How did Kijiji run circles around Craigslist in Canada?

Kijiji logoWhen it comes to free classifieds, Craigslist pretty much owns many of the top cities around the globe. But not in Canada, where Kijiji stands out as the clear leader with three times the traffic as Craigslist. According to the web rankings site Comscore, Kijiji is the 9th most visited website in Canada with close to 10 million monthly visitors; Craigslist is all the way down at #20.

How did Kijiji – a division of EBay Classifieds – become so dominant across Canada?  We spoke to Kijiji’s general manager for Canada, Zac Candelario. A key factor, he explains, was being at the right place at the right time.

While Craigslist was already all over the U.S. by 2005, the year Kijiji launched in Canada, Craig Newmark’s category killer hadn’t yet traveled over the northern border in a big way. And the closest Canadian free classifieds competitor, LesPac, was active just in French Canada, primarily Quebec.

“When we launched, there was still space in the market,” Candelario says. “Over time we were able to build up a lot of unique inventory – for-sale-by-owner cars, goods for sale – and people liked it. The user interface was simple, it was easy to post and it was free.”

Indeed, comparing Kijiji’s user experience with Craigslist isn’t entirely apples to oranges, but it’s close. Right out of the gate, Kijiji has had an appearance that straddles the simplicity of Craigslist and more mainstream paid classified listing sites. Once Kijiji was entrenched in the market, Craigslist – which still staunchly refuses to iterate, even today – couldn’t compete, Candelario says.

But where was Craigslist in Canada in 2005? Probably biding its time due to a number of uniquely Canadian factors. “Canada has some fairly high shipping costs,” Candelario explains, “so the e-commerce market was not as developed then as in other countries.” Add to that a Canadian dollar that, up until recently, was weaker than its U.S. counterpart and “there was a lot of cross border trade,” hampering local deal making.

Finally, Candelario points out that, in general, Canada lags behind the U.S. in terms of hi-tech innovation, so “it takes a little more time to adopt things here as they trickle over.”

Today, those numbers have evened out – around 57 percent of Canadians are visiting classified advertising sites, on par with most of the developed world.

But when it comes to Kijiji’s overall online market share, Candelario likes to point out that Kijiji’s 10 million unique monthly visitors constitute roughly 40 percent of Canada’s total Internet population of 24 million, an impressive number to be sure.

While Kijiji has most of Canada sewn up, it should be noted that Craigslist is strong in Vancouver. We asked Candelario why. “It’s probably a West coast thing,” he speculated, since Craigslist started in California and moved its way up to Seattle. There may be an echo effect across the short border to Vancouver.

Craigslist isn’t the only classified site that Kijiji is running loops around. According to Candelario, Kijiji has 1.4 times the traffic of Canada’s recruitment-specific classifieds leader Workopolis, and four times more traffic than (In real estate, Candelario says that Kijiji and are running about even, although Kijiji includes all its rental listings – which constitute the majority on the site – while is primarily properties for sale.

While the Kijiji-Craigslist match up may be the most prominent among the free classified sites, there are plenty of what we like to call YACLWs (“yet another Craigslist wannabe”) – although perhaps that ought to be renamed YAKW for Canada. Other, much smaller, players in the Canadian market include,, La Mega Prise (and its English language equivalent, The Mega Catch), Used Everywhere, and

Kijiji has a very different business model than Craigslist. While Craigslist charges for job listings in some markets and levies fees for rental brokers in New York City, those categories are free on Kijiji Canada; the site makes its money through display advertising, featured listings and via fees for auto dealers.

For the latter, prices range from $1,000/month for large dealers – defined as those with at least 100 cars on the lot – to a price point of $299/month for smaller dealers with 30 cars or less. Kijiji’s prices are low – certainly under those on, which can charge as much as $10 per vehicle – but that’s understandable given that Kijiji would be delighted to boost the amount of dealer inventory on the site; Kijij’s 200,000 vehicle listings are FSBO heavy.

Kijiji also has to contend with sites like the TorStar-owned, which runs four-page, full-color print editions displaying inventory from each local market.

Kijiji shares office space in Toronto with its EBay siblings: EBay Canada and PayPal. While there are no local offices, Candelario says Kijiji regularly sends staff from its Toronto headquarters to local markets to put on Kijiji-hosted events. “We want people to see that there are actual Canadians working for Kijiji,” he says.

Those “real Canadians” also step up to the plate to self-police the site through Kijiji’s “community watch” program. Kijiji was already cleaner than Craigslist, even before the latter jettisoned adult services ads in September, 2010. Kijiji eliminated all personal ads earlier that year in February. No surprise why: a Kijiji-sponsored survey in 2009 found that 75 percent of U.S. adults said they “prefer to buy or sell items from a Web site that does not host erotic ads or adult services.”

Going forward, Kijiji – like pretty much everyone else (except – guess who – Craigslist…at least officially) – will be targeting mobile. Canadian smart phone usage is similar to the U.S. – about 30 percent of mobile phone subscribers – and Candelario says that Kijiji already receives 15-20 percent of its traffic away from the desktop. Kijiji has just an iPhone app so far, with more devices to come.

Kijiji also supports the full gamut of social media services with city-specific listings delivered by Facebook and Twitter. The site launched a Daily Deal Groupon-style service early last year in Canada. Unlike when Kijiji first launched in Canada in 2005, group buying in 2012 is a crowded space, Candelario admits, and Kijiji is “only” in the middle of “a pack of 10 meaningful competitors. Still, it seems to be an opportunity. And we have the traffic.”

How about Junaio, the augmented reality platform that EBay began integrating into some of its U.S.-based classified sites last year? “It’s not on our short term roadmap at this point,” Candelario says. “But I really like the concept. If it does well in the U.S., then I’m sure we’ll roll it out up here.”

Given that EBay re-branded some Kijiji locations with the more global “EBay Classifieds” moniker, will we be seeing a similar change for Kijiji Canada? Nope, Candelario says. “Kijiji has 90 percent brand recognition in Canada. We’re a household name.”

Indeed, we see no reason that such visibility won’t continue. Kijiji seems well positioned to stay at the top of the Canadian free classifieds pack and, unlike in Craigslist dominated locations, will remain the force in Canada to be reckoned with.

This article appeared originally in “Classified Intelligence Report.”

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