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Turning trash into treasure

A website that hosts free, user-generated classified ads has been growing in leaps and bounds

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Since yard and car-boot sales are still not very common in this country, it had never occurred to Bangkok businessman Veerapong that he could sell all the junk cluttering up his house, items which he hadn’t used for years and probably never would again. Until the day his daughter pointed to a set of golf clubs that had been leaning against the wall in one room, untouched, for ages and suggested that he should try to flog them online at a website called OLX. 

So the 56-year-old posted a detailed description of the golfing gear on www.olx.co.th as well as a photo and the price he wanted for them and was pleasantly surprised by the level of feedback. The man he eventually agreed to sell to was so eager to get his hands on the clubs that he drove all the way from Hua Hin just to pick them up.

“The buyer was a professional golfer who was looking for a particular type of driver for a student of his and mine was quite a special one that catered to his specific needs,” Veerapong explained.

Emboldened by the success of his first deal, Veerapong started offering other second-hand stuff for sale via OLX, including niche items that were likely to be difficult to dispose of — like a heavy-duty body-massaging machine that he’d only switched on once. The latter was on its way to a new home within a month of his posting an advert on OLX. Veerapong was actually contacted by several interested parties, deciding in the end to sell it to a guy whom he felt had a genuine need for the device.

“Some of the people who got in contact bargained too aggressively to get the price down and I got the distinct impression that they didn’t want the machine for themselves but were planning to sell it on to someone else,” he said.

Veerapong’s attitude towards the buying and selling of goods online has changed utterly since he has come to realise how convenient and practical a channel this is for unloading second-hand items that might still have many more years of use left in them. He insists, however, that he is not motivated by the prospect of earning some extra cash; it is the possibility of passing on unwanted objects to people who might actually derive some benefit from them that most appeals to him, he says.

When it comes to selling stuff online, OLX is just one player in a crowded e-commerce sector, but an increasingly popular one. Formerly known as Dealfish, OLX operates under the motto “turn your trash into treasure”, helping netizens find new owners for a wide range of goods including pianos, guitars and such unlikely merchandise as a “barely used” curling tongs and second-hand shoes.

Most Thais are still unfamiliar with the notion of trading in second-hand goods and so are often unsure which of their unwanted possessions might be of interest to others and what they might be worth. But, according to Tiwa York, whose job description at OLX is “head coach”, all slightly worn or used items are potentially of benefit to others. His company is eager for more people to use the free classified-ad facility, marketing itself with the slogan “just about anything can be sold on OLX” and boasting that it focuses on providing a good experience for users.

To be successful in selling stuff online, however, it might be advisable to follow three tips mentioned by Tiwa. He suggests that the description of the item for sale be short and to the point; that it be accompanied by a photo which should be a genuine image of the item and not be retouched in any way; and that the asking price must be reasonable. In addition to the latter details, sellers are also required to supply a phone number and give the postcode of their residence.

Since www.olx.co.th was launched here in September 2011 (the parent company, OLX Inc, has offices in New York City and Buenos Aires), it has attracted more than 1.1 million users offering in excess of 5.5 million items for sale. The website claims a growth rate of 400% since its inception and says it receives an average of 9 million visitors per month.

To make it even easier for sellers and buyers to pair up, there is also an OLX mobile app which supports both iOS and Android operating systems. Tiwa noted that traffic via this mobile platform in March last year was about 18% of the total, but by March this year the figure had increased to 51%. Although the popularity of the mobile platform has been growing, he noted that most posts offering items for sale originate from desktops rather than smartphones or tablets. Sellers can login via regular email or their Facebook account.

In order to protect users, a dedicated OLX team checks every item before it is uploaded to the site in order to verify that no fake or counterfeit products are being offered for sale, to weed out any spam and nip any potentially fraudulent activity in the bud. Each item can be advertised on the site for an initial period of 45 days; there is no cost for this service and extensions are allowed. Currently, there are 24 main categories of goods including fashion, mobile phones, tablets, cars, motorcycles, real estate, mother & baby, amulets and furniture.

“If you’re looking for a unique or unusual item and you haven’t managed to find it anywhere else,” Tiwa said, “our website is probably a good place to look for it.”

As of last month, OLX was available in a total of 106 countries in 40 different languages.

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