Startups Vie for “Craigslist Killer” Title As Mobile Claims Focus

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on its site, in comparison to most “dehumanized” e-commerce sales, Chandra says. Users can connect with others based on their fashion sense, style, and purchase history, and the app’s algorithms help people do that, he says.

Another element that has propelled Poshmark is based in the raw capabilities of apps themselves—which illustrates why mobile is overtaking e-commerce sales. On the Web, a person might search for a couch or a sofa or a dress to buy, showing some intent to make a purchase; through a mobile app, Chandra says, algorithms are constantly using information about users to find and offer new things someone might want to buy—even if they didn’t know they wanted to buy anything.

While online advertising has incorporated user-targeting practices, it is an enhanced experience on a mobile device. Pieces of data that mobile apps pick up about a person—anything from their location to the information users provide about preferences and demographics in the app—help make the in-app experience almost like an alternate reality for the user, creating for him or her new potential desires based on what the app offers, Chandra says.

“It’s the difference between intent and desire,” Chandra says. “Mobile is constantly creating desire.”

On Poshmark, the buyer pays for shipping, which is $4.99 on all orders. Other apps, like Classy, a young bartering tool that’s focused on college students, require buyers and sellers to meet up, Craigslist-style. Classy seeks to attract a local clientele. The app allows sellers and buyers to offer and request anything from textbooks to desk chairs. Classy was the first company and mobile app to emerge last year from Blade, the Boston startup foundry led by Kayak co-founder Paul English. Users have to connect through Facebook, and when a school has at least 100 users, Classy “unlocks” that school and makes it active. Last fall, the app planned to launch with Babson College, Boston University, Harvard University, and Northeastern University.

Even though it is more established, Bonanza is only beginning to enter the app world. Harding created Bonanza in 2009 (then called Bonanzle) to be a tool that was simpler and easier to use, simultaneously more powerful and interactive than eBay, as he told Xconomy in 2010.

About a month ago, Bonanza launched a mobile app for sellers, which it plans to develop further throughout the year, according to spokesman Mark Dorsey. Shoppers are directed to a mobile version of its site, which has been optimized for smartphones since 2012.

The company has largely remained focused on building out products for its online sellers, such as an advertising platform that lets them broadcast their products through paid search engines like Google Shopping or PriceGrabber. It has added tools such as photo-editing software, Web stores for sellers, and referral programs, Dorsey says.

Creating a market to buy or sell used goods is difficult when people want to sell as soon as possible, which is tough to accommodate if you’re not the most popular market, Harding says. It can also be difficult to create a “focal point” for a local marketplace to advertise to let buyers and sellers know it exists, he says.

“There are forums for eBay sellers, which is how Bonanza managed to reach escape velocity and become one of the largest horizontal marketplaces on the market,” Harding wrote in an e-mail. “But when it comes to local, it is very difficult to target a specific user group, so you end up shouting from the rooftops about your solution and hoping that someone relevant is listening.”

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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