With online fraud and scams a fact of life in China, the main selling point of 58.com (WUBA.US), a Craigslist-like classified advertising portal in the mainland, is a stringent verification process to ensure the creditworthiness and reliability of vendors and service providers on the platform.
58.com does not focus on any single sector; preferring instead to touch upon almost every important aspect of everyday life. Some people use the site to find jobs and apartments, others search for things such household help, furnishing service, a wedding organizer or package tours. Want a pet or a second-hand car? No problem, 58.com has plenty of choices on its platform.
With a whole variety of small companies or mom-and-pop outlets catering to such basic needs, finding someone trustworthy is always a hassle.
“We have to assume that 5 percent of the population are bad guys,” 58.com’s founder Yao Jinbo said during a recent Boss Town television business talk show. To reduce the chance of users getting cheated, 58.com has spent a lot of time and efforts on researching the characteristics and patterns of dubious vendors.
Some pet vendors feed drugs to their animals to make them appear very active and boost their appeal to prospective buyers. But once a customer makes a purchase, a pet could die soon due to the after-effects of the drugs. In other malpractices cited by Yao, the fur is often dyed to make the pets look more attractive.
Wary about such fraud, 58.com personnel try to identify dubious vendors in different trades and bar them from doing business on the site. Customer complaints are another source of the blacklist once verified.
Vendor reliability is a key factor behind the company’s rapid growth, which booked revenue of US$100 million in the first nine months of 2013. That compares with a full-year revenue of just US$10.7 million in 2010.
58.com turned marginally profitable in recent quarters but its shares have more than doubled in two months after its debut on the NASDAQ. Another reason behind the enthusiasm for the small-cap firm is the perceived room for business expansion.
There are tens of millions of small businesses in China, but 58.com now only has 300,000 paying merchants on its site, leaving plenty of scope to boost its penetration rate. Many people still advertise in the classified sections of newspapers, hand out flyers or stick their ads on lamp posts rather than tapping the internet channel.
58.com’s call center acts as a bridge by posting ads on the site for the little guys and keeps those postings regularly updated. To lure newcomers, there is a one- to two-month free trial period.
“Our target is to generate 30,000-50,000 yuan of business for the client for every 3000-5000 yuan they spend [on buying promotion banners],” Yao has said, insisting that businessmen will be more than happy to invest more as long as they can see the returns.
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