EBay Brings its Free Classifieds Village to the U.S.

EBay has quietly brought its classifieds site Kijiji to the United States, where when and if it gains its footing, it could compete with free classifieds site Craigslist. Kijiji, which has had an international presence since it launched in February of 2005, will offer advertising opportunities later this year.

The service allows users to post free ads in a variety of standard classifieds categories such as jobs, personals and autos, and also features events postings and community features like forums and chats. As of yet everything is free, but paid advertising is on its way, according to Jose Mallabo, an eBay spokesperson.

“There is no advertising on the site today. We’ll be turning that on before the end of summer,” he said.

While eBay has operated the classifieds site in countries including Canada, Taiwan, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, and more than 20 other markets, it decided the user interface was finally good enough to expand to the U.S., according to Mallabo.

“We’re using the same UI that we used internationally. Cost-effectively being able to leverage that is sort of why we came to the U.S., in addition to the fact that it’s still the largest e-commerce business in the globe,” said Mallabo.

Although Kijiji, which means “village” in Swahili, now covers 200-plus communities in the U.S., eBay decided against promotion and has relied on word-of-mouth to bring it to users’ attention so far. That will change once eBay chooses an advertising partner sometime within the next four to six weeks, and starts “keywords and advertising online, as well as direct marketing campaigns,” said Mallabo.

The move into the U.S. market with a community-based classifieds site does put eBay in competition with the predominant free listings site, Craigslist, Mallabo admitted. Still, he said the firm is competing with all listings services, and noted there is a lot of growth potential in the overall market.

Three years ago, eBay bought a 25 percent stake in Craigslist. However, since then “[eBay] is being held at arms-length by the Craigslist management, and there [are] no direct ties with the Craigslist management, so they might as well go off and do their own thing,” said Peter Krasilovsky, associate with the Kelsey Group, an analyst firm.

EBay has no plans to link Kijiji to its auction service, or to its PayPal online transaction system. As for a connection between Kijiji and Craigslist, Krasilovsky believes there will be no merger of the two anytime in the future, adding the two sites do not compete on the most heavily-used online classifieds segments of real estate, automotive and recruitment.

“Everybody is watching eBay for what its next steps are going to be. We’ve all been watching eBay for how it’s going to grow into the local space. My takeaway from this is eBay is taking more of a baby step in this direction, and this is not a major launch of something new that is going to transform the company over the next year or so,” he said.

Kijiji runs other international classifieds sites, including Marktplaats.nl in The Netherlands, Spain’s Loquo and Gumtree in England, Australia and New Zealand.

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