Infant Internet Firm Passes 500,000-User Mark


    GRAND RAPIDS — As approaches its first anniversary, it also can celebrate the fact that it reached the 500,000-user mark after only nine months of operation.

    BargainAndHaggle, an operation of Grand Rapids-based mindpepper LLC, has experienced dramatic growth in registered users and item sales since February. Third quarter sales increased nearly fourfold to $2.2 million over the second quarter, and the site now has over 160,000 items listed for sale.

    The site is generally ranked second only to eBay — however, with a slightly different model of operation. While BargainAndHaggle is an online marketplace where visitors buy and sell numerous items, it is not an auction site. Instead, mindpepper CEO Catherine Ettinger describes the site as “based on traditional, old-world negotiation models enabling one-on-one price negotiation, with additional buyers waiting in line in an electronic queue.

    “We are different,” she said, “because you are dealing with a person and not an auction,” said Ettinger. “The buyer can make an offer and the seller can refuse or accept; from there the buyer has a chance to make a counter offer, and so on. Each party is also able to ask questions and no one else is allowed into the dealings until the deal is complete or one party has walked away.”

    BargainAndHaggle is the first site of its kind, and users buy and sell items ranging from computers to collectibles, from real estate to automobiles, antiques and toys. However, there are also many things that a user cannot sell, among them copyrighted items, items that don’t really exist, alcohol and other items listed on the site.

    “You would think it would be simple, but there are some that try to sell items that don’t really exist,” Ettinger added.

    Currently, as a matter of respect for the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the site’s managers have removed all sale items related to the Pentagon, World Trade Center, or any of the events surrounding the tragedy.

    Over time as consumers buy and sell items, they are given an avatar, an online representation of a person’s status/reputation. “First time sellers and buyers start out as a rookie and are represented with a baby chicken,” Ettinger said.

    After the buyer or seller attains a certain number of points based on the number of successful buys or sales or both, average final value of item bought or sold and number of strikes, they move up the rank level by level.

    With each level achieved certain benefits are added, including achieving a quality reputation, adding a free bold-face item or a featured item.

    One other hot item that BargainAndHaggle offers is complete privacy. Ettinger said other sites give out e-mail addresses and other contact information before the sale is complete, while BargainAndHaggle keeps all information private until the deal is struck.

    “When other sites do this, it allows outside parties to contact the buyer or seller and make other offers or send e-mails entitled, ‘I hear you are looking for this and I have this.’

    “It also stops a buyer from coming in at the last minute,” she added, “and outbidding the other bidders on the item.”

    With a higher rating also comes some customer assurance. While Ettinger states that no auction or bargain site is 100 percent guaranteed, she feels there are precautions users can take to be assured they receive their product or money, as settled.

    “We are a venue only and we only mitigate risk. However, there are ways to try and safeguard yourself from a bad deal,” Ettinger said.

    “There is a feedback section where past buyers and sellers can reflect on their experience with a certain individual; that is a place to check before entering into a deal. Also, escrow services are very popular lately.”

    Escrow services are those that serve as a middleman. The buyer sends the money to the escrow service while the seller sends the item to the buyer. Once the buyer has received the item and reports that it is as ordered, the escrow service then sends the money to the seller, thus eliminating some risk.

    “It is exciting for us to reach this milestone because not only are we seeing growth in users but also in actual activity,” Ettinger said.

    “We had $2.2 million in volume of sales and that is continuing to grow, so there is growth in activity, not just people coming to see.”

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