Flippity Online Shopping Tool Zeroes in on Local Deals
By Greg Holden
I need a sofabed, and I don't want to pay full price. Naturally, I turn to the Web: I find 25 sofabeds in my area on Craigslist. But I can't see photos with the listings, and I'm not sure where each item is located until I click on the description. When I "shop local" on eBay, I find 134 sofabeds within 25 miles of my zip code. But they all seem to be new, and very few are what I would call "affordable."
Enter Flippity, a service that scans eBay for items near a zip code and provides prices, thumbnail images, and locations for each item (see below). Pass your mouse pointer over an image, and you see a close-up photo instantly. With Flippity, I found only 36 sofabeds within 15 miles of me. But the items were from individuals, and some were in my own neighborhood. The results were better quality, especially since some were being offered for as little as $85.
Flippity is the brainchild of Romy Maxwell, a 30-year-old computer science major, motorsports enthusiast and entrepreneur who, like me, frequently scours the Web for bargains on sites like Craigslist.
Maxwell was looking for motorcycles in his local area (Los Angeles). "I loved Craigslist, but I started to wish for more from the interface," he says. "After seeing some visual mashups like PadMapper.com, I decided to write my own."
While studying for his college degree, his older brother took Romy out of college to run a few businesses with him. He created the site Warcraft Replays (now WCReplays.com), which has grown to include 100,000 users in just three months. So he knows something about creating Web sites that people want. When he created his own mashup Flippity in late 2009, which helped shoppers locate items for sale in a particular geographic area, it turned out to be well-received by Craigslist users. But Craigslist itself proved hostile to the idea and Maxwell decided to take his utility elsewhere.
"Since then I have ported the site over to eBay and am starting to get some positive feedback from the eBay community," he says. "It turns out that with 100 million eBay listings, there's a local market pretty much everywhere."
Flippity is easy to use: you type a word or phrase in one box, a zip code in another, and press a search button. The site scours eBay's current listings for items within a certain distance of that zip code. When I searched, the default radius was 150 miles, but by simply moving a slider left or right I could adjust that distance interactively. As I made the distance smaller, the number of items for sale matching my keywords went down accordingly.
You might think Flippity would be popular with shoppers who are trying to locate hard-to-ship items such as cars or home appliances. But Maxwell says most of the items bought using Flippity have been small. That doesn't mean they are inexpensive: the first item sold through Flippity was a $700 power saw.
"This will be an interesting experiment because people don't think of eBay for local shopping," he comments. "Not only that, but eBay is the only company I can think of that can compete with Craigslist on the local level."
Maxwell reports that eBay has received his service positively. It's only been online since late March. A few blogs mentioned his service, and he says that as a result, more than 70 items were sold with Flippity's help, grossing about $2,000 for the sellers. At the request of some PowerSellers, he has added a feature that gives eBay Store owners a URL that displays their items exclusively on Flippity. The idea is that giving buyers the ability to pick their merchandise up in person will make them more likely to push the Buy button. If Maxwell can just find a Mazda Miata for the right price, he'll push the Buy button, too.
"Flippity is an experiment to see if people can adapt eBay's market for local use," says Maxwell. "Buyers get all the benefits of a face-to-face transaction. Granted, most of the benefit is on the buyer side, but sellers who are also friendly to local sales can also use Flippity to eliminate fraud, PayPal fees, problem buyers, and shipping hassles. So there are definitely benefits on both sides."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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