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Gumtree comes of age

25 June 2018 | By Pip Brooking

The classified ads platform is bigger that many people think – but the older it gets, the faster it gets, says UK MD Matt Barham

Gumtree has turned 18. And in many ways the classified ads platform has come of age – with moves afoot to make it stronger and safer as it targets continued growth.

Already, one in three adults in the UK use the platform every month. But Matt Barham, UK Managing Director, wants it to become a top 10 digital destination in the country.

He’s quick to focus on the importance of relevance, arguing that it is this that has given Gumtree the staying power to date. “18 years is a quite long time for a technology business,” he adds.

But far from the niche of helping Antipodeans settle in London during the dotcom era, its latest advertising campaign highlights how relevant Gumtree is to everyone as their lives evolve, their needs change and they have goods to buy and sell.

“We see users of different guises. There are hobbyists, there are treasure hunters, there are bargain seekers. People engage with Gumtree in different ways, but we’re helping them waste less and share more.”

But these consumers are also demanding ever better experiences online and Gumtree’s marketing push is just the tip of the iceberg of the work that is being done to update the platform.

Focus for growth

Barham himself was appointed to his current position in November 2017, just as the company – part of the eBay Classifieds Group – unveiled a new strategy focusing on growth areas in the business.

“We launched the new jobs platform in November so we could offer a much more tailored experience for both job seekers and recruiters,” he explains. He points to the growth of the more transient job market of the gig economy – where the opportunities feel quite at home on Gumtree.

“We looked long and hard around how best to create a step change in the user experience,” he says. For speed, it partnered with one of the market leading software providers, Madgex, to do so.

More recently it has combined forces with eBay to strengthen their car sales. Car dealers now only need to post on one to appear on both platforms. “It just made a lot of sense for us,” says Barham.

Already about 69 per cent of vehicles sold privately online are advertised on Gumtree, but by adding the eBay brand and reach Barham is confident the two can shake up what has been a relatively stagnant market.

“The classifieds model has an opportunity to evolve and to leverage technology in new ways to create a much better experience,” he explains.

The drive for trust

For Barham, use of technology should always make things simpler for the user and provide them with a more personalised experience. But as a platform that essentially connects consumers offline, Gumtree suffers from its fair share of scammers – and technology is playing an important role here too.

“We’ve seen a real need to help our users understand who they are dealing with,” says Barham. In March, the site launched user ratings. And importantly, he adds, around 70 per cent of the 4,000 ratings received during a beta test were five-star.

“It supports more of the trust and transparency that we’re looking to drive,” explains Barham. “I think it’s fair to say we’re constantly working on this.”

Last year, Gumtree produced a report with the University College of London and Warwick University on the psychology of scamming, with the aim of helping the industry better understand how and why scammers work and better educate people around creating a better, safer online experience. It also has teams of people working in support functions looking to prevent fraud or other bad experiences – screening ads, looking for inaccuracies, and driving best practice.

“With millions and millions of people engaging on our platform, there are going to be activities on there that we need to work hard to manage,” Barham says.

A positive role

But he also emphasises the importance of industry connections, talking to government and other agencies to tackle the cyber security challenge that all online businesses have in common.  

For example, Gumtree is contributing to conversations around the government’s Digital Charter, which is looking at the regulations needed to encourage new technologies, provide stability for businesses and generate trust among the public.

“We are fuelling the UK’s economy as part of the sharing economy. The government and the consumer wins in that. But do people recognise how big Gumtree is? We need to tell our story, fly the flag for what we do deliver, and open the doors that bit wider. Because we’ve been around ages, people think they know us. They do not.”

Barham is particularly keen to get across that, although it is a technology business with users generating their own content and interacting with each other, he doesn’t want Gumtree to become a faceless business.

Maintaining investment in the customer support team and direct interactions with both users and advertisers will be just as important as investing in technology as the business scales, he says.

“Even though we’ve reached our 18th year, our pace of evolution is greater than it’s been ever. We haven’t seen an 18-month period quite like it in Gumtree – and it seems to be that the older we’re getting the faster we’re getting,” he adds.

To continue to thrive in the digital world, it’s a trait all technology businesses needs to adopt. 

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