Chinese Craigslist Clones Are in Trouble, But Not Dead.

by -
4

image:itasky.com

I did a moving sale two months ago, putting up all the stuff on Ganji.com, one of the leading classifieds sites in China. A handful of calls came in immediately after those entries was created and everything was sold out in one day. Later I kept receiving calls from users of 58.com, Ganji’s direct competitor which one I also planned to use when I didn’t know stuff can be sold out so swiftly. It’s hard to imagine the two sites scraping each other’s content given the fierce competition between the two. It just reminded me of the Craigslist-Padmapper lawsuit that happened in the past July– Craigslist sued the apartment-hunting app for using its listings.

Well, that’s not a big deal, as those Chinese Craigslist clones have much else to worry about. In fact, the moving sale went more smoothly than I expected for I heard those sites were kind of in trouble.

Ganji and 58 are of the very few that stood out of thousands of Craigslist clones in China. But this year seems not a good year for both of them. It was found that the traffic on both was declining. Reports show that the two sites are not capable figuring out fake listings and prevent frauds from happening. Though lawyers don’t think they are responsible for those issues, but users would take it as a concern. What’s more pressing to the two sites must be profits.

58 made $40mn in revenue in 2011 but made a net loss of $70-90mn, according to multiple reports(article in Chinese). The loss was mainly due to the $80mn worth of campaigns. Ganji claimed to had made a similar number of revenues and was estimated to spend less in the ad war between the two.

58 has two major revenue sources, premium subscriptions and merchant-facing advertising, with each representing about half of the total revenues. Ganji made revenues from advertising and customized merchant-facing services.

Ganji first broke even in 2009. But later the two direct rivals started investments race, and, spending race. Ganji raised a total of $95mn in three rounds; 58 also went through three rounds that totals $120mn, according to their announcements and multiple reports (58 confirmed series D in March 2012, but didn’t disclose the exact number).

Venture capital fueled ad buys. In early 2011, Ganji launched a massive campaign, hiring the most popular celebrity on Sina Weibo, through traditional advertising channels, TV, outdoors, subways and buses. Ganji CEO was satisfied with it. 58 felt they had to follow suit, producing ads starring one of the most famous female actress and spending even bigger.

Expanding everywhere, both sites rolled out dating products, group-buying services, among others. Like many others, the two sites got stuck in group-buying. It is said Ganji invested 100mn yuan into it. 58 CEO admitted that their group-buying division was losing 10mn yuan ($1.6mn) every month. There were reports on 58′s refusing to refund as promised. Finally Ganji invited 55tuan to run the group-buying service for them; 58 integrated it into the platform it’s trying to build.

Both companies revealed intent to go public — few other choices for investors to exit. In 2010, 58 CEO was satisfied with the performance of his company, saying they’d go public in the second half of 2011. Ganji CEO indicated at the end of 2011 that they’d wait for a longer time.

Now they are working on avoiding direct competitions. 58 is trying to build an end-to-end trading platform, introducing third-party payment systems and logistics services, to enable merchants and consumers finish deals online. Its CEO said they’d not take commissions in three years and would pay the fees charged by third-party payment services for merchants, which means they need much more money to run the platform. The company wants to have all local stores or services to set up online stores there. Ganji is focusing on Mayi (ant in English), a short-rent apartment service.

After all those years, they are far from Craigslist model. Craigslist never did a redesign, made estimated $115mn in revenue in 2011 with only 32 employees. You know what? 58 has seven thousand employees; Ganji has two thousand. Big sales teams don’t make a lot of Chinese internet companies look like tech companies. Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, has more than seven thousand sales people.

Baixing, another well-known classifieds service founded by a former Google China executive, may be the only one left that is close to Craigslist model and keeping a 30-employee small team. To avoid direct competition with 58 or Ganji, Baixing is targeting smaller cities. It has a group of loyal users, but at the moment most Chinese may not know about it, for they may remember well the celebrities in the ads of 58′s or Ganji’s.