Putting the magic into the digital marketplace

The ideal marketplace experience strikes the perfect balance between function and flair. By constantly questioning if both the buying and selling journey reflects what you want to be known for, you’ll create stronger bonds with both sets of customers.
Rob Coke
Rob Coke
Founding Partner

Walk through a town anywhere in the world and you’ll probably come across an open-air square. The marketplace.

From the souqs and bazaars of the Middle East to the 2am hustle and bustle of London’s Smithfield Market, the function is the same now as it’s always been – an interface between forces of supply and demand.

In a connected world, digital marketplaces are booming for exactly that reason. They create and fill additional demand by increasing choice for consumers and expanding potential for sellers.

Transactions on marketplace sites accounted for 52% of online global sales in 2018, according to Internet Retailer. From second-hand cars to hotel stays, beauty treatments to takeaways, marketplaces bridge the gap between buyers and suppliers across a host of industries – disrupting the once obligatory brand-to-customer relationship.

But as the go-between for two parties – both with fundamentally different needs that require tailored experiences – digital marketplaces can be difficult beasts to tame, and complex brands to build.

It’s common within any form of retail for concepts to explode onto the scene in the way digital marketplaces have. But, as ever, only the most successful will survive. To thrive, we believe there are three principles marketplace brands should look to follow.

The ideal marketplace experience strikes the perfect balance between function and flair.”
1. Clearly does it

As the storefront that connects sellers with buyers, a marketplace has a unique challenge in designing experiences that deliver on its promise to both parties. Both are looking for complete control, and for marketplaces to help them help themselves.

Having a single-minded offer, that translates into unique benefits for both parties, is a sure-fire way to build credibility across the board. The best place to start is asking yourself ‘what are we in the business of doing?’ Think about the difference you make for both sets of customers. How would their worlds be different if you weren’t connecting them? What value are you creating for them? How do you make their lives easier?

Showing is far more effective than telling, so building these benefits into user experiences is the holy grail. The ideal marketplace experience strikes the perfect balance between function and flair. By constantly questioning if both the buying and selling journey reflects what you want to be known for, you’ll create stronger bonds with both sets of customers.

Letgo is one of many P2P neighbourhood marketplaces out there today but it’s doing a good job of communicating the benefits of the service to buyers and sellers. Building on a single-minded idea, ‘It’s time to turn stuff into living’, they spell out neatly the role they play for both sets of customers: making buying stuff you want simple, and selling stuff you don’t want painless.

When brought to life visually, the brand uses friendly but informative illustrations to help a potentially complex experience feel, as they put it themselves, ‘almost effortless’. By using AI to identify and label items, that principle is translated through their user experience, which feels almost frighteningly simple – posting an item for sale is as easy as uploading an image.

Letgo’s UI makes posting items frighteningly easy
2. Instil confidence

Trust should be the cornerstone of any brand. But, for marketplaces, it needs to flow in multiple directions to be reciprocal. Buyers want to know that what they’re paying for is genuine, as advertised and at the best price available. Sellers want their products and services treated with the level of respect and value they deserve. And both need to trust each other as well as the platform they’re transacting on.

Houzz connects homeowners with renovation and design professionals. Recognising a gap in knowledge when people redesign their home, Houzz creates content based around stories, to educate people about the process and inspire them with potential solutions. The stories, split into sub-categories to make it easy to navigate, build salience and reassurance for buyers and provide sellers with a platform to share their own success stories.

Houzz uses content to build trust
3. Help and reward

People don’t always know what they want, or how to get what they need, so a bit of help can go a long way. Great marketplace experiences feel intuitive, completely thought through and distinctive. They proactively answer the user’s questions and build in ‘magic moments’ to create an experience that is unmistakable and rewarding.

During our own work with eBay, that meant dedicated time optimising their automotive site. We tested and learnt from various page layouts, product information hierarchies and content click-throughs to deliver the most helpful experience for users. The result was a seamless UX and simple UI that gives customers the information and guidance they need to inform decision-making, ultimately driving purchases.

Our automotive experience for eBay is intuitive and distinctive

While refreshing Auto Trader, we turned to the power of motion to create a more rewarding app experience. Inspired by the ergonomics and mechanics of vehicles, we developed tailored motion principles that were then built into the experience to help it feel more fluid, intuitive and rewarding to use. They’re subtle yet powerful – and make the experience feel unmistakably Auto Trader.

For marketplaces, the future relies on more than just facilitating connections between brands and buyers. It’s about meeting the growing expectations of both sets of customers to create win-win-win scenarios.

Clear, confident and rewarding experiences will set marketplaces up to enjoy competitive advantage. While physical marketplaces have stood the test of time, the future of their digital cousins is just getting started.

Let’s work together Say hello