Here’s an uncomfortable truth for many marketplace entrepreneurs. UX design can make or break your new e-commerce marketplace. UX design is so critical for marketplace success because it is linked to each one of the most important reasons why marketplace startups fail: lack of technical expertise, lack of an effective strategy, and lack of product-market fit.
A definition of user experience design provides some of the clues why that is the case.
“UX design is the process of designing products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. It’s about enhancing the experience that people have while interacting with your product, and making sure they find value in what you’re providing.”
A well-designed product must be visually appealing and easy to understand, learn, and use. When applied to marketplaces, it means your site needs to be well-organized, trustworthy and easy to navigate, with as little friction as possible between what users want and the fulfillment of their needs.
The stats back those statements up:
That’s why most well-known marketplace platforms like Airbnb, Amazon and Etsy attribute much of their success to a user-centered design approach. In Airbnb’s case, the platform almost failed before its founders realised that using high quality images in listings would improve conversion rates and profitability.
The scary bottom line. Without the technical expertise to implement proven design principles and a sound strategy for measuring and improving user experience, you will probably not achieve product-market fit or increase conversion rates.
The world is moving towards an experience economy with consumer spending on live experiences and events growing four times faster than expenditure on goods. For Millennials the rate is even higher with 78% preferring to spend money on engaging experiences. That matters, because as the largest population group they spend an estimated $1.3 trillion annually.
Now you know why Airbnb have started adding tours and activities to their platform. They even call it Airbnb Experiences!
As if that’s not enough pressure, the commoditisation of services makes it even more urgent for digital entrepreneurs to add additional value via delightful experiences and user-friendly interactions. It is key to differentiating their offerings in an increasingly saturated and highly competitive online environment.
“The only companies that will exist in 10 years’ time are those that create and nurture human experiences. This learning and growth will come from maximizing opportunities, including the reinvention of retail spaces, new models of engagement, and an understanding of experiences as perhaps the most important form of marketing.”
UX design is a multidisciplinary field that combines technical skills, creativity and analytical thinking in iterative cycles of designing, prototyping, and testing. Let’s take a closer look at the various components that make up the UX design cycle.
First of all, it’s important to understand how user experience design, user interface design and usability fit together. UX design is an umbrella discipline that informs how your platform works and feels to the user, while UI design is responsible for how it looks. As such, UI design (together with visual & interaction design) is a subset of UX design.
Usability is another sub-discipline of UX design and concerns ease of access and the intuitive use of features to complete tasks. In a nutshell, usability covers functionality or how users complete tasks on your platform.
This phase of UX design is focused on trying to understand user behaviour, needs, and motivations. User research can be divided into formative and summative stages.
Formative research occurs before the product is built and helps to define product priorities and design focus. Summative research is based on feedback from actual users and tries to evaluate the ease of use, if users understand the value offering, and if the product meets or exceeds their demands. It is then used to iterate on the design.
User research is conducted by way of data analysis, user stories, and user flows. The toolbox for data analysis includes Google Analytics, heatmaps, control groups (beta testing), and surveys. User stories can be created by developing personas and conducting interviews. This is especially useful to contextualise user needs. Detailed user flows that describe how core functions work are crucial for your platform’s information architecture.
Determines how your marketplace looks and how it works. You will need to take into account all the user touch points: acquisition, conversion, onboarding, and retention.
The design process includes identifying a layout with copy, images, and icons, developing a visual hierarchy, and figuring out how users will interact with features. This is also the time to set up an information architecture to structure and organize information on your platform.
Designs usually follow a sequence of sketching, wireframing (the blueprint that connects the IA to the visual design and shows what goes where and how features interact with each other), and prototypes.
Determines the universal aesthetic of your marketplace and covers colour palettes, typography, layout, icon style, and branding assets.
The ability to understand how users see and process visual information within a dynamic environment is important in this phase. Note that it is not the same skill as graphic design for static elements like posters. It’s also important to avoid over-design that will confuse and alienate users.
Prototyping required for testing your marketplace platform and its features and requires front-end development skills. The prototyping process should be optimised for rapid iteration and incorporate responsive design.
This stage should be used to discover any weak points in the design and identify any bugs that can be resolved before a beta release. It includes testing user flows for errors and the platform’s stress performance.
QA generally involves two principles: “fit for purpose” (the product should be suitable for the intended purpose) and “right first time” (mistakes should be eliminated).
