Facebook Marketplace: Is this the new eBay?

SAN FRANCISCO — If Facebook were to place an ad, it would read something like this. Wanted: Facebook users to buy and sell stuff.

On Monday Facebook is launching Marketplace, its version of the local rummage sale, and it's trying to coax its 1.71 billion users to hunt for new treasures or declutter their closets, moving more forcefully than ever onto the turf of Craigslist, eBay and other online services that help people peddle that designer coat, vintage car or gently used couch.

Shares of eBay fell nearly 3% in morning trading after details of Marketplace were revealed.

The Marketplace icon will now appear at the bottom of the screen on the Facebook mobile app on iOS and Android in four countries: the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. It's also being tested in Chile.

New reason to spend time

It's the latest push into commerce for the giant social network, which is looking to give users yet another reason to spend more time on it. Buying and selling is already popular. More than 450 million people visit buy-and-sell groups each month, according to Facebook. And that's Facebook's considerable advantage: Its sheer mass.

"Facebook is coming close to saturating time spent on the kinds of things people use Facebook for, but opening up new categories of social activity means you open up new segments of time to tap into as well," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research. "So it increases time spent, increases loyalty, and gives people more reasons to visit the service in the first place."

Down the line, Facebook may invite businesses to join Marketplace, too, says Marketplace product manager Bowen Pan.

"We really are focused on the experience for consumers first. Then, if it makes sense, we will look for ways to allow businesses to have a presence," Pan said.

Unlike in Asia, where people routinely combine shopping and social media on mobile devices, U.S. consumers are more likely to turn to separate apps. In recent years. Facebook has explored ways to get users to shop from their mobile devices on the social network, such as a "buy" button and letting merchants sell their wares from their Facebook pages. Facebook is also testing a mobile shopping marketplace and shopping from mobile ads.

"Facebook already has a ton of what you might call the scaffolding you’d want to build around a commerce strategy in place," Dawson said. These include connections between users and brands they like, advertising, and a customer service infrastructure through Messenger. "It has a massive captive base of users and many of the companies in the world already on its platform," he said..

Not for sale: guns, drugs

Also already on its platform: illicit items. Facebook prohibits people from buying and selling guns, marijuana, pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs. It relies on users to report violations of the rules. Pressure intensified on Facebook this year to crack down on firearms because of the proliferation of posts that offer guns for sale, often without background checks.

This isn't the first time that Facebook has made a bid for the second-hand market. In 2007, it introduced a feature, also called Marketplace, which never took off. In late 2014, the company launched For Sale Groups. Be it surfboards, last year's iPhone or kids' clothing and toys, people have been buying, selling and trading stuff in those groups ever since. Some of those people say they were in search of a more personal way to buy and sell stuff online. Plus, they say in Facebook groups, they are less likely to fall prey to scam artists and spammers.

Heather Peterson, a corporate communications consultant from Lafayette, Calif., says her family sold a canoe, household items and clothing through a neighborhood Facebook group. Peterson also bought a painting from a local artist with whom she is now friends.

"I've made new friends and acquaintances, scored great deals, and I'd like to think folks' days have been brightened by deals on my stuff," Peterson said. "Since it's a neighborhood thing, listing on these sites is much easier and less time-consuming than other online sales methods."

Peterson says she's open to trying Marketplace, which like For Sale Groups does not charge listing or transaction fees and does not process payment or handle delivery.

"Most folks in the buy-sell-trade groups are in more than one," she said.

How Marketplace works

You can search Marketplace and filter results by category, price or location or you can browse what's available in a specific category, say household or electronics. When you find something you like, tap on the image to see more details from the seller, including a product description, the name and profile photo of the seller and that person's general location. You can also save the item to find it later. If you're ready to buy, you can send the seller a direct message from Marketplace and make an offer. From there, it's up to you and the seller to work out the details.

Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn @jguynn


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