and in addition whether the sufficiently available funds in your account can be transferred to the requested seller’s account through the direct or indirect trust connections.
Therefore, make sure you have registered for both accounts, the marketplace, and the wallet, and take care of the different credentials.
The Circles Marketplace is simply matching buyers and sellers, thus facilitating the sales and later transactions. The latter is only done in the Circles protocol, which you can access via the wallet at circles.garden. So, your earned CRCs need to show up in the wallet in order to complete a sale. If there haven’t been any amounts received, please ensure that the buyer sent the funds. You’ll be able to see in your wallet transaction history (top right corner) whether you received them. If they are not listed there, they have not been coming through the network.
Please refer to the FAQ for more information on the Circles Marketplace.
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