An increasing number of South African small businesses are making use of online classifieds sites to advertise their goods. These businesses often lack the resources to start their own website and to invest in driving traffic to it, so they take advantage of the critical mass of potential consumers already using sites like Gumtree which their ads can reach effectively at no cost.

Claire Cobbledick, Head of Marketing for Gumtree SA, says that “at least a quarter of our listers are posting up to 10 ads each month and many of them label themselves as professional traders”.

One such small business is The Blue House, located in Parow in the Western Cape, which is owned by Denise Knight. After being retrenched, Knight saw a gap in the market for high quality and varied cell phone covers and accessories and started importing them from the USA and selling them online. She says she has been successfully operating solely via Gumtree since February 2011.

Knight warns that over the past five years she has been tricked and scammed a few times but she has built a bank of experience on how to trade safely online.

Denise’s top eight tips for safe trading

  1. Be honest. List defects; take actual photos of what you are selling. Your customer may have to come from a long way away to see the item you are selling and won’t appreciate being lied to.
  2. Never meet a buyer alone. Meet at a restaurant with someone you know sitting elsewhere close by. Don’t scare away the customer by having six people meet him, just plan ahead.
  3. If selling something expensive, like a watch or jewellery, always try to meet at a police station. Let the constable on duty know what you are doing so they can keep an eye on you.
  4. Buying something? Do research before you part with your cash. Know what you should be getting. If a cell phone, check the IMEI number on the box and the IMEI number on the phone (which can be found under the battery). If they have no box and no accessories, or proof of purchase from a cell phone shop, then walk away.
  5. Always treat free email addresses with caution. Be wary of the email address when liaising with a potential buyer – you can quickly pick up the difference between a scammer and a genuine buyer.
  6. Never post or courier anything by yourself. Rather opt for Shepherd, as they act as a middleman. They will hold the money until the buyer and seller are both satisfied. Find out more by visiting
  7. Gain extra security from the Gumtree app. The Gumtree chat feature, which can be found in the app, is able to track the details of a scammer. Use this feature, as opposed to email or SMS just in case anything unfortunate happens.
  8. If you have no choice but to accept an EFT payment, make certain that you receive the bank generated proof of payment before finishing the sale.

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