Facebook's new features that make it a bit easier for users to sell items represent a minor social commerce update. But they're also a return to an old challenge: how to challenge Craigslist as the king of online classified ads, according to Bloomberg News.
The new For Sale Groups, which were being publicly tested late last year, let users add descriptions of items they're selling, including prices and pick-up/delivery locations, and mark posts as Available or Sold without forcing the revised post to the top of the page, Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday (Feb. 10). Sellers can also easily view their catalog of items previously sold in the new groups, which will roll out across Facebook's groups over the next few months.
But along with being a convenience for Facebook sellers, the new feature is clearly another effort to go after Craigslist's online-selling dominance, Bloomberg's Sarah Frier wrote. In 2007 Facebook unveiled Facebook Marketplace for selling used items and finding housing, but handed it off two years later to classifieds aggregator Oodle.
Google tried something similar with Google Base in 2005, and some startups have carved off small niches -- Airbnb for looking for vacation rentals, Tinder for hookups and TaskRabbit for odd jobs, Accel Partners' Brian O'Malley told Bloomberg. But none have dented -- never mind disrupted -- Craigslist's dominance.
The problem: While Craigslist is "arguably one of the ugliest sites on the Internet," according to Bloomberg, with no sleek, mobile-friendly design, Craigslist's secret is simpler: It became the most comprehensive free-classifieds site online, so sellers keep posting and buyers keep coming back -- and Craigslist gets 50 billion page views per month in the U.S.
"One of the things that a lot of people get wrong when they look at marketplace businesses is they think it's all about this beautiful user experience," O'Malley said. "But people like Craigslist because you can go and you feel like it's comprehensive. It's less about how you merchandise an item, and it's more about having the right items."
"It has none of the features you imagine today would be necessary for a marketplace," said Norwest Venture Partners' Joshua Goldman. "No identity component, no verification system, no integrated payments, no trust and safety, no mobile strategy, or official app, or anything."
O'Malley added: "We'll meet with companies frequently, where they'll show us how much more beautiful their product is than Craigslist, but the challenge is: How do you migrate people over? It's a chicken-and-egg problem."