The Facebook Marketplace: Never Again; 4 ways it should be improved

The Facebook Marketplace: Never Again; 4 ways it should be improved

Photo by Allison Raber

Just over a month ago, I decided that it was time to face the constant procrastination of sorting through my many things and do a cleanse of my personal belongings. It is surprising what one accumulates over many years. One could say that I’ve started to incorporate the “minimalism” approach to aspects of my life. Whilst the majority of my things were donated and given to friends, I decided to try selling some of the bigger ticket items on Facebook Marketplace for kicks. I personally have always been of the mindset that it was just easier to just donate and give away things that I no longer made use of. However, the ability to take high-quality photos with our mobile devices and upload them instantly to an online marketplace made it tempting enough to give it a try. It was also convenient that information about the buyer was readily available.

Despite the benefits which made the marketplace attractive initially for getting rid of a few big ticket items as a once off, I feel as though there are some fundamental things that could be improved in order for me, personally, to become a repeat marketplace user. Perhaps these are merely the trade-offs of a marketplace where it is “free” to buy and sell goods? Or is the business goal more complex than allowing users to buy and sell goods within their Facebook network? Note that I also listed the same items on Gumtree as an experiment. I was curious to see how the experience of selling compared across different platforms and wanted to give myself a personal reference. However, I’ll save the comparison of the two platforms for a future article.

Having designed and implemented web platforms for over 10 years, here are my humble thoughts on where the Facebook Marketplace could be improved having worn the shoes of a customer, specifically a seller.

The Challenges

Within the first week of posting a couple of items, I immediately started experiencing all the extremes of participating in the Facebook Marketplace. Aside from the constant anticipation of messages to the overwhelming stream of “Is it available?” messages, the experience was a roller coaster of both positive and negative emotions. We all know that jumping to conclusions is not the best idea so I just kept a mental note of all my opinions, observations and learnings. It has now been about 4 weeks since I listed my first item on the marketplace and here are some of the challenges I encountered.

Challenge 1: Buyers out for a bargain

How do we separate the serious buyers from those who are just out for a bargain?One could argue that I was naive trying out the marketplace for the first time and expecting people to pay my asking price or close. However, more than half the time, I was contacted by buyers who just wanted a deal. The definition of “fair negotiation” appeared to be non-existent. Out of the 12 items that were listed, I received at least one message for 9 of the 12 items offering a much lower price than listed. I believed that my listed prices were more than fair as the items were in excellent condition. At the end of the day, I learned that it comes down to how quickly one wants to sell and how desperately the buyer wants to buy. I also found out recently that Facebook encouraged negotiations which created and attracted a certain behaviour on their marketplace.

Challenge 2: Private reviews

What is the point of having private reviews? I find it difficult to understand why a company would bother spending time and money implementing a feature that allows their users to choose whether or not their reviews are visible to others in the marketplace or not. On top of that, you need to look carefully to find a buyer’s or seller’s reviews. The poor usability of reviews in the marketplace seems to defeat the purpose of their existence. I would have thought that building trust is important in a marketplace especially but perhaps I’m missing something?

Challenge 3: Lack of regulation

What is the appropriate level of regulation for online marketplaces? Assuming you priced items fairly, one of the most frustrating messages to receive is someone proposing a price which is half that of your listed price (which happens to be just a fraction of the original price). To clarify, there isn’t a one size fits all rule to pricing items and this also applies to the condition of used items. The classification of being “used” is not binary as you can have some items that look brand new then there is used to the point where you’re wondering why someone is even bothering to sell the item. Regulation is a fine balance of factors. Will an increase in regulations change the mechanics of the current marketplace for better or worse?

Challenge 4: Encouraging redundant inquiries

How do we find that harmonious balance between pleasing the users of a two-sided marketplace and the business goals? It’s quite well-known that users don’t like to read. The design of a product page only appears to meet superficial criteria from the buyer’s perspective. For example, the seller may go through the effort of putting the relevant details into the description in addition to the photos, but yet there is an “Ask for details” button above the “Description” section. Furthermore, the “Description” section isn’t visible upon arriving on the page of an item until the user scrolls. From the seller’s perspective, it is annoying to get messages from buyers who didn’t read the details you put in the description. Whilst there is an argument to be made that it is up to the user to decide who they would like to reply to or not, the reality is that it will still take up unnecessary cognitive cycles from the seller.

