A number of Facebook users recently reported seeing a new feature called “Local Market” appearing briefly in their Facebook iPhone app, sometimes in place of the “Messenger” button at the bottom center of the screen. The feature, which is only in testing but not broadly distributed, is a more structured marketplace aimed at buyers and sellers, allowing Facebook users to browse through or post items to sell across a variety of product categories like autos, appliances, furniture, clothing, household, kids, books, and much more.
For those who dug in further, they found this new section included both a “Buy” and “Sell” interface, as well as a way to search across the marketplace for particular items using keywords. Items available for sale are categorized, and include photos and prices.
Users could customize their own Local Market by selecting “collections” they wanted to follow such as “Everything Free,” “Men’s clothes,” “Top Cars,” “Dress for Less,” and others.
The option to post to Local Market also appeared when someone created a post in a local selling group on Facebook. Here, users could check that they also wanted to cross-post to “Local Market.” The informational pop-up explained, “Reach more people near you. When you post in Local Market, people who live near you will see your item in Local Market under Favourites.”
Some users told us that Local Market was only live for them for a brief time – like, around two hours. Not everyone was able to access the section, saying that, though they had the option, it spent most of its time stuck “loading.”
We understand that Local Market will be accessible through a dedicated tab on mobile as well as through a bookmark under Favorites on the desktop, which will allow users to see all items that have been posted locally in their area.
The section is being populated by pulling in items from Facebook’s “sale” groups in a given geographic region. That’s why even though the feature itself is new, some categories already had thousands of items.
These sale groups, for those unfamiliar, are one of the more popular ways people are using Facebook Groups today, as they provided neighborhoods and communities with tools to browse, search, buy and sell in an online garage sale-like format. Some people also join them just for the sake of being part of a local community.
Facebook said earlier this year that it hosts tens of millions of groups on its site and sale groups were one of the most popular categories.
It has since rolled out more tools for those groups, including a “Sell” feature that allowed members to create posts where they could add a description, set a price, and set a pick-up or delivery location. The addition, however, had the side benefit of adding more structure to what were before just text posts accompanying photos – something that could help Facebook roll out a more robust marketplace like Local Market.
The company is also testing other features for these sale groups, such as recommendations, saved searches, notifications, and other things aimed at improving the buying and selling experience for people in groups.
Assuming the Local Market becomes a public feature, it could see the social network challenging other local selling powerhouses like Craigslist, as well as, to some extent, indie marketplaces like Etsy, which has also more recently focused on connecting shoppers with local artisans and makers.
The Local Market experiment comes at a time when Facebook has been ramping up its social commerce initiatives, not only with the addition of more tools for those running sale groups, but also with the rollout of a “Buy” button and even a dedicated Shopping feed featuring items from retailers. The challenge, of course, for a site like Facebook, is that people don’t come to the network with the goal of shopping in mind. That’s why its ability to convert users to buyers is today still largely unproven and experimental at best.
But by capitalizing on the traction Facebook Groups is already seeing with regard to local sales, Facebook could find a way to angle into the online commerce space by expanding the reach of its users’ yard sale-style posts.
It could also offer a better interface for those who heavily use these selling groups, as today it’s something of a disjointed experience. I’m personally in at least a dozen nearby sale groups, which can be challenging when you’re trying to find something specific, like a coffee table or used bike, for example.
The Local Market test was spotted by a number of users who shared screenshots (and their confusion) on Twitter, and was previously reported by Adweek’s SocialTimes. The test is currently isolated to those in Auckland, New Zealand, Melbourne, and Sydney.
Facebook, when reached for comment, confirmed the Local Market test, but declined to offer a timeframe when the feature would roll out more broadly.
“We are in the very early stages of testing new ways for more people to easily discover, buy, and sell items with other people on Facebook,” a spokesperson said.
Image credits: Twitter users cited by Storify below, and Adweek.