Online classifieds websites prove big hit

Newsroom 03/02/2014 | 09:30

With the number of print publications in decline, classified ads have moved online and several such websites have lately been raising a ruckus on the Romanian market, with widespread and aggressive promotional campaigns across all channels and a number of views to match. Business Review talked to several players in the field to gauge the business behind the posts.

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Big names in the field include Mercador.ro, launched in Romania in 2010, and part of Allegro Group Romania, along with other well-known online ventures such as Autovit.ro, FashionDays.ro and Compari.ro.

Allegro Group in its turn is part of multinational giant Naspers, a name that rings bells in the Romanian business environment mainly due to the takeover of local online retailer eMag and online payment processing company PayU.

Public awareness of Mercador.ro spiked in just a matter of months. In December 2013, Mercador.ro reached sixth place in the SATI (Survey of Internet Traffic and Audience) ranking of the most visited websites in Romania. By comparison, in 2012, it was in 27th position.

Furthermore, according to Google Trends, Romanians searched for the word Mercador last year 300 percent more than they did in 2012.

A market survey conducted by GfK in November 2013 on a sample of 600 people found that Mercador.ro was the most mentioned website by Romanians. In terms of awareness, the platform was in third place, the same as in 2012, and the top classifieds website.

The number of unique visitors to the platform doubled during this time while the number of posts increased threefold.

The announcements posted on Mercador.ro exceeded 1. 6 million, up 130 percent compared to 2012. Approximately 80 percent were posted by individual owners. Of the total number of posts, 365,865 were related to cars, motorcycles and boats, 256,068 were real estate deal proposals, 332,079 pertained to fashion and beauty items and services, 96,990 were from the parent & child category and 92,077 were sports and leisure announcements.

“Mercador.ro’s progress last year was due to active investments in brand promotion campaigns as well as platform optimization, which brought fast results for sellers. We have become the website with the highest number of announcements,” Cristina Gheorghitoiu, business manager at Mercador.ro, tells BR.

The Mercador.ro campaign, under the slogan “Place an announcement on Mercador, and you will find a buyer. It’s free and you can sell anything” showcases everyday people in such situations as finding a new apartment after a breakup, buying a bike to secure a date with a jogger, buying a car to “become a man” or merely acquiring a drill to annoy the neighbors. These random items stand for the wide array of things that can be found on Mercador.ro. The campaign, which included TV ads, split screens, graphic insertions, outdoor, drop mailing, direct mailing, online, and Facebook ads and banners, was created by The Geeks agency and resonated with consumers, since many potential buyers recognized themselves or their acquaintances in the characters.

When asked by Business Review what investment had gone into the promotional campaign, company representatives declined to provide details. “As on any market where there are strong players aiming for the top, fierce competition and aggressive investments are to be expected,” said Gheorghitoiu.

However, the company outlined a number of improvements made to push the website forward, including the launch of mobile applications for smartphones on Android and iOS.

“The Allegro Group behind Mercador.ro is present with announcement websites in other countries, so the platform is in continuous improvement and development. Mercador.ro users get an intuitive experience with over 50 categories and sub-categories, as well as customized filters for an easy search. (. . . ) With the delivery check service, Mercador is the first classifieds website that allows users to open packages upon delivery, following shipment by courier, so buyers can be certain they are getting the ordered product even when they cannot meet the seller face to face,” says Gheorghitoiu.

Posting a classified on the Mercador.ro website is free of charge but the seller can decide to pay to promote the ad. Therefore some the site’s revenues come from advertising sales. Depending on the category and promotion duration – which can be 7, 14 or 30 days – the price of packages can vary from EUR 2 to 7 (plus VAT). “Promoted classifieds receive six to ten times more views and naturally have higher response rates than the un-promoted ones. This is definitely a justified cost, especially when we are talking about real estate or cars,” says Gheorghitoiu.

She added, “The Romanian market is definitely one of the most dynamic in Central and Eastern Europe, but has not reached maturity yet. Apart from websites that are targeting a wider category of products such as Mercador.ro, there are also specialized classified websites such as Autovit.ro and many others.”

Last year, a total of 870,000 classifieds were posted on Autovit.ro, of which 466,018 were car announcements and the rest products from other categories: trucks, agricultural equipment, construction machines, spare parts and motorcycles.

