Report: Online Sellers Multiply, Classified Sites Benefit

Providing evidence that the Internet is fast becoming the global bazaar many have long imagined — one with the power to smash traditional barriers to commerce — a new report says one of every six online Americans has sold something on the Web.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project said about 17 percent of online American adults have used the Internet to sell something, with about 2 percent of all Web users selling something every day.

Pew also said that more Web users are turning to classified ad sites such as Craigslist to list and find items and services.

Wide Variety of Items

“Tangible items like pink Christmas trees, collectible coins, wedding dresses, automobiles and books or CDs share Web space with a myriad of intangibles including virtual weaponry and characters from online games and services including everything from finding a French tutor, a personal trainer or someone to clear your aquarium,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew and the lead author of the report.

The report, which was based on a phone survey conducted during September, underscores the increasing importance of person-to-person (P2P) commerce, something that is the foundation of community-based sites such as eBay.

Pew said the typical online seller is an “Internet enthusiast” with 23 percent of those who go online every day selling items compared to just 9 percent of those who visit the Web several times each week.

Sellers are also more likely to be broadband users, to have six or more years of experience with the Internet, to be college graduates and to be younger Web users.

Classifieds Rising

The report also identified another trend with far-reaching implications, as visits to online classified sites are surging dramatically.

Traffic to sites that display classified ads was up 80 percent in the past year, the report said, citing data from comScore Media Metrix. By contrast, the total size of the Internet audience grew by about 7 percent over that time period.

Over time, that shift could help realign the Internet and e-commerce landscape, with relative upstarts such as Craigslist and projects such as Google Base becoming more important as more users choose classifieds over auctions sites such as eBay or traditional retail outlets such as Amazon.

Pew said that an even larger number of people — 22 percent of Web users, according to its survey — have used online classified sites to sell or buy items, find jobs or to meet people. During September, 26 million Web users visited classified-related sites.

Craigslist was the top classifieds site, with its city-centric locations drawing nearly 9 million unique users during the month of September, the comScore data showed.

Changing Landscape

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said the most successful companies in rapidly expanding peer-to-peer commerce marketplace will likely be those that excel at “social classifieds.”

“The ability to connect people to each other will be the hallmark of success,” Li told the E-Commerce Times. “In a world where listings are a commodity and easily crawled, the true differentiation will be the quality of the experience.”

EBay hopes to use its strong community base to retain its supremacy in the personal selling space, a goal it underscored with its purchase of a minority stake in Craigslist last year. But eBay faces many rivals with similar goals.

“Google may have the best technology around, but its Achilles’ heel will be its lack of a robust social network,” Li added.

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