Feature

Sharp Shooter

The online classifieds market is tough with its millions of users unwilling to pay; OLX may have an answer

Vishal Koul

There was a time when one of the most read sections in a newspaper wasn’t really the front page. Everyday, millions of aspirants — young and old — would crouch over the black and white pages, circling ads, hoping to land the right job. In India, these classifieds started as ads from ‘patent’ medicine manufacturers, or chemists, as we know them today. And they were introduced out of necessity, to keep a certain Calcutta-based newspaper running. 

But like most services and innovations, advertising flourished with higher spending power. No one can deny that today, ads are annoyingly omnipresent and almost intrusive. So much so, that we even pay for services to block ads. Over a century since the first classified, the industry has come a long way from ‘wanted cashier’ listings to selling and buying almost everything — even a human-sized hamster wheel — with just a few clicks. While the US had Craigslist — now a billion dollar giant — there was no major online-classifieds player in India till a decade ago when OLX and Quikr entered the scene. Launched in 2008, OLX India is owned by the OLX group, a global online marketplace under the South African internet and media group, Naspers. OLX is a profitable classifieds business in several countries, including Russia and Poland. And India is among its top growth markets, although it has proven to be a difficult one.

The Great Indian Challenge 

OLX kicked off its business on the premise that, once it markets itself as a platform for buyers and sellers to come together, business will happen. “We spent quite a lot on branding. Therefore, awareness about the brand increased immensely,” says Sushil Kumar, general manager, OLX India. But that wasn’t enough. Business didn’t come through as anticipated. “If you consider mature markets in Europe and the US, classifieds and e-commerce have grown in tandem,” informs Kumar. In India, however, while the internet penetration is around 350 million users and monthly active users (MAUs) of e-commerce stands at 170 million, and classifieds only attract 50 million (See: Classifying the OLX).

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