Why in the world are people buying and selling on Facebook when there are so many well-groomed, organized and moderated classifieds sites out there? This is a question the industry is asking itself, while Schibsted wants to join forces with its competitors against Facebook and Google, and the AIM group is writing report after report about the threat of social networks.
What Does Facebook Have That Classifieds Sites Lack?
At Besedo we are working with our customers to create safe and value-adding spaces online which we firmly believe adds to their success. Given this and the current development, we are, as so many others, curious about what it is that Facebook has that other classifieds sites are lacking? What’s in it for the user? To find out we entered the jungle of buy, sell and swap groups, and encountered 10 people from 6 countries, kind enough to share their experiences.
Niche Interest Groups
Musicians, board gamers, paintball players and vintage clothes collectors all have one thing in common – they are interested in goods so specialized that it’s mostly traded in very specific communities.
Nick Jensen, Denmark, is using Facebook for finding rare musical instruments.
“As a musician, getting your hands on the right equipment can be a struggle. Especially if you’re looking for objects that are no longer in production. So when I first noticed friends and colleagues posting and talking about these groups, I joined in. I like to try out different equipment and instruments, and the second-hand market is a good place for a great deal.”
Another Dane witnessed to the fact that the board games he is interested in are hard to find on more general sites:
“I joined a year ago when invited by a friend and found the three groups, I’m a member of two, have better and cheaper products than other sites and stores I’ve visited. I feel secure shopping on Facebook since it’s a small community and the groups are well moderated.“
Accessibility, Speed and Ease of Use
Nick Jensen continued on the topic of accessibility and ease of use:
“Facebook sales are generally fast and easy to set up. The personal messaging system goes a long way in the negotiating process, where sites like DBA and GulOgGratis are somewhat behind. We’re used to Facebook being such an integrated part of our daily lives, so a sales platform here just seems to integrate better.”
This is a point that was brought up over and over again. Not only do people seem to believe trading over Facebook is faster and easier, the ability to make quick arrangements and negotiate over chat leaves both sellers and buyers with a feeling of having made a good deal. On a side note, several people admitted to be doing more spontaneous shopping on Facebook compared to other classifieds sites where ads are more clearly categorized.
Transparency and Trust
Even though Facebook doesn’t allow you to see a seller’s reputation and ratings, you can see something that’s way more important: the actual person and its network. This creates a sense of transparency and it’s easy to believe that you almost know the other person, just by looking at their profile.
In interest based, closed groups, there is also the dimension of recognition and identification: “I am dealing with mothers in my own area and that makes me feel secure since I know they are in the same situation as I am,” said a 35 year old American woman. “I am only buying from other mums so I don’t consider it a risk,” testifies an Irish mum. An American paintball-gear trader explaind that he can “personally vet people on Facebook as we’re a part of the same niche community”.
What About the Downsides?
Despite the general trust in other group members, users seem to be aware of security issues, especially when it comes to goods that have to be shipped. A comment from Nick Jensen illustrates what several of our interview persons expressed: “What Facebook wins in direct communication, it looses in buyer/seller security. Integrated payment and refund options, as well as the ability to complain about a fraudulent seller, is completely missing from Facebook. I’m always hesitant when it’s fragile or expensive items. If security was better, and the postal services likewise, I reckon my answer would be different.”
Spam and irrelevant content are other things that are apparent in some groups, and as many people expressed it, it all depends on the members and admins. “One downside is that it’s not regulated in any way. Scamming, spamming and porn should definitely be moderated on Facebook,” according to a Spanish lady using local groups for buying and selling household goods.
Can We Draw Any Conclusions from the Success of Facebook Buy, Sell and Swap Groups?
This is by no means a qualified survey and we never aimed at drawing any universal conclusions, but we did make a few interesting observations.
“A Part of Our Daily Lives”
The average American spends 40 minutes/day on Facebook, so it is definitely an integrated part of our lives. Not only is the marketplace there right before our eyes, Facebook’s well-lubricated analytics-machinery makes it even more sticky, showing us the unique items we are likely to be interested in. A quick survey in the office makes it pretty clear that many people have almost totally scrapped email and sms in favor of the Facebook chat for private communication. This also makes it a natural channel when discussing a deal.
All this really highlights the importance of a seamless shopping experience, all the way from browsing, posting, communicating, paying and delivering goods. A really good mobile app is an obvious necessity, and features like push notifications could help the app become a more integrated part of the user’s digital life.
Take Advantage of Facebook to Build a Sense of Trust
The sensation of transparency and “almost knowing who you’re dealing with” that Facebook gives its users is hard to replicate. The good news is that you don’t have to. There are many ways of leveraging Facebook, Google and other social networks to your benefit. Airbnb is for example very good at giving “faces” to its users, by publicly showing the number of Facebook friends on their profiles. Consider using Facebook or Google logins, and show that the profiles are actually validated.
Keep Building on Your Strengths
The experience of shopping through Facebook groups is still lacking in consistency. The group dynamics change over time and you constantly have to keep up with the latest and most up to date groups. So while Facebook is a very real threat, classifieds sites have a lot to fight back with. Keep analyzing your users’ behavior and learn to become even better!