“On the car ad market, which declined by 27 percent, the number of classifieds posted on Autovit.ro decreased by just 15 percent last year. The best month for classifieds was surprisingly December, probably due to the weather, which was warmer than usual,” said Autovit.ro officials.

Another example of successful promotion came from tocmai.ro, founded in June 2009. The main shareholder of the website is Norwegian company Schibsted, the largest classifieds website company in Europe, which runs sites in 44 countries including France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Sweden and Norway, according to tocmai.ro representatives.

“For a long time, Romanians have preferred to keep or throw away things that were no longer of use to them. We are offering them the opportunity to sell them, to recover at least some of the cost. Something that is no longer of any use to one person can be extremely valuable to another. (. . . ) Right now, we are covering all the counties in Romania and we have over 860,000 active classifieds for products and services,” Vasile Cucu, business development manager at tocmai.ro, told BR.

The promotional campaign was put together by Lowe&Parteners Romania while the PR side was handled by GolinHarris and the media component by Initiative.

“The campaign we rolled out at the end of 2013 focused on the message ‘Varu’ te rezolva’ (ed. note: meaning the cuz (cousin) will fix it for you). The project brought to the forefront Varu’, who embodies the tocmai.ro brand. The character is promoting the website at national level via print, radio snippets, TV spots, OOH, key visual, media banners, PR and Real Time Marketing. Currently, we are rolling out a campaign to strengthen the idea that Varu’ could be any of us. Anyone can solve their problem simply and easily using the website tocmai.ro, whether they wish to sell or buy goods or services,” said Cucu.

Manuela Gogu, creative director for Lowe & Partners, explains the idea behind the story: “The creative challenge was to develop a communication platform to consolidate tocmai.ro’s leader position. We used personification and starting from the basic concept of ‘I fix, therefore I exist’ we created Varu’. We were inspired by Tarantino’s visual style and we just added some contrasting local flavor. The name of Varu’ was assigned to contrast with the character’s overall appearance – we wanted to subvert what the general opinion of a ‘fix-it’ kind of guy looks like.”

According to SATI, there were over 306 million viewed pages in December on tocmai.ro. The site received over 326 million views in November and was accessed by almost 3.8 million unique visitors, making it one of the most popular websites in Romania. The number of classified ads posted increased by 70 percent compared to 2012.

“Our revenues come from selling ad space on the website and from the opportunity to promote posted classifieds,” said Cucu.

Car sales were the most popular category on the website, accounting for 30 percent of the total number of ads. In second place was real estate with 18 percent and third spot went to electronics & IT with 16 percent.

Most registered users on tocmai.ro come from Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Brasov and Constanta.

Classifieds websites such as Mercador.ro and tocmai.ro complete the picture on a market where one of the pioneers was Okazii.ro, a classifieds platform but also an online bidding website – the Romanian version of eBay.

“Okazii.ro promoted first in its own environment, online, outdoor and on the radio. Soon, we will be present on TV. The advertising budget is established annually depending on the existing needs and the situation on the market,” Radu Sitaru, CEO of Netbridge Services, tells BR.

Okazii.ro was founded in 2000 by Netbridge Services, controlled by NCH Advisors, and has reached a maximum 4.2 million unique visitors per month.

“To our knowledge, there is no such e-commerce platform as Okazii.ro, positioned between online retailers and classifieds websites, which offer virtually no protection to users,” Sitaru tells BR.

The revenues come from commission and the fees paid by sellers. Classifieds represent less than 0.03 percent of the total listings on Okazii.ro. The platform is the only auction website in Romania, even though some transactions, called instant auctions, are in fact fixed-price sales, according to Sitaru.

Fees start from EUR 0.79 and can reach EUR 1.99 per promoted product. “The revenues we posted in 2013 were 20 percent higher than the previous year. For 2014, we estimate a growth of nearly 25 percent,” said Sitaru.

The online auction website has adopted some warranties to protect its customers, such as the delivery warranty, online payment by card, a system via which users can rate each other and the verified user system. “In a nutshell, we are a mall where sellers showcase their merchandise and buyers can find nearly anything, in secure conditions that no other such website offers. (. . . ) On the market of online malls and auctions, growth will come first of all from the overall growth of the online market and secondly from the growth in sophistication of the services offered to users,” added Sitaru.

By Otilia Haraga, Diana Petrescu

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