Battling with Silicon Valley's much larger rivals in e-commerce, several online-shopping startups are working to capture your interest by offering you local marketplaces in the palm of your hand.
OfferUp, 5miles, Mercari, letgo and VarageSale are taking on big Silicon Valley players such as eBay and Facebook. These startups all tout their ability to make it easy, safe, fast -- and fun -- to buy and sell goods and services locally.
But designing an experience that eliminates pain points in online-shopping transactions could be the determining factor in whether these startups succeed or fail.
"There are a lot of variables for anyone to be successful against the behemoths of e-commerce, but I believe the user interface is the key consideration," said Michael Tchong, founder of Las Vegas-based Ubercool Innovation, which tracks technology trends. "If eBay, or Amazon, or Google, or Facebook had the user experience of the Apple Store, they would double their sales."
What are some distinguishing features of these startups' apps?
Bellevue, Washington-based OfferUp lets people sell an item in 30 seconds and enables users to build up their reputation on the site so others have an idea whom they are dealing with. The app also allows secure messaging and shows people what's selling nearby. OfferUp says its image-based interface makes posting items as straightforward as sending a picture by text message.
Aiming services at customers through their mobile phones makes sense, OfferUp says.
"Everyone is tethered to their smartphone today, so having everything centrally located within the app makes the entire process a lot simpler than local buying and selling processes of the past," said Ian Fliflet, a vice president of marketing at OfferUp. "Because you can do everything in the app within minutes, create a profile, take photos of the item and connect with buyers/sellers in chat, people are getting an incredibly streamlined flow from start to finish. We're eliminating the hoops you'd have to jump through to sell unused items."
Dallas-based 5miles, in addition to offering goods and services, provides ways for people to find apartments, houses and condominiums for rent or sale. Job seekers can also scout for full-time, part-time and freelance jobs or gigs. 5miles also suggests secure locations in the area where a transaction can occur, phone-number verification to reduce fraud and spam, and special systems to highlight a listing.
"We are very locally based, we are 100 percent a mobile platform, and we have a built-in search engine, so you can always find items that are near you," said Garwin Chan, chief financial officer of 5miles. "This is the mobile marketplace, a marketplace that is sitting in your phone."
The app from New York City-based letgo offers posts within seconds and says it uses image recognition and artificial intelligence to automatically title and categorize items that are up for sale. People can also chat quickly with other local buyers and sellers.
Toronto-based VarageSale says it's the only app that is based 100 percent on real identities of buyers and sellers, because all users are obliged first to undergo a manual review process.
Japan-based Mercari, which has offices in San Francisco and Portland, offers its services as a mediator in case of a dispute. The app also offers a buyer protection guarantee whereby payment won't be released until the delivery is confirmed.
Consumers need to be able to find items quickly and logically when shopping online, Tchong said.
"The proverbial chink in the armor is the user experience is very lacking among the major players, and that includes Google, eBay, Amazon and Facebook," Tchong said.
Menlo Park-based Facebook jumped into the fray in October 2016 with a product called Facebook Marketplace.
At the time, Mary Ku, director of product management at Facebook, described Facebook Marketplace in a blog post as a "convenient destination to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community."
Such activity started in Facebook Groups and has grown substantially. More than 450 million people visit buy and sell groups each month, from families in a local neighborhood to collectors around the world, according to Facebook.
San Jose-based eBay, which has honed its competitive edge as a long-time leader in consumer-to-consumer buying and selling, pointed out its vast reach and group of buyers.
"Selling on eBay has never been easier," said Ryan Moore, an eBay spokesman. "With a global community of 168 million active buyers, there's a shopper in search of all types of items, from tech to clothes, handbags, shoes, and everything in between. The company was the first consumer selling platform on the internet and remains the industry leader in bringing consumers together to buy and sell goods."
eBay said it's determined to upgrade the experience for buyers and sellers.
"We're significantly simplifying the selling experience, leveraging structured data and artificial intelligence to enable them to choose the item they're selling from our product catalog," Devin Wenig, eBay's chief executive officer, said during a recent conference call to discuss eBay's financial results.
About 1.1 billion listings are available at any given time on eBay, the company said.
"E-commerce is pretty competitive and crowded, and not to count out the new players, eBay has years and years of experience," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Campbell-based Creative Strategies, a market researcher. "The startups are going against companies like eBay, which has a huge catalog, and Facebook, which has plenty of people on its platform, but has to build up an inventory."
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