This project was one of discovery through execution, in a more usual path, rather than create something new, we were trying on find a balanced solution to an existing business problem, trying to answer the question, is it possible to integrate a separate marketplace service into the core eBay experience without impacting the core brand and consumer buying patterns.
The challenge we faced was that eBay had purchased a business a few years beforehand, run it as a stand-alone organization within the Classified group, but they had recently been moved into the core eBay selling group, to see if it was possible to extend and improve on the existing local selling offering.
The Close5 business also had some pretty serious issues, it couldn’t sustain itself, because although it had a strong community of sellers, there weren’t enough buyers to drive conversion. It was also up against serious competition, with new brands able to outspend and out-innovate the existing business.
So the challenge to answer was, could Close5 be integrated into the eBay experience, leveraging the positives of the experience, with a huge volume of eBay buyers without impact the experience of either platform?
Within the eBay experience it isn’t easy to narrow by distance, all types of items (shipped as well as local pickup only) are mixed into the result, the onus is on the user to filter to achieve the experience that completing apps, which means for buyers shopping just for local isn’t hard to access, or even know the feature exists!
Selling on eBay can get costly, time-consuming, and involves the complexities of shipping cost estimations (where most users mess up by underestimating the cost of delivery). Close5 selling experience was quick to complete and low impact in terms of item details required to enter, sellers were more likely to list this way for low value, used and bulky items.
Using the Close5 experience, users were able to have an instant chat with the seller to find out additional information and discuss terms, compared to eBay’s messaging model which is based around the email metaphor and feels like much more of a lag between question and answer between interested parties, so the interaction was perceived as less friction (although the less information the seller entered in the listing part of the process, the more basic questions the buyers would create, which in itself was a cause of friction).
We looked at a number of possible paths, the main ones were full integration, which involved migrating accounts and infrastructure to the eBay platform. The required work to pull this off to create the optimal experience was huge and would have taken so long and been so expensive, it was unfeasible and unrealistic to undertake.
The alternative was part integration, where the content is exposed to the buyers on eBay, but the accounts, management, and listing flows are still on a separate backend. This path was interesting to the team as it was an opportunity to experiment with the customer experience without impacting the majority of users (test and learn about new approaches that would help inform the core experience).
To help explore the details, we mapped out the core end to end customer experience and iterated on how best to combine the experiences, the aim was the run user research studies to understand the impact on customer behavior (from both communities).
The studies ended up informing the final decision making, the team were originally positive and hopeful, but the reality of the experience was that it was just a series of endless compromises.
Every time there was a technical compromise the complexity of even simple user actions increased. For example, because the listings aren’t integrated as standard listings, they wouldn’t show up from the global search, only from within the local section (greatly reducing the reach). Same issues with account management, items from local wouldn’t be listed in the existing tools for shortlisting and purchase history (which would just confuse eBay and Close5 customers).
The final issue was the impact of free local listings on the core selling experience that charges a final value fee, the risk was that it would be too complex to educate users about the different selling types, and would be another point of frustration.
Ultimately this felt like a business problem rather than a user problem, the value for the customer was so eroded by poor integration, that we would end up churning all the existing users we were trying to maintain and grow.
The decision was made to close the service down, without migrating the user base, one that the visualization of the end to end experience helped make clear to all, and avoid a lot of wasted resource. Even though it didn’t end up producing a successful product, I am still proud of the teams work in helping to explore the space and deliver a clear expression of the compromise.
The process has helped inform the future strategy and also helped inform the development of many design patterns that are being used in new experiences today, so nothing is ever wasted!