Are Online Classifieds Evolving Fast Enough To Stay in The Game?

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Are Online Classifieds Evolving Fast Enough To Stay in The Game?
Classified, Computer mouse and Newspaper Roll with white background. Feng Yu / Shutterstock.com

by Andrew Macfarlane 

Let’s start this piece with an obvious cliche; the tech industry is constantly evolving and innovating. Now, let’s dive straight into the next industry platitude and say that having a modicum of the “Disruptive Business Model” is key to attracting users and consumers to your offering.

But, if these are commonplace beliefs in the sector, how are stagnant online classified web platforms staying afloat, especially with social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace branching out and incorporating new offerings? How has this introduction affected the industry players locally and are some aware they need to diversify their offerings?

According a SimilarWeb month-on-month report, Junkmail.co.za has been able to maintain a fairly stable rate of visitors to their website over the last three months, seeing 2.32 million visitors in February 2018. However, In January 2018 they had 2.8 million visitors. That’s a drop off of roughly 600 000, and only time will tell if this was due to the introduction of Facebook Marketplace in DATE.

Another disruptor in the field is Michael Zahariev’s HiCarByeCar. Zahariev understands that innovating and creating a business platform that disrupts the status quo is key to success.

Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé
Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé

“When starting my company, I knew that it had to address a real world problem and deliver a service that couldn’t be offered in the past,” says  Zahariev, the founder and CEO of the third party car auction site.

“After talking to a number of my clients who buy and sell cars in the car industry, they were spending too much time and money on a month-to-month basis buying vehicles.”

Many car dealerships utilise online platforms to buy stock but these platforms generally only offer stock that other dealers no longer want, often because it’s overpriced or unpopular.

However, dealing with the public is normally time-consuming and cumbersome ordeal. It’s the management of this disconnect that Zahariev believes makes his platform unique and disruptive, compared to the cliched classified platforms.

“What dealers want is to purchase stock that’s good and that they can move. That’s why the platform allows us to auction vehicles to the dealership straight from the public. And although I’ve been focused on the dealers, during the rollout of the company I’ve noticed that consumers, while interested in the best price, want little to do with the process,” says Zahariev.

“That’s why I now ask a professional to inspect the car and handle the uploading of details and photos. It’s this constant tweaking that’s helping us gain traction. After all, a digital platform lives and dies by how good its user experience is.”

Large players are beginning to shift their focus a little, and are trying to expand offerings and incorporate new user interfaces. Gumtree South Africa has introduced peer-to-peer messaging,  and the international version has introduced a PayPal portal.

While advancements are in progress, a major issue that still plagues the classified platforms are fraudist and con-artists. Peer-to-peer negotiations and transactions rely heavily on trust and it can be daunting to take the leap of faith. This is especially true when buying luxury designer items.

The homepage of the website for Gumtree. chrisdorney / Shutterstock.com
The homepage of the website for Gumtree. chrisdorney / Shutterstock.com

At the time of writing, Gumtree had 388 linked advertisements for Gucci products, with many products listed as AAA-Grade replicas, in other words counterfeit. If you were even a little apprehensive at how genuine these items are, you should be aware that the counterfeit market is a $460 billion market per annum.

“I was amazed when I launched my platform that there weren’t more online services offering authentic items in the local market, especially seeing the number of counterfeits available on online marketplaces” says Luke Calitz, CEO of Luxity, a pre-owned, luxury goods portal.

“South Africa has a market of consumers who are eager to purchase high value items, but there’s always been a concern about whether the item is genuine. When I started Luxity I knew accessibility and authenticity was key.”

Large market places are starting to feel the pressure from smaller, more specialised, niche competitors who are now providing a stronger connection between the digital and physical world. This adds a new frontier of convenience and safety, which traditionally was only offered, if available at all, at an additional fee.

So, are online classified publications adapting with the times fast enough?

The short answer – no.

But will their market stick it out with them even when young players like Luxity and HiCarByeCar coming up in the ranks? Well, only time will tell.

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