4 Ways To Improve The Marketplace

“In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.” — Seth Godin

Assuming that some demand exists for the item you wish to sell, I think we can all agree that being able to stand out as a seller makes a huge difference. Would you prefer to engage with someone who has a good track record of quality of service and high reliability or someone who you know nothing about? Additionally, how can we do this in a productive and efficient manner?

Here are 4 ways that the Facebook Marketplace could be improved.

1. Use AI to reduce cognitive load and frustration

The definition of fair negotiations is a subjective one. At the end of the day, it comes down to the mechanics of supply and demand that determine the prices. However, the back and forth between potential buyers on offers that were lower than the asking price consumed a lot of time.

Imagine if we could make more transparent these boundaries of a buyer and seller to remove the redundant and frustrating tasks? Could we speed up the negotiation process and make it quicker for sellers to more conveniently or perhaps automatically accept/reject certain offers other than their asking price? Could it be more beneficial for sellers to see a price range of what other buyers in the market have paid previously so they could make a more informed decision about pricing their product?

2. Encourage more reviews and make them public

Today, reviews are essential to the way we make decisions about the goods and services we consume. From going out to eat to visiting a new city and taking an Uber, reviews have become a necessity in our decision-making process. It gives us an idea of what to expect beforehand based on others previous experiences. However, allowing marketplace participants to choose whether or not they want to keep their reviews private completely defeats the purpose. The improvement here is simple. All those who want to buy and sell within the Facebook Marketplace should always have their reviews visible.

3. Sellers need data, not speculation

As a seller, it was effortless to list an item but there was no data to make an informed decision about what you’re selling. For example, how many items like yours are currently and have previously been sold in the marketplace and for what price range respectively. This leaves the purchase or sale to being nothing more than a gamble. As a seller, it would be helpful if there was some data about how well your item was selling and tips on how to improve your listing, especially when times are of the essence. Whilst making money might seem like enough motivation to sell in an online marketplace, this wears off quite quickly. If you’re unable to sell, there’s a chance you might negatively evaluate the marketplace because it failed to help you achieve your one goal, to sell an item.

4. Establish accountability

Currently, there is no accountability on the Facebook Marketplace (eg. unlike Alibaba’s Trade Assurance Program), Facebook does not guarantee that you receive the goods paid for and buyers/sellers do not incur any consequences for “irresponsible” actions. This means that there is a relatively high level of risk associated with using this marketplace. For example, a buyer could pay in advance to guarantee their item but then the seller could not show up, leaving the buyer empty-handed. On the other hand, the seller could sell a faulty item without suffering any consequences, leaving the buyer at a loss. A system like this cannot function fairly and will struggle to thrive because the lack of responsibility will self-perpetuate. It creates a culture of mistrust amongst the people in the marketplace. Instead, we should establish mechanisms that hold both parties accountable for their actions and implement ways to encourage positive and ethical actions. According to Richard Branson, “doing good is good for business.”

Free isn’t always better

There’s no denying that the existence of online marketplaces have made it easier and more convenient for people to buy and sell second-hand goods. However, there is always room for improvement with the Facebook Marketplace. I’m not clear on what Facebook’s primary goal is with the marketplace, but as someone who was looking to sell a few big-ticket items as a once off, it did the job. Although there were many unknown factors that played a role, eg. how many people are interested in the item you’re selling and what price are they willing to pay for it, I’d recommend doing some research on which marketplace(s) are appropriate for what you’re looking to sell. Free to sell and buy isn’t necessarily a good thing because there are going to be some trade-offs. What elements/aspects of an online marketplace are important for you as a buyer/seller (eg. accountability)?

The true indication of a successful marketplace is the volume of product turnover, eg. the percentage of items listed and sold on the marketplace. I wonder what this percentage is on the Facebook Marketplace compared to other free and paid online marketplaces?

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