By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 10:54 am
Who would you rather buy something from–a shadowy stranger or a person with a well-established, positive online reputation? A new online marketplace called Copious that’s launching today is betting that just about everybody would opt for the latter. And it aims to shed light on its buyers and sellers by tying together their activities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social venues so you know a bit about them before dough exchanges hands.
Copious members will be able to connect their Facebook and Twitter profiles and any blogs they operate to their Copious accounts, allowing other members to see friends in common and check out relevant activities outside of the service. For example, you might feel more comfortable buying a high-ticket item from a friend of a friend, or getting a wristwatch from someone who operates a wristwatch blog. (The version of the service that’s launching today is marked as a beta and feels like a work in progress: I didn’t see any way to hook my profile up to Twitter or blogs.)
The service also lets sellers market themselves and their wares by offering buyers optional discounts if they push links to items out over Facebook or Twitter, and/or follow the seller. Pretty clever, but if the service is a hit, I hope it doesn’t result in a torrent of Copious spam on social networks.
To give sellers another reason to list on Copious rather than on eBay or elsewhere, the service doesn’t charge a fee for listing a product. (Instead, it takes a flat 10% commission on items that sell.) And it aims to give buyers some peace of mind by collecting their payment–and then, in an escrow-like move, holding onto it and not releasing it to the seller until the buyer has received the product and verified that it’s A-OK.
The idea here isn’t completely new. For instance, the Facebook Marketplace, which is powered by Oodle, lets you judge sellers and buyers based in part on their Facebook presences. But when I was briefed on Copious by one of its founders, he laid out an ambitious vision.
As Copious’s very name suggests, online marketplaces like this can only succeed if they’ve got a wealth of products, sellers, and buyers. The service is just getting going, so it doesn’t have that yet. (Handbag are relatively plentiful, but I only saw four items under Electronics, and none under Books.) It’s impossible to judge Copious’s potential until it’s had a chance to attract more members and get more listings. Assuming it does–for every thriving modern-day Web marketplace like an Etsy, there are far more that never gain critical mass.
I do like the concept, though. One of the reasons I do less buying and selling on eBay than I once did is because the service has gradually hidden a lot of information about users that was once public, making it feel less like a community of humans and more like a giant vending machine. If Copious feels like a place where dependable people buy from dependable people–and it builds up a massive array of stuff for sale–it has a shot at success.