Developing Africa: Mobile Auction

Image  Google just released (well not just, but a few weeks ago) a new tool in Ghana, Google Trader, which is basically a marketplace for products and services for the Ghana populous.

The tool allows people to shop for and trade anything they want at their convenience through the internet. In a skype conversation with a buddy of mine… (I have the logs to prove it) I had been talking about setting up a similar system, except my idea was more of an auction system and would take advantage of the fact that more people in Ghana had mobile phones rather than computers. 

I wanted to create a platform, where Ghanaians could utilize their cell phones to trade for goods and services. There would be an exchange(barter) section as well as a cash section. The barter section would allow two people to exchange goods or services in a mutual exchange that they agreed upon. The cash section would act like any other service.

Sellers point of view:

If you were a seller, there were two methods of selling your product.

A) You could take pictures with a digital camera, upload it to a computer and then upload it to the website on the internet, or…

B) You could take the picture with your cell phone and upload it with the details to the website.

C) And for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle, Kiosks would be available, where you would be able to bring in the product you want to sell, and they take the pictures and upload the stuff for you for a small fee.

Once uploaded the user sets his start price, and how long the auction is for, and users can then bid on it. He can opt to receive questions from buyers via text, phone call or email and can respond whichever way is suitable for him. 

Once the time is up, the person with the highest bid gets in contact with the buyer and they can set up a meeting to exchange the goods. On a small scale we recommend users to check out the product before exchanging cash to ensure that the product is legitimate and not to get scammed. Once we have a large network setup and are regional, then we can open verification centers where sellers bring products in and they can be verified.

Buyers point of view:

From the buyer perspective, he is looking for a product but wants the best possible price for it. For those with computers, they can sign into the website and do a search for product “X”. They get search results which they can then sort by region, location, price, seller rating, or condition, etc.

If the buyer does not have access to a computer(which is a lot of people), or is on the go, he can send a text message to the service number with the product X and his location, and he gets a a message with listings – lets say 20 listings of product X. If he wants more he sends a reply “more” and gets 20 more. From there he can pick the one he wants and see the different information he wants. Users get a list of commands they can text to interact with the system on the backend.

After finding the product he wants to bid on, he places a bid. When he is outbid he gets a text message or email depending on his settings telling him that he has been outbid and how much time is left in the auction. Bidders can text or email questions to the seller, and specify how they like their responses (whether via text or email).

To deal with delays in text messages, so bidders don’t lose out, when there is 5 or 10 minutes left in an auction, all those who bid on the item get a text informing them that the auction is ending soon, the current bid price, and asking them to text their final bid price in. The highest bidder then wins the auction. (I think its fair this way since the person who wants it more wins the auction. Probably make it so you pay 1 cedi more than the second highest bidder).

This person gets notified that they won the auction, and then he and the buyer get into contact with each other and complete the transaction. It is in the buyers best interest to check the goods to make sure they are as advertised, so they don’t get scammed. 

How this is different from ebay:

This is different from eBay in the execution. There are only so many ways to conduct an auction, and instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ve just taken some parts of their system and customized it for a market they are not serving. Since most people use cell phones(note cell phones is different from smartphone), a cell phone heavy auction service is more likely to be used than an online service. Also while i applaud Google’s efforts, I am surprised that they did not make their tool more mobile centric.  Best form of flattery is imitation right LOL. Anyways just another idea

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