How Do Marketplaces Establish User Trust?


Trust is a broad term, especially when we apply it to the online world. For online marketplaces, trust plays a crucial role in their success. It is one of the most important factors that contribute to the willingness to buy and sell on a platform.

Elina Unterweger, Hesham Youssef, and Mathias Jenny have all worked on increasing trust and safety on SMG platforms from different angles of expertise. They have shared with us what they have learned and what User Trust really means to them.

What is Trust

Trust represents the degree to which a user feels comfortable about exchanging their most valuable assets (such as money and identity) via a platform. A good framework for trust is the pyramid of trust: the lower levels of the pyramid need to be fulfilled in order to establish trust on higher levels. In the case of marketplaces, there is also a differentiation between the various parties involved:

  • The supplier of the goods needs to trust the platform to be a suitable place for their goods or services.
  • The buyer must trust the platform to be safe and host trustworthy sellers.
  • The supplier and buyer need to trust each other to fulfil their responsibilities.

But how does a marketplace establish a baseline of trust with its users so it can build on it over time? This is where the concept of “Designing for Trust” comes into play.

Designing for User Trust

Designing for User Trust begins at the brand’s inception. When we decide to use a brand, perception of the product is formed. Word-of-mouth recommendations are powerful; we trust those who recommend, and in turn, trust the brand.

In a 2021 survey, users with bad experiences had significantly lower trust. Our UX experts surveyed users who encountered platform or user issues. Word-of-mouth also impacts trust; hearing about bad experiences affects it. Meeting user expectations is crucial for trust. Trust and good experience are inseparable. Marketplaces with multiple parties face challenges.

User Trust in Marketplaces

Brand inception initiates Designing for User Trust. Users determine brand perception when deciding to use it. Word-of-mouth recommendations are effective as we trust those who give them, thus trusting the brand.

In a 2021 survey, users without bad experiences had significantly higher trust. Our UX experts conducted the survey among users who encountered platform or user issues. Interestingly, word-of-mouth affects trust for those who hear about bad experiences from family or friends. Setting and meeting user expectations play a big role in establishing trust. Providing an overall experience that meets expectations throughout the user journey is crucial. Trust remains even in high-risk transactions if expectations are set correctly. Not meeting expectations harms and diminishes trust. In this sense, we can’t separate trust from a good experience. For marketplaces with multiple parties, challenges arise.

Trust Through Exposure

Elements associated with trust (e.g. the above-mentioned buyer protection) will have to be shown again and again throughout the whole user journey. The same goes for repeated word-of-mouth reminders that a platform has brought about a positive experience.

A constant challenge for platforms that strongly rely on a