Courtney Hammons and her husband pulled into a church parking lot in Brentwood, Tenn., near Nashville on a Sunday afternoon this month to meet the seller of a 2007 GMC Yukon they saw advertised online.
The couple were not worried about being robbed or becoming victims of the shenanigans that can happen with a vehicle purchase that originates from an online classifed ad. They had a reason for being at ease: The ad that the couple responded to was posted on Facebook via a new feature called Marketplace, which the social media giant quietly rolled out last fall.
One analyst who tracks online advertising believes that with a few improvements, Facebook, because of it reach, has the potential to be a major force in used-car sales.
Unlike with Craigslist, the Hammonses knew who they were dealing with. The seller's full name was in the ad, and they could see how long the seller had been a member of Facebook. They viewed this and other basic information before deciding to check out the vehicle.
"We met another soccer mom in a church parking lot," says Courtney Hammons. "And she said, ‘Here, drive it around and see what you think of it.' I was very comfortable with the process, and it was stress-free."
Hammons and her husband did not look at dealerships' local inventories or check other major online venues, such as Craigslist, eBay Motors, Cars.com and Autotrader. "We have a great dealership that we love, but these were very specific needs," says Hammons, who, with her husband, is a foster parent for children awaiting adoption.
Three days later, after two mechanics certified the high-mileage Yukon to be in outstanding condition, $6,500 in cash changed hands, and the big seven-seat SUV went home with the Hammonses.
The couple's purchase makes them early adopters in what could turn out to be the next major online used-car venue, and one that, because of its massive user base, has the potential to someday become the world's largest.
If just 4 percent of Facebook's 1.7 billion global users turn to Marketplace to buy and sell used cars, Facebook would pass reigning giant Craigslist, as well as Autotrader, Cars.com and eBay Motors.
For now Facebook Marketplace isn't likely going to steer many buyers away from the used-car departments of new-car dealerships, says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.
"Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist still can't offer to finance a used car, so they aren't competing," he says. "Certified pre-owned vehicles set dealerships apart from Craiglist and Facebook and every other used-car site out there. If Facebook was looking for revenue, they [would] allow dealerships to post used cars on Marketplace for a fee."