Performance testing should be carried out to monitor the scalability, speed, and reliability of the platform. Stress testing checks how well the platform performs under a sudden increased load to ensure stability.
Confidence in tech companies has taken a bashing over the past few years, in great part due to concerns over data ownership, security and privacy. Fraudulent behaviour, such as fake reviews on marketplace platforms like Amazon, has also put a dent in consumer trust. It has now become critical for marketplace success to establish trust at each stage of the user journey. Good UX design can play a key role in that mission.
Goal: build trust in the platform
Make your value proposition crystal clear – what problem are you solving and why is your solution better than the alternatives?
Make sure you are consistent with brand elements like colours, typography and core messages.
Promote transparency by prominently displaying site rules, security measures and user policies. Contact information should be accurate and easily accessible.
Display only high-quality content. Put in place a review mechanism and required fields for user generated content.
Create a clear navigation structure.
Get rid of bugs with regular testing.
Leverage social proof through testimonials, reviews, case studies, security badges, and user-friendly social sharing.
Goal: build trust in listings and vendors
Make sure search results are relevant and suitable.
Commit to ongoing quality assurance for listings through monitoring and moderation.
Promote detailed seller profiles with high-quality images and accurate descriptions.
Support granular searches with appropriate filters and sorting features. Implement a review and rating system that is easy to understand.
Make it easy to compare products and services.
Goal: build trust in the transaction process
Offer insurance and guarantees.
Make the shipping, delivery and payment processes clear with a how-to section, FAQs, chat bots and assistance prompts during transactions.
Reassure users regarding security with badges from industry associations, media mentions, relevant certifications, and user testimonials.
Promote buyer/seller interaction with a chat feature.
Empower sellers with best practices and sales guides.
Offer sellers a dashboard that allows them to track sales, manage and request reviews, edit their profile, and add new products.
Build a strong seller community with premium recognition, e.g. recommended vendor certification.
Goal: build trust post-transaction
Collect reviews, testimonials, and case studies.
Offer after-sales promotions.
Implement a robust and transparent return and refund policy.
Since data-driven UX design leads to better results, it’s important to manage user behaviour data in an organised manner. Google’s HEART framework offers a structured way to measure the quality of user experience. The framework measures user experience in terms of happiness, engagement, adoption, retention and task success.
Happiness measures how users feel about your offering and can be measured via in-product surveys and net promoter scores.
Engagement measures the extent to which users interact with your platform within a specific time frame. Engagement metrics include visits per user per month and number of products viewed per visit.
Adoption measures how many users are using your core features. The number of quotes requested from vendors in a services marketplace would be an example. This can also be considered a North Star Metric on many platforms.
Retention measures the rate at which users return to your platform. Here you can measure the churn rate – how many users stop using your platform (e.g. subscriptions) over a given period compared to the number of users at the beginning of that period.
Task success measures the time required to complete a task or how many errors occur during the execution of the task. For example, measuring the time to complete a user profile or upload a review.
Investment in the proper application of UX design principles and strategies is not a trivial matter, as can hopefully be deduced from this breakdown of UX design’s scope and impact.
A cursory look at the various disciplines involved in UX design should make it clear that very few, if any, marketplace entrepreneurs are equipped to implement a successful UX strategy. You will need qualifications or experience in cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, computer science, information architecture, product design, graphic design, front-end development, and QA testing.
The law of unintended consequences means that a novice trying to design something as potentially complicated as a user dashboard may discover too late that a number of functionalities are broken or not accounted for. If this happens during a live version of the marketplace platform, repercussions for the brand would probably be quite severe.
Focusing on UX design early on in your marketplace development process can save a lot of money down the line. According to Roger Pressman, who wrote Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach, fixing issues during development costs ten times as much as sorting it out during the design stage. The costs escalate a 100 times if the site is live.
Good UX design not only saves money; it can also make more money. On average, every pound or dollar invested in UX design is returned ten to a hundred fold in revenue, due to better conversion rates, customer retention, and customer loyalty.
We’ll leave the final word on the subject to e-commerce and marketplace maestro, Jeff Bezos.
“If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word-of-mouth is so very, very powerful.”
CobbleWeb has assisted several marketplace platforms with UX design strategies that helped them to established product-market fit and increased their conversion rates. We can do the same for your marketplace. Get in touch to learn more.
Originally published November 11, 2019, updated November 18, 2019