Is It Possible To Compete With The Big Boys In Classifieds?

…Yes, Find A Problem And Solve It.

Have you ever considered to launch a new digital marketplace, but wondered if you might have a chance at all, in a market which is truly global and more or less ruled by big players like amazon or eBay? If you are in the classified business or wanting to enter it, your answer is most likely to be “yes”. And even more likely, you might have also heard of, or experienced yourself, examples that did not go very well.

Besides other factors, one of the reasons might be that this marketplace was simply ‘just another platform’ doing the same things for the same users, or simply just a ‘number 2’ nobody was really waiting for.

At this years’ Autumn conference of the International Classified Media Association in Madrid, Luke Taylor – CEO of The Marketplace Lab – presented a very structured approach on what it takes to launch a new marketplace in an environment which already has its proven big players. “What’s your point? How to take on the big boys and win” was the title of his session, and he really brought it to the point. Long story short: “Find a real problem, solve it and you can beat them”.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, we will still have to do our homework, but his thoughts will definitely help.

Principles for successful competition
So what to take care about, if you not only want to launch a new marketplace, but actually take on the big boys successfully?
• Don’t start with a fight. There is no point in doing the same thing anyone else does, if you do not do it better. Wannabe the next carportal in the market? Or a brand new marketplace for customized classic cars of the early days? Finding a niche is key.
• Come ready armed. It can be a hard job but no one was waiting for a new platform which does not have sufficient inventory. A few ads in every category are not enough. You need satisfying search results for any search, starting from day 1. That means you have to acquire inventory before you start huge marketing campaigns, which will not the easiest job, but truly important.
• See what is already there and do it better. Also the big ones are facing struggles. Do the extramile and check out the existing platforms in every detail. At one point you’ll find a problem and then you are halfway already. Find the problem, see how you can do it better and solve it.

This will differentiate you from others.
When it comes to technology, be careful, as it must fit the idea of your platform. Is it enough to be a marketplace or do you need ecommerce features for fulfillment? Make sure that processes are simple.

Persona-driven development
So how can you identify the problem you will solve? Whatever you do, put the customer first. Try to see the world with his eyes and you will get a better understanding of his world.
Luke Taylor highly recommends persona-driven development, an approach which is especially helpful if you cannot involve real customers. The idea is to create virtual characters which represent your future clients and create a personality for them. This enables you to identify common challenges and is thereby the natural source of any feature development for you. You can create personas for anyone fitting your target group perfectly, but also for potential clients.

Although I think this is a very useful idea, I would still try to involve real people, by creating a focus group or something similar, since opinions of real people will always be more true than the opinions you created for your virtual characters. But still, it will help you if you cannot involve customers, for which reason ever.
In the end, it is all about identifying common challenges of your (potential) customers. This is where you can start to improve and where there will be room for new business ideas.

Written by: Claudia Nessler, Head of Classifieds at Russmedia