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The evolution of the classified ads: From newspaper, Internet forums to mobile-first & AI-first

Listing an item on classified has evolved from 30 hours, 3 hours, 30 second to 3 seconds.

If you wanted to buy a car or property 30 years ago, the most common way to do that would be by browsing newspapers like The Star or Malay Mail's classifieds section until something caught your eye.

For those who remember, after finding something interesting you'd typically call the phone number provided or visit the seller to complete the purchase.

With a wide circulation of newspapers back in the day, buying a classifieds ad in print was the most effective way to garner interest. As a result, classifieds were a major revenue stream for newspapers, making up as much as 40% of revenue, and driving readership.

However, from the time you decided to sell something, to getting your ad in the papers, to even closing a sale was a slow and tedious process, and it was just a matter of time before someone would reinvent the market.

The evolution of the classified ads

Classifieds and the Internet


By the late 80s to 90s, the Internet and personal computing were gaining traction around the world and revolutionizing industries, including the classifieds industry. Suddenly, a single classifieds ad could reach millions more eyeballs than any newspaper could. Websites, such as eBay and Craigslist, created online classifieds that would change the internet forever.

Craigslist was created with the basic buy and sell concept, where users would simply pay the listed price. Meanwhile, eBay took a different approach, pioneering an auction system where, users who love the idea of bargain hunting or selling their collectibles and antiques for higher prices could interact.

With the advent of the Internet, the Craigslists and eBays of the world began to eat into margins of newspaper classifieds. According to Forbes, the Management Science Journal predicted that from 2000 to 2007, Craigslist alone cost US newspapers USD5 billion in revenue and shrank their classified ad rates by 20.7%.

What's the big deal?


Evolving with the technological revolution, the classifieds industry continues to be a high-growth market across the world, as more people become comfortable with technology, and the Internet unlocking connectivity all over the world.

As we saw how print adapted to the Internet historically, in the past 10 years, we've been witnessing yet another technological leap and disruption. With the introduction of the smartphone and mobile internet, this brought hitherto unprecedented accessibility around the globe. And resulted in an explosion of mobile-based apps looking to take advantage of this connectivity and accessibility.

Mobile is undoubtedly a key driver of the classified business, especially as companies look to expand their markets and attract new users.

The new technology and its impact on user behaviour have also forced many incumbent classified businesses, even those early adopters to the Internet to adapt again. The industry is now led by app-based marketplaces with more customers accessing classified portals from their mobile phones than their desktops.

In 2012, Carousell introduced a mobile-first approach to classifieds, marking the third technology iteration of the industry.

Instead of having to turn to online forums to sell their pre-loved items, users could simply use their phones to snap a photo, add in a description and price to start selling their goods in just 30 seconds. Both the buying and selling process leveraged the native smartphone experience of taking photos and messaging.

Carousell mobile-first

Mobile-first to AI-first


Now just six years in, Carousell is already looking at how it can revamp its classifieds experience with the latest technology. Recent innovation and data collection have resulted in the proliferation of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.

These tools are designed to inform and help us make decisions better and faster by leveraging data collected about our online behaviour. We already see the impact in the AI features built into the e-commerce experience, such as recommendations for similar items when we make a purchase.

With this AI-first concept, Carousell intends to push its marketplace platform towards a "smart, convenient, community"-focused model, and pioneer a fourth technology revolution in classifieds.

Quek Siu Rui, Carousell's co-founder and CEO shared at Tech in Asia Singapore 2017 that the company envisions to reduce the time taken for users to list an item - from 30 to only three seconds.

With a presence in seven markets and almost 160 million listings globally, Carousell has already begun to leverage its sizable datasets to develop machine learning features that help its users list, sell, and buy items more easily.

The first AI powered feature suggests titles and categories for users' listings, based on the images that they upload.

The buying experience is enhanced with features such as in-app chat reply, recommender and search system, whereas spam and bad actors are sought and weeded out.

Carousell aims to continue augmenting their marketplace with more artificial intelligence features, such as pricing suggestions, visual suggestions and more.

Imagine how the process of selling that began in newspapers 30 years ago and took more than a day's turnaround could eventually be shortened to just seconds.

"Our platform and tools are a means of bringing the people together making real connections. Building it takes work on a daily basis where we constantly find ways to create new tools to continue the evolution with positive experiences. As much work as it may take, the benefits outweigh the effort, so we believe the future the industry is truly bright," said Tang Siew Wai, Country Head of Carousell Malaysia.

Tang Siew Wai, Country Head of Carousell Malaysia

The shape of things to come


Reaching out to the next generation of consumers is a perennial question companies and industries always ask. The always-connected millenials looking for convenience, is no exception. As such, digital platforms and classified sites must continue to adapt and offer the same exceptional experience no matter the screen and device they are engaging from.

As history shows us, the functionality of the platform, whether it be a website, mobile or an application together with an engaging user experience, remain key components for success in the classifieds business.

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ecInsider: The evolution of the classified ads: From newspaper, Internet forums to mobile-first & AI-first
The evolution of the classified ads: From newspaper, Internet forums to mobile-first & AI-first
Listing an item on classified has evolved from 30 hours, 3 hours, 30 second to 3 seconds.
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