People like Courtney Hammons and her husband from Brentwood, Tenn., near Nashville, are looking to Facebook to buy their next vehicle.
On a recent Sunday afternoon the couple to met the seller of a 2007 GMC Yukon they saw advertised online. They were not worried about being robbed or becoming victims of the shenanigans that can happen with a vehicle purchase that originates from an online classifed ad. They had a reason for being at ease: The ad that the couple responded to was posted on Facebook via a new feature called Marketplace, which the social media giant quietly rolled out last fall.
One analyst who tracks online advertising believes that with a few improvements, Facebook, because of its reach, has the potential to be a major force in used-car sales.
Unlike with Craigslist, the Hammonses knew who they were dealing with. The seller's full name was in the ad, and they could see how long the seller had been a member of Facebook. They viewed this and other basic information before deciding to check out the vehicle.
"We met another soccer mom in a church parking lot," says Courtney Hammons. "And she said, ‘Here, drive it around and see what you think of it.' I was very comfortable with the process, and it was stress-free."
Hammons and her husband did not look at dealerships' local inventories or check other major online venues, such as Craigslist, eBay Motors, Cars.com and Autotrader. "We have a great dealership that we love, but these were very specific needs," says Hammons, who, with her husband, is a foster parent for children awaiting adoption.
Three days later, after two mechanics certified the high-mileage Yukon to be in outstanding condition, $6,500 in cash changed hands, and the big seven-seat SUV went home with the Hammonses.
The couple's purchase makes them early adopters in what could turn out to be the next major online used-car venue, and one that, because of its massive user base, has the potential to someday become the world's largest.
If just 4 percent of Facebook's 1.7 billion global users turn to Marketplace to buy and sell used cars, Facebook would pass reigning giant Craigslist, as well as Autotrader, Cars.com and eBay Motors.
For now Facebook Marketplace isn't likely going to steer many buyers away from the used-car departments of new-car dealerships, says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.
"Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist still can't offer to finance a used car, so they aren't competing," he says. "Certified pre-owned vehicles set dealerships apart from Craiglist and Facebook and every other used-car site out there. If Facebook was looking for revenue, they [would] allow dealerships to post used cars on Marketplace for a fee."
But first Facebook needs to add new features and recast Marketplace's early image as a source of good used inexpensive products, such as iPhone cases, furniture and bicycles, says Brian Blum, a senior analyst who covers Facebook for AIM Group, a Florida consulting firm that tracks online advertising and interactive media.
"Marketplace doesn't have as much functionality as competitors who have been out for awhile," says Blum. "It may or may not have as many active users."
While Facebook does not share user data, Blum says, "I think the main advantage is the potential reach."
Marketplace is currently available in only the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Facebook's director of product management for Marketplace, Mary Ku, says more markets will eventually come online, but gave no timetable.
Facebook members for years have been able to use the giant social media site to buy and sell. Typically, a user would set up a page focused on a specific item, such as the Ford Mustang. Then, they'd create a user group inviting other Mustang fans to join and post ads offering parts or cars for sale or ads from users seeking parts or cars.
Those pages still exist on Facebook. And it was from those pages — and there are tens of thousands of them for all sorts of consumer products — that led Facebook to create Marketplace.
For now, Marketplace is not prominently displayed on Facebook. Some digging is required to access it. To view Marketplace ads, a Facebook member clicks "Marketplace" under the "Explore" label on the left side of the page. Items are grouped into eight categories. Ads for secondhand cars are parked under the "Vehicles & Bicycles" label. Once there, users can search the ads for vehicles. But, unlike other online used-car sites, the search area is limited to a 100-mile radius.
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