updated 6/3/2008 4:49:28 PM ET 2008-06-03T20:49:28

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has launched an online classified advertising site, a move that opens a broader range of shopping to Wal-Mart’s Internet customers.

The site is run through Oodle.com, a three-year-old San Mateo, Calif., firm, and links to Oodle’s online offerings.

“This free, community-based resource allows customers to buy and sell items locally, find local jobs and learn about events in their area,” Walmart.com spokesman Ravi Jariwala said Tuesday in an e-mail message.

Jariwala said the site expands goods and services that Wal-Mart customers can buy through the company.

“It also further connects our community of 130 million customers who shop the Wal-Mart brand each week,” Jariwala said.

Craigslist has long been considered the leader in the sector, which has seen the number of “for sale” listings surge in the down economy as more people are looking to sell items to help them make ends meet.

Oodle Chief Executive Craig Donato said he has seen significant traffic growth in the last three to four months.

“There’s lots of reasons, but I suspect one is that classified advertising is a category that will do well” when times are tough, Donato said.

Donato said Wal-Mart is a good fit for Oodle’s online classifieds because Wal-Mart has such a strong local presence in each community where it has stores. He noted that local classified purchases start online but end with an in-person meeting where cash is exchanged for an item.

“The classifieds market is undergoing a huge upheaval,” Donato said. The biggest difference is that rather than paying to run ads in a newspaper, more and more patrons are running their ads free online. He said classified advertising sounds like a “sleepy” portion of the ad sector, but it generates $30 billion every year.

The shift has created a separation between individuals taking out want ads and business classifieds for auto sales, real estate, etc.

Donato said Oodle’s business plan is to serve both of those markets by offering free ads, which appeal to individuals, and by offering premium placement to those willing to pay for it, which appeals to businesses, he said.

The shift is a large one, he said. Retailers have customarily bought ads in newspapers, not competed with them for classifieds.

“In doing classifieds, the most fundamental thing is creating some sense of liquidity for consumers,” Donato said. That comes through having lots of listings and reaching lots of potential buyers. People not finding a certain item can set it up so they get e-mails when those items are listed.

Donato says Oodle posts over 500,000 new listings daily, generated through more than 80,000 sites.

Oodle runs classifieds for numerous companies, including newspapers and TV stations and military.com, a consolidated site for the armed services.

Terms of the arrangement with Bentonville-based Wal-Mart were not released.

Oodle was founded by a group of former executives of eBay and Excite, where Donato was in charge of searches and communities.

Last year, eBay introduced its classified ad site, Kijiji, to the U.S. The company says Kijiji focuses on local areas and strives to bring people together to buy and sell items and services. The service is available in more than 1,000 cities worldwide, in addition to three other classified brands run by eBay the company said.

In 2004, eBay acquired 25 percent of Craigslist, and eBay says that the classifieds category is the company’s fastest-growing business unit.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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