Trade Me keeps iron grip on NZ's online market

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012

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Trade Me's grip on the online auction market is as strong as ever despite a raft of challenges from the weird and wonderfully named likes of Wheedle and Bananas4Free.

But trading online need not be like turning up every day at a monolith.

Several variations to Trade Me's site have sprung up, built using a gateway into its site known to programmers as an "application programming interface" (API).

It allows people with no formal association to Trade Me to build parallel-universe versions of Trade Me.

Trades still go through Trade Me and customers' data does not leave the auction house, but programmers can add new features and their own "look and feel" - in a similar way that Twitter is not the only website through which people can tweet.

One example of a site built using Trade Me's API is Rummage.co.nz, which presents Trade Me photo listings in a "gallery" format designed to make them better suited for browsing on the likes of tablets and touchscreen computers.

Another is BidBud.co.nz which adds extra features for more focused traders who are on a mission. BidBud lets traders quickly find "negative" feedback on one million or so active Trade Me members without having to scroll through interminable pages of smiley-faced platitudes.

It also lets buyers set up automatic bids that will only be placed at the last minute, to minimise buyers' risk of prematurely triggering a bidding war, and automatically updates auctions so there is no need to keep hitting the refresh button as they are about to close.

Its developer, Aucklander Andrew Connell, says traffic to BidBud has risen to about 600 visitors a day since he launched the site in September. "I think it's ready for a little more."

Perhaps the most sophisticated use of the API is by Parkandauction.co.nz which provides a way for Wellingtonians to display their cars to buyers while selling them on Trade Me.

Owner Graeme Farr says the idea is to combine the benefits of a traditional car fair with those of online trading.

Sellers park their cars at a lot on the former Bowlands site near Petone on State Highway 2 (opposite Farr's Car Giant used-car dealership) and Trade Me members can come along, inspect the vehicles and bid virtually through their smartphones or internet terminals that are provided on site. Finance, AA inspections and title checks are also all available.

There is space for 500 vehicles on the lot but Farr expects the first auction, on January 7, may only feature a few cars and says it could take a month or so to see whether Park and Auction takes off. The company has done some nifty things using the API. For example, its software automatically converts the closing time of participants' auctions so they will finish a minute apart during a two-hour window between noon and 2pm on Sunday, to try to create a "buzz" at the lot.

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Farr says it won't charge a commission on top of Trade Me's fees for a seller's first auction or for any $1 auctions, but otherwise fees of up to $50 per vehicle apply.

Farr is looking for an operator to extend Park and Auction to a 30,000-square-metre site in Albany, Auckland, with space for 1500 cars and it could go nationwide. "They need to be scaled up for larger populations. The way the search function works is via the Trade Me regions - so we can have one franchise per region."

Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford says about 900 sites and services have been built using its API. But they come and go and only about 100 of those are currently active.

While Park and Auction is designed to be a money spinner, Ford says many programmers have developed sites and features using the API just to "get noticed", either by Trade Me itself or by others looking for talented developers.

That strategy worked for Christchurch-based Tradevine. It used the API to develop software that lets retailers sell products through Trade Me and their own websites while keeping a single view of their inventory. The company was bought out by Trade Me in August for less than $2 million.

"Sometimes people build applications with our API to scratch a particular itch they may have and are not motivated by riches or glory," Ford says.

"Either way, we're keen on seeing what smart Kiwi developers can come up with." Other "third-party" services built using the API include:

PASSTHEPARCEL.CO.NZ

Developed by courier company Post Haste with the frequent seller in mind, this website lets traders arrange and track the delivery of items they have sold on Trade Me.

Sold items are displayed within their Pass the Parcel account. If the buyer has given their delivery address via Trade Me, this is also automatically imported, so sellers don't need to rekey that information when they click a button to arrange for its collection by Post Haste.

GRABAMATCH.COM

Grabamatch is one of several services that uses Trade Me's API to let people log on to its service using their Trade Me password and logon- in this case to arrange tennis matches with people they may not know.

That saves people having to remember a new set of credentials or worry about the site's security.

The free service has been used by 574 members to arrange 1127 tennis games in eight countries. After the game, players load the results of the match and take their place on an online "ladder".

Developer Anton Koukine has a couple of other commercial sites that integrate with Trade Me, car information site Carjam.co.nz and Spoof.co.nz, which is aimed at property investors.

WESTPAC'S HOMECLUB

Westpac is one of the few big corporates to have seen potential in the API. The HomeClub section on the bank's website lets Trade Me members import the details of houses that are on their "watchlists" and then call up a free valuation from QV, check actual sales prices of homes in the vicinity and see how much they could borrow from the bank.

MYSTERYBOX

A frivolous piece of fun, this lets people use a "bot" - an automated software tool - to buy items under a set value at random from Trade Me.

Developed by former Waikato University student Paul Hunkin, now working in Africa Mysterybox is one of the 800 services developed using Trade Me's API that fell by the wayside but not before Hunkin's bot netted him a stash of Korean pottery, some spinach seeds and a Casio girl's watch.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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