We're sharing a recent post on our blog from our community member Danny Martinez (previously Airbnb, eBay) on the importance of having high quality marketplace supply & listings when starting out. This was previously shared as a deep dive post in the community here.
When you’re first starting your marketplace, there’s an endless list of things you can focus on as a founder. I strongly believe that supply quality should be high in that list, so I'm sharing a deep dive post here with more on it.
In this post I’ll outline what makes a high quality listing, why it's important, and how to improve supply on your marketplace. These are observations from my time working at eBay, Airbnb and Prolific. I'll also add examples from other marketplaces I’ve used or come across.
But first, let’s talk about what I mean when I say "high quality" supply.
The main goal for your supply should be to provide comfort to the person on the buying end of the transaction. If you can delight customers by at least ensuring they get what they expected, you’re halfway there. A lot of this is down to displaying information clearly, and dealing with customer's concerns head on.
Here are some attributes of high quality listings, with examples from different marketplaces:
In the early days, Airbnb provided free professional photos to hosts in select cities. These listings ended up getting booked 2.5x as much as standard listings, proving the power of good photography.
Customers are impatient and want to scan the main details for the product they’re purchasing. On Amazon you'll find product descriptions that cover the highlights in 3-5 succinct bullet points. It's like a "cheat sheet" for the product.
What have other people buying this product said about this product? - Reviews are key to building trust between the 2 sides of your marketplace. Turo (a car rental marketplace) is an example of how to do this well. Reviews summaries are visible for listings on the homepage and are further broken down by category on the listing page.
Figure out the your demand side's biggest concern, and deal with it in your listings. StockX (a marketplace for high end sneakers) adds a "verified" service to their listings. These products go to "expert authenticators" before going to the buyer. This deals with the biggest concern sneaker fanatics have: fake kicks!
There’s a variety of reasons I’ll outline below, through the lens of the customer’s perspective, i.e. the demand side.
Driving awareness is one of the most important things a marketplace can prioritize for growth. Startups spend a lot of effort testing different distribution channels, and it’s a tough nut to crack. Now, let's say you’ve managed to overcome this problem, only for customers to turn up and see low quality listings, that don’t look like the thing they’re trying to buy.
This will always end with a bounced visitor who even before considering a product, will have decided your marketplace is not for them.
Let’s say you’ve gotten over the awareness hurdle. A visitor has landed on your site, and hasn't left. They’re spending time looking at different listings on your marketplace. You’re one step closer to getting them to buy your product.
At this point the biggest hurdle you need to deal with is: "Is this product legit?" They'll ask this through different lenses: the platform, the seller, the specific item.
Convincing them that you have the service/product they want is half the battle. Dealing with their concerns related to the different lenses described above is another. Unless you're able to deal with both you'll end up with an unhappy user, who doesn’t buy and may or may not come back to your marketplace again.
At this stage, you might have gotten that first transaction over the line. Boom! You may think this is job done, and you can focus on getting that next new customer. In reality, you’ve done the job of convincing someone that your marketplace was worth a try.
Until you’ve convinced them it’s worth using it again, the job is far from done. This is especially important for marketplaces, where network effects are crucial. A repeat buyer, may recommend your service to their friends, who may also become buyers. They may even become sellers on your platform.
A buyer whose expectations are not met is unlikely to buy from your marketplace again. They will likely warn people in their network to not use it. As unfair as it is, the seller and your service will be synonymous in the buyer’s mind, especially in the early days.
As I write this I sit next to my fiancee, who recently tried Vinted (a second hand fashion marketplace) for the first time. Her item arrived late and it was not what she expected from the pictures. Despite me suggesting this may be a rare occurrence (or a bad seller), she refuses to try Vinted again. Such is the beauty of marketplace companies (or the reality of customer’s high expectations!)
So with all this in mind, how can you improve the listing quality on your marketplace? I’ll outline a few common ways below. I’ll caveat this by saying that there is an important balance you should be aware of with listing quality:
Where you set the bar is likely to change over time. But it’s good to be aware of this friction and how it affects the dynamics of your marketplace. With that in mind, here are some ways you can increase quality on your marketplace:
This is hard to scale, but that’s the least of your problems in the early days, and a pretty easy way to improve conversion. In the early days, Airbnb customer support reps would upgrade listings on behalf of hosts. Tidying up listing descriptions, deploying professional photographers, adjusting host profile pages. Whatever it took to get a first booking!
This may be harder to put in place until you've reached a certain scale, but not impossible. Prolific is an example of a marketplace using this to their advantage.
Reminder: Prolific connects researchers to participants for behavioral research surveys. They verify participant identities through a service called Onfido. This deals with the issue of fraud, which is a major concern for researchers on online marketplaces. See reviews of Amazon’s mTurk on TrustPilot, for evidence of concerns with bots and scammers.
At eBay there is an entire program dedicated to helping sellers to "Grow their eBay business". These are videos and pages that guide sellers through various steps in their journey. From opening a business account to more advanced topics like taxes and logistics. They even run seller events in the aim of getting sellers to learn from each other. Help your supply understand your demand, and you’re much more likely to keep both sides happy!
Listing quality is one of the most important things for a marketplace in the early days. It creates happy buyers, resulting in happy sellers. All this leads to a flywheel of more transactions on your platform, over time.
Once you get this flywheel started and you reach scale, you may even be able to expand into different segments and eventually even different categories: think about all of the different types of Uber rides you can take (Comfort, Exec, Lux), or all of the different services you can now get from their single app (food, groceries, even car rentals!). But none of this is possible for your marketplace, until you get your listing quality right.
You can connect with Danny to discuss this post in the Everything Marketplaces community here. A big thanks to Danny for also being an active community member, where he is often sharing his marketplace experience, insights, and helping early stage founders.