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Can Facebook Compete with Craigslist for Used-Car Listings?

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 4/14/2017 Steve Lang

Can Facebook Compete with Craigslist for Used-Car Listings?© Steve Lang Can Facebook Compete with Craigslist for Used-Car Listings? Craigslist is not only the used-car capital of the United States, it’s also one of the largest resale marketplaces for nearly everything else. Craigslist has become what the classified section of the newspaper used to be, only better. It's a free market that is portable and can be read and shared with others who are looking for their next car.

But unlike the old Sunday classifieds, which relied on three lines of text and creative abbreviations to entice buyers, Craigslist offers up to 24 pictures, as much text as you care to write, and a price to advertise that can’t ever be beat: Nothing. Free. Gratis.

Nonetheless, Facebook is wading in and trying to take some of this business. The social-media giant is looking to offer its members the same opportunities that Craigslist already provides, but with far less uncertainty and more disclosure. Facebook launched Marketplace in October as a smartphone app for users over 18 in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, with other countries and a desktop version launching later, and it has quickly become a serious potential rival to Craigslist. In contrast to Craigslist, which thrives on anonymity between the buyer and seller, Facebook is taking the approach of letting buyers and sellers find out a little more about each other before any in-person meeting.

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You want to sell a Chevrolet Camaro? Create the ad on your iPhone or Android smartphone using your Facebook account, and typically you can expect a response as quickly as you might on Craigslist. But once you get that response, you get to do the one thing that Craigslist can’t offer: view the profile of your potential buyer.

Let’s face it, some people are best viewed from a very long distance. On Facebook, if you click on a profile and see an endless array of objectionable language or offensive political rants, chances are you can save yourself a lot of time and misery by avoiding that person altogether.

For car buyers, the appeal is the same. Some sellers offload their cars for nefarious reasons. When you view a seller's Facebook profile, you can often glean certain gems of knowledge that can help you decide whether the current owner seems like a decent soul or a shady operator you'd rather not deal with.

Craigslist car listings© Provided by Car and Driver Craigslist car listings

Craigslist seems to have devolved over the past 15 years. It has become a place where, often, car dealers pretend to be individuals, and sellers use pictures of cars they don’t actually own. Countless buyers these days enjoy offering lowball prices via text, and of course there are all the scam offers to pay more than your asking price via money order from some foreign country.

Then there are dealers who, if they're selling a similar car at a much higher price, will flag your ad, which then gets deleted. Problems with dealers flagging perfectly good listings, ripping off other people’s work, and posing as individuals have only become worse since Craigslist started charging dealers to post their vehicles in a segregated section of the site.

Sometimes you can sell your car quickly and easily on Craigslist, but you could also experience a slog through human muck in the process.

Can Facebook’s Marketplace improve on the experience? It depends. The kind of jerk who gives you an insulting offer on Craigslist can just as easily contact you on Marketplace and do the exact same thing. But what they can't do after you've rejected their lowball offer is flag your ad for removal and then, once it's deleted, come at you afresh with a new price that's only slightly higher. On Marketplace, you can flag ads that are spam or irrelevant, but that’s it.

However, there are some disadvantages with Marketplace, particularly for sellers. If your used car doesn’t sell within seven days, you can only renew the ad up to four more times, while Craigslist lets you avoid the renewal process for up to 30 days. Craigslist also dominates Facebook when it comes to images, allowing 24 pictures versus 10 for Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace© Provided by Car and Driver Facebook Marketplace

Then there is the issue of the size of your audience. Craigslist gets 50 billion page views and 60 million visitors a month, according to its fact sheet. Marketplace hasn’t reached anywhere near that level, and the inability to prominently post a used-car ad on a computer will continue to hurt Marketplace until it's in more of a featured position on the main site. (On Facebook's mobile app, Marketplace gets more preferential treatment at the bottom of your smartphone's screen, alongside notifications and search tools.) But despite Craigslist’s numerical supremacy, those page views sometimes just don’t materialize into a sale.

Marketplace is far better when it comes to attracting friends, friends of friends, and enthusiasts who may be specifically interested in your car. When you post an ad on Marketplace, you get the option of featuring it on your home page as well as on hundreds of Facebook groups that specialize in that type of vehicle. Have an old Cadillac? You can get the ad simultaneously posted at The Brougham Society, I Love Cadillacs, and even price- and location-specific groups such as Georgia Cars $3000 or Less.

Facebook's Marketplace appears to have the necessary traits to become a far better place for folks to buy and sell a used car, unless Craigslist figures out a way to address its anonymity issues and begins providing a feedback mechanism that allows buyers and sellers to separate the honest sellers from the scam artists.

Facebook is taking more of a community approach with Marketplace. Vehicles are listed by their geographic proximity to where you live instead of using the Craigslist method, in which the newest ad gets to be seen first regardless of distance. Mutual trust, the ability to attract the right audience, and reputation play a far greater role in the Facebook world than in Craigslist's classic classifieds. In the future, used-car listings are going to be more about eliminating uncertainty and providing full disclosure. That’s a tall order. But right now Facebook’s Marketplace appears to offer the better service. Time will tell if Craigslist can offer more than just . . . a list.

Steven Lang has been an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades.

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