Today, a friend forwarded me post from The Digital Daily by John Paczkowski titled "eBay Q4: Letting Go of a Very Successful Past" that prompted me to the topic of why I believe Bonanzle is the "Heir Apparent" to eBay. World-wide household name that it is, eBay's crown as the king of online auctions and a global community marketplace has tarnished considerably over the last year, creating a mass-exodus of sellers, powersellers, and buyers. The spurious new policies of the colossus are plethoric- increased seller's fees; censorship of seller feedback on buyers; weak fraud protection; impossibly stringent regulation of seller ratings; arbitrary enforcement of certain listing policies; unfair limitations on shipping charges in certain categories; preferential treatment for large business entities and corporations; strictly limited payment options; an numerous other changes that have spawned nicknames including Feebay, Greedbay and Fleabay.
This disenchantment with eBay prompted a seller's revolt of sorts, beginning with the boycott of 2005 leading to the creation of 'Powersellers Unite', a site dedicated to eBay alternatives. While there is no clear major victor in the crusade to wrest the mantle and scepter of the Auction Titan, Bonanzle is poised to become the 'Next Big Thing' in the small to medium seller online marketplace, and it isn't even an auction site!
Why Bonanzle?, you may ask. It has a kind of funny name, a similar front page look to eBay, and a site motto that might allude to 'mostly weird stuff' ("FIND EVERYTHING BUT THE ORDINARY"). Well, to quote Bonanzle founder Bill Harding's Mission statement: "Bonanzle's goal is to be the simplest marketplace online, with an upbeat community that makes buying and selling fun again." That simple statement, along with Feebay's blatant disregard for those who have made them so much money has been the reason why so many ex-sellers of the titan have migrated over to Bonanzle.
I first heard of Bonanzle after reading the response to an article by investment mavens The Motley Fool titled "5 Stocks You May Be Thankful For" where they foolishly touted eBay as a good buy back on November 6, 2008. (Later on toward the end of December, the Motley ones reversed course with a much gloomier outlook for eBay in "The Fall and Fall of eBay".) It wasn't the article but the response to the article that piqued my interest; it was the very first time I heard of this Bonanzle place (with a direct link to the site no less), but certainly not the last. I decided to check it out myself, and after reviewing the site's policies, and scouring their community forums (where many ex-eBayers held sway), I decided that Bonanzle had a lot of potential and I had nothing to lose. My eBay sales had been steadily declining and their policies were putting a stranglehold on my financial future. With the economic downturn being such as it is, to go down with a sinking ship seemed the least prudent of all my options.
Bonanzle bases their marketplace concept on on 'stores', or 'booths' as they call it, where individual sellers set up shop for the items they sell. Booths can be merchandise-uniform (similarly themed and /or typed merchandise) or as varied as stuff you might find in an eclectic garage sale. Some booths have only a handful of items, while others have thousands. Bonanzle has some significant advantages for both buyers and sellers- no listing fees; payment options that include the acceptance of Google Checkout, money order, Paypal, or cash; the ability for a seller to import their items to offers a Bonanzle from eBay or Craigs List; simple 'One Page' item listing; a built-in realtime chat feature where you can talk to sellers live in their stores; the ability to display four separate pictures for each item listing for free (with a cropping tool included); the ability for buyers to haggle over prices by process of offer and counter-offer; a simple structure of final value fees far less than eBay; GREAT, EFFICIENT and TIMELY technical support, and a community of welcoming and caring people who aren't too self-absorbed with their own enterprises to offer assistance, praise and encouragement.
Bonanzle has only been in existence since June, 2008, a relatively short period of time for any major online enterprise. (How long did it take eBay and Craigs List to reach any degree of popularity ?) When I first came aboard in November 2008, Bonanzle had in the vicinity of 10,000 registered members. As of this writing, Bonanzle has over 20,000 registered member and is poised this week to break the million mark in the amount of items listed. These listings are NOT of "test' or bogus origins either, a practice that eBay was notorious for in order to inflate their listing statistics. Granted, some of the Bonanzle items may be "freebies' (some item you can get from a seller if you buy something from them for a price), but this accounts for a very small percentage of items overall, and is still real.
One unique concept Bonanzle has implemented is the use of a short-term sale event called a BONANZA. Kind of like a 'Blue Light Special', Bonanzle booth owners schedule a sale where many of their items are marked way down for only a few hours. If done correctly, this can generate a lot of excitement and a huge buying frenzy. Since Bonanzas are scheduled well in advance, you can always peruse the Bonanza list and time your visit to the booth of your choice appropriately. You can also be assured that a seller will actually be present in the booth to answer any questions you have in real time during a Bonanza.
Some Bonanzle sellers have also begun to experiment with holding their own auctions. Unlike the eBay auction, an impromptu Bonanzle auction doesn't last a week, and is usually a fast and furious affair. Depending on attendance and preparation, a Bonanzle auction can either be a riot or a dud. It is unclear whether Bonanzle will ever incorporate any permanent auction feature on the site. Right now, the trend seems to be geared towards downward pricing rather than upward pricing, and a number of members are opposed to the auction format taking over, fearing another 'Greedbay'.
To its credit, Bonanzle's marketing plan does not involve throwing huge sums of moolah into conventional advertising channels. Rather, they use a grassroots, word-of-mouth growth strategy. Bonanzle reward incentive for the top six or so members who invite the most users. (I was the recipient of one of those awards last month, and I'm still deciding how I'm going to spend my gift certificate.) Also, the Bonanzle team has been very effective at getting media coverage in such places as CNN and the like. Members are encouraged to do their own promotion, and Bonanzle's advice and assistance in this helps facilitate a seller's booth being listed with Google Products Search, and other promotional ideas involving social network sites and blogs that are investments of time as opposed to money. The Bonanzle community also offers promotional advice in their forums, and the forums can also be used as a way to promote one's business within the site.
Still, Bonanzle is not quite 'there' yet. In the uncertaintity of the economic climate, sellers struggle to sell, and buyers are hesitant to buy. No new enterprises have any assured sustainabilty and growth (except for maybe repo services, storage facilities and pawn shops) and the ability to 'hold on' while a new enterprise grows will put many to the test.
In the long run, nobody really knows what the future holds for Bonanzle, or other online marketplaces. As long as eBay continues their trend of seller alienation and buyer confustication as promoted by the current regime, their future remains dubious. While Bonanzle continues to experience exponential growth with a shopping environment that's really pretty cool, there is a lot of potential as long as it stays fun and a good, no hassle place to buy and sell. Granted, it won't satisfy everyone's needs, but then again, what ever does?