Last month Facebook launched a new marketplace feature on its app - a potential rival to eBay and Gumtree that enables users to buy and sell from each other. It received mixed publicity upon launch after illegal and banned items were offered for sale – including guns, drugs and baby hedgehogs - but it does have potential to be a useful and successful addition to Facebook.
The marketplace works by displaying nearby items that are being sold by other Facebook users, who can then be contacted via Facebook Messenger to arrange a sale. Prices are advertised alongside the items, but Facebook encourages negotiation with its ‘make an offer’ button.
The feature is currently quite basic and with Facebook unable to facilitate any payment or delivery options, it is essentially a way for buyers and sellers to get in touch before arranging payment and delivery/collection between themselves.
This lack of integration isn’t necessarily a bad thing, with other companies following a similar model. For example, marketplace app Shpock has a comparable format, offering a photo feed of items to connect buyers and sellers before they arrange their own payment and collection. However, at first glance, Shpock does feel like a more advanced, trustworthy app than Facebook Marketplace. It has similar features to the big players, such as questions from buyers and answers from sellers, more detailed item descriptions than Facebook, and, perhaps most importantly, Shpock displays seller ratings and feedback from previous buyers.
Despite a lack of ratings and reviews, Facebook is able to offer a type of seller transparency not available on other marketplaces. With items linked to a seller’s Facebook profile, it is much easier to see exactly who you are buying from. Plus it’s harder to anonymously sell items that are worse in terms of quality or condition than advertised.
But to be a real rival to sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace will need to significantly develop its functionality and service - for example by offering the security of eBay’s buyer protection, or at least the seller ratings and more detailed product information available on Shpock. But considering the number of people who already have the Facebook app on their phones (estimated to be around 75% of Android smartphone users) and the amount who already use it for buying or selling (estimated by Facebook to be over 450 million), an improved Facebook Marketplace could be extremely successful and is certainly one to watch.