Expenditure on UK classifieds peaked in 2004, but has since almost halved to £1.95 billion in 2018. In every vertical, the print to digital transition of expenditure has favoured a first mover, leading to dominant positions that challengers find hard to disrupt.

The property market was stagnant in 2019, with stable house price growth but low transaction volumes as Brexit uncertainty held back sales. An expected cut in interest rates this year should contribute to a slight rise in transaction volumes.

The low tide of transactions has cemented the reign of Rightmove and condemned challengers to low traction. No. 2 player, Zoopla, plans for a major drive in 2020 after a 1.5-year investment spree by parent private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.

The UK consumer’s loss of confidence since the June 2016 referendum vote in favour of Brexit has reduced the revenues of both estate agents and auto dealers, with knock-on effects on their media spend, entrenching further the leadership positions of Rightmove and Auto Trader respectively. Only the UK’s recruitment marketplace is buoyant with a record level of vacancies, benefiting general recruitment aggregator Indeed, although deepening Brexit gloom among businesses will rapidly melt away vacancies

With internet users flocking to portals and away from print media, advertisers have followed suit with media spend on these portals to stimulate purchaser interest, although transactions are still conducted offline. Facebook and Google, which have long histories of contesting markets for local advertisers with little success, have re-entered classifieds. Facebook Marketplace is now accepting listings from estate agents and dealers, expanding from C2C to B2C in homes and cars. Google Jobs launched in the UK in July 2018 and enjoys partnerships with all the major portals other than Indeed

The sharp decline in sales and shift to lettings, sluggish price growth and pressure on estate agents’ commissions, are making marketing key to driving transactional activity in a longer sales funnel. Rightmove’s revenues are on track for a 10% increase in 2018 on the uplift in average revenue per agent (ARPA). Zoopla's market share rose with the end of OnTheMarket's 'one-other-portal' rule for shareholders upon its AIM listing in February 2018 

The slowing UK economy since Q3 2016 has had a knock-on effect on the property and autos marketplaces underlying UK classified advertising revenues, with house prices slowing, transactions stabilising (instead of rising), and new car registrations down sharply in 2017 to date. Recruitment activity by agencies and employers has instead been dynamic as the UK nears full employment

Advertisers in these verticals continue to switch expenditure from print classifieds to internet portals and search, which offer superior lead generation, analytics, and user experience. Only in property do local newspapers still fulfill an important estate agency branding function for the local area, although declining readership is blunting this value to advertisers

Portal dominance comes at a price to advertisers in property, where Rightmove has resisted agent efforts to lessen dependence by listing on other brands, as well as in used autos, where Auto Trader has long reigned supreme. Recruitment is a more contested market for portals, reflecting the diverse and fragmented nature of the jobs market, but Indeed has a strong grip on the low-end, while LinkedIn remains unchallenged in social recruitment advertising

This is the second of three reports in our annual review of vertical marketplaces (classifieds), focused on property, and follows Vertical marketplaces overview and recruitment classified outlook [2016-116]

Stamp duty reforms and the impact of the Brexit referendum triggered a -10% fall in UK residential property sales between April and October 2016 and the consensus among estate agents and commentators is that the property slowdown will continue into 2016/17 as buyer confidence recedes. As a result, we expect UK property classified advertising to slip into decline in 2016/17 driven by losses in print, while online advertising growth will slow to low single digits

In the online market, while Rightmove continues to deliver outstanding financial results from its simple listings model, we believe that a new phase of innovation is imminent. Consumers are demanding enhanced services through data and personalisation, and there is clear potential for virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence to disrupt the market in the longer term

This is the second of our three reports in our annual review of vertical marketplaces (classifieds), focused on property, and follows Vertical marketplaces overview and recruitment outlook [2015-115]. Zoopla Property Group (ZPG) has been hit by new entrant OnTheMarket, and has diversified its publishing and revenue models. But OnTheMarket is a red herring in the marketplace, delivering the same charging model more expensively for estate agents than leading portals Rightmove and ZPG. Property marketing expenditure has been resilient this year, and we expect it to be roughly flat (a little down in real terms) over the next two to three years, largely a result of the print-to-digital transition depressing spend, but also because estate agents are feeling squeezed. Local newspaper print decline will roughly offset increases at the property portals and elsewhere, though print spend at the top of the market – brands such as Country Life, the FT and the Telegraph – remains robust, despite deep declining volumes of £1.5m homes.

Our annual review of vertical marketplaces (classifieds) is provided over three reports, with property and auto to follow, and this first report summarizing the macro trends, issues and outlook, as well as a detailed study of recruitment marketing. Taken as a whole we identify three critical themes in specialist markets:

• Portals are extraordinarily popular with consumers, growing their importance in the value chain; the print to digital transition is far from over
• But portal reliance on revenue growth from print decline is starting to retreat; revenue diversification strategies are emerging
• Nonetheless, disruption in vertical markets is stubbornly slow, with leading portals using paid media models (print models) to sustain their position.

The recruitment market is buoyant (up 10%), so portals, specialists and intermediaries are generally doing well, while local newspapers have lost some market share. Linkedin (professional social media, which has diversified into skills and training) and Indeed (freemium jobs aggregator, which provides performance charging and will introduce new services in 2016) are the key influences in the marketplace, and both are growing very strongly. The value chain in recruitment is being slowly restructured. Recruiter demand for highly skilled, specialist candidates does not have the labour supply to support it, sustaining marketing expenditure, though print spend continues to decline.