Visit eBay.fr and next to the traditional eBay homepage building blocks you will see a map of France that you can browse regionally to find local ads from sellers close to your home. If you fancy something, you can then contact and meet the seller face-to-face to see the item and agree a price. This looks completely at odds with eBay’s core values of driving price transparency through online auctions and virtually connecting buyers and sellers across the global village. Are eBay prototyping a new offering? Not quite. Actually, they are merely reacting to an unexpectedly powerful local threat.
Three years ago leboncoin.fr was created after observing that, while enjoying the online access to the dozens of offers that eBay can display for any given item search, a large number of customers would prefer to physically see and try the item before buying. The start-up made the bold assumption that there is enough truly local just-round-the-corner offer to continue meet the customer’s appetite for choice while addressing the need to see the item and meet the seller. In some respect it was an old idea: local free-ad newspapers have existed for decades. Leboncoin used the associating skill of making old with new to connect that old idea with the power of online technology.
Today it boasts 9 million free ads on its website and over 2 million daily visits. Google Trends rank them above eBay.fr who have felt compelled to react by copying what they see as a potentially disruptive innovation in a field they themselves disrupted more than 10 years ago to become the dominant player.
Of course the threat is only local at this time and eBay as a global coorporation remains immensely more powerful. But leboncoin.fr business model could be replicated in any country to become a major headache for eBay.
What next then?
eBay may well end up buying leboncoin.fr but it cannot kill a business model that others could then easily resurrect to meet what appears to be a genuine customer need for proximity.
So, it may turn out that – even if they did not come up with the idea – eBay.fr copying of leboncoin.fr is some sort of rapid prototyping of a business model that we will see eBay roll out globally in the months to come.
Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.