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Facebook launches Marketplace to let you buy and sell items with nearby users

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Marketplace will replace Messenger on Facebook's app

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Facebook is getting more deeply involved in e-commerce with the launch of Marketplace, its new user-to-user exchange for buying and selling goods with others in your community. The company says Marketplace — which launches this week in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand — is an evolution of an existing behavior on the social network. Up to 450 million people already use Facebook to buy and sell used goods every month, mainly through its groups feature, according to project manager Bowen Pan. With Marketplace, Facebook is now giving users a more formal process to conduct these exchanges.

The icon for Marketplace should over the next few days replace the Messenger icon in the center of the bottom row on Facebook’s mobile app. Tapping it takes you to an algorithmically generated home page of items Facebook believes you’d be interested in. This is based on the pages you’ve liked and, after some time, any of your viewing, buying, or selling activity within Marketplace. You can message the seller of any item and also place an offer of your choosing. To sell an item, you simply upload a photo, set a name, description, and price, and confirm your location.

Facebook says 450 million people already use its site to buy and sell items every month

The rest is rather simple. You can browse categories of items and get a list of nearby listings, or search for an item and expand the radius of your query to cover a larger distance. You can also change your location to find items in other cities or regions. Facebook wants Marketplace to feel like a mobile-first initiative. There is no desktop feature as of now; Pan says it’s in the works. But focusing on smartphones at the onset helps the selling and browsing process feel more natural on a mobile app.

"We saw a lot of people were really just looking at coming to Marketplace without necessarily anything in particular they were looking for," Pan says. "They were just on Marketplace to casually browse through. This really mirrors an offline experience where you can go to a Sunday market or maybe the mall. You don’t know exactly what you want but you want to browse." In that sense, Marketplace feels like a hybrid between eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon.

This e-commerce territory is fertile ground for Facebook. The company does not plan on charging a fee to conduct transactions, which gives it an edge over those competing services. Instead, Facebook gains what it has always been most hungry for: users’ precious eyeballs and more of their time each and every day. If people start turning to Marketplace, especially just to browse for stuff they may or may not need, that’s another way to keep people hooked on the company’s mobile app and in turn drive advertising earnings. Around 84 percent of Facebook’s overall revenue is generated from smartphone users, and as of July the company has more than 1 billion daily active users on mobile.

With the introduction of a user-to-user exchange comes some necessary concerns about privacy and safety. Of course, Facebook does not condone transactions of illegal items like drugs or explosives. It also bans the sale of firearms, animals, and alcohol, among other things. These rules apply with Marketplace as well. Yet in terms of safety and financial security, Facebook does not have the same kinds of protections or guarantees as, say, eBay. All sales are handled offline and by users themselves.

Facebook does not have the same protections as eBay

"We have built the tools to allow our community to report on any items that may violate our policies," Pan says. "It has well as a whole host of flags that people that can put out for people that may not be acting in the best faith. Once we see a flag, we have a team that will promptly review these and take action." Still, Facebook won’t take responsibility if you get ripped off, and it certainly will not get involved if someone decides to assault you and steal your item at the designated meeting place.

To assuage those kinds of fears, Facebook is leaning on its anti-anonymity stance. "People on Facebook represent their real selves," Pan says. "We think knowing who you’re transacting with is very important." Marketplace will also glean some additional information from your profile if you’ve decided to list an item of your own sell. That way, potential buyers can see information like your general location and how long you’ve been on Facebook.

The company hopes these bits of info will act as indicators of good faith, considering it’s difficult to create a new account with a fake name. This early on, however, whether people trust other Facebook users when conducting this kind of business will depend not on the company’s best efforts, but on the intentions of other users and the quality of the stuff they’re trying to sell.