Facebook has been under the fire in India for reasons ranging from Cambridge Analytica, the WhatsApp platform being used for fake news dissemination, to lack of compliance for its UPI-powered payment service – WhatsApp Pay. The wrath of regulators and users over data privacy did not stop the social media giant to roll out Marketplace in India in January this year, to tap the online classifieds in India.
Since OLX and Quikr after a decade do not seem to have even 10 per cent of internet users in India, many believe that with the massive 270 million users base – Facebook has the ability to crack online classifieds in India.
But contrary to expectation, Facebook Marketplace has failed to captivate the attention of users. After spending 10-15 minutes on the platform, one can easily observe that Facebook was unable to do justice to the product it rolled out with much fanfare.
Many items are put up for sale for Re 1 and typically sellers have attached a misleading price tag across products and categories. For an instance, one seller has advertised a baby cot at Rs 1,111- but on sending the message the price was revealed as Rs 4,500.
A reality check by Entrackr of Facebook Marketplace revealed misleading pricing which would not go down well with the buyers. During a week-long research, we found that about 35 per cent of the listed products carries fake pricing as well as descriptions.
Adding more woes to the users, Facebook integrated very few filters that make search experience for any item, a terrible for users. For example, if you are searching for a car, there is no way you can search based on colour, engine or make amongst others.
Still, a long way to go for Facebook Marketplace
There are issues that Facebook Marketplace needs to address to induce explosive growth and wipe out the competitors.
But Before going into details let’s understand that Quikr has already moved on from consumer to consumer segment (C2C) to a more vertically focused business to consumer offerings. Over the past three years, it’s aligning more towards fulfillment rather than the discovery of items.
OLX on the other hand, reacted slow to Indian conditions and also failed to address a few catalysts and hence its usages didn’t grow.
OLX and Quikr boast of presence in hundreds of cities. It’s actually immaterial. People need to see thousands of items within 5 kilometers of where they are within a sub-category to be excited to buy, show interest or come back again frequently.
While the large classifieds players advertised heavily on TV, which built awareness but did nothing in areas including categorization, serendipity, and C2C focus to create traction. Hence, they built a large footprint with a limited usecase.
Presently, you hardly see their ads on TV, because that strategy not just failed but also put a huge dent in their balance sheets. The profitability that large classifieds players show today is large because their expense on TV is now saved.
Despite financial backing and substantial experience, OLX and Quikr have failed to make a sizeable dent in C2C as well as B2C classifieds. There is still no useful work done on building seller trust. Given that Facebook commands the social activities of over 270 million Indians, Marketplace can solve the trust issues via embedding social graph (likes, recommendations, views, endorsements).
FB Marketplace needs a strategic transformation to win India
While Facebook Marketplace can quickly find a strong foothold in online classifieds in India, it has not taken any step beyond launching it. Even globally, Facebook Marketplace has not caused any major business dent to dominant players in the West including Craigslist and Gumtree.
Less priority towards Marketplace in India can also be gauged from the fact that Facebook Watch and QR Codes have been given priority over Marketplace feature. For instance, Watch feature has got the centre position on the mobile app where Marketplace remained since its launch in the country.
Similarly, QR code feature also takes the centre stage while Marketplace has been placed as an option in the mobile app.
Although, Facebook had integrated WhatsApp with Marketplace that essentially expedites the communication process for both ends – buyer and sellers. It’s merely an incremental feature for a product that is far from scratching the surface of digital classifieds.
Facebook requires to have a country-specific content policy and monitoring system to be able to succeed in India. Crucial pain-points including quality checks and balances that ensure hygienes in removing products that are sold or that seem to have a misleading price and features require to be solved.
Given that overall online classifieds hasn’t been disrupted by decade-long players – OLX and Quikr, it would be interesting to see the future moves of Facebook on its Marketplace.