Buying and selling things to strangers on the internet has become so commonplace in the digital economy that it’s hard to imagine the times we depended on printed classifieds in local publications to get rid of things we no longer needed, or to buy secondhand items we wanted. Before the internet, most of the time we were limited to buying and selling second hand items from people in the same geographic region as us.
However, with the advent of the internet and early eCommerce giants such as Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy, we saw the whole idea of the online classified flipped on its head. Geographic limitation was no longer an issue: we could buy an item from someone across the country or world as long as we had the means to ship it or pick it up. The effect of this online classified market had a ripple effect on a number of sectors. The publishing industry has been the hardest hit, as a large portion of their revenue used to come in the form of local advertisers paying for classified listings. Now that anyone with an internet connection can do that for free, there is little need to pay for the same service. Another sector that has been significantly affected is the retail sector, who see more and more competition from a second-hand or even new goods market that thrives online, with no need for the middleman role that the retail sector historically served.
Despite its ubiquity, we haven’t seen much innovation in the online classified or marketplace sector since it first became a major presence on the internet in the early aughts. However, with the release of Facebook’s Marketplace recently, the internet marketplace space is about to gain another major player. The question is if it will upend the market that already exists.
Mashable explained the basic premise in a recent post: “This is Facebook’s take on Craigslist, in other words. You’ll see items from people in your area, offer them money and figure out the details later. That’s a clear distinction from sites like Etsy or eBay, which are glutted with businesses and directly facilitate transactions via credit card or PayPal — if all goes well, you never have to talk to a person to get your item. Not so with Facebook’s Marketplace.”
In other words, Facebook Marketplace is trying to facilitate user to user interaction; there is no set infrastructure setup for payment or shipping. “Facebook doesn’t care how you pay, which makes a lot of sense: In order for people to use Marketplace over an established service, it needs to be easy — no fussing over shipping fees, taxes, linked credit cards and so on.”
This might seem risky in an age where we’ve been taught to be hyper-vigilant about online scammers and people purporting to sell goods they don’t actually own online. However, it’s also possible that Facebook’s more liberal take on the marketplace setup is coming at just the right time. Now that users are more comfortable than ever before with shopping online, they’ve become more savvy about who to trust and what seems legit. By inviting users to examine a Facebook user’s profile to discern whether they seem genuine or not, Facebook is essentially asking us to place a large amount of monetary trust in something we’ve been putting our digital trust in for some time now: a social network.
It remains to be seen if this more trust-based, less automated system will take with internet users who have been used to more formalized forms of commerce on sites like eBay and Etsy. However, Facebook seems characteristically confident, claiming that “450 million people already buy and sell items each month via its online groups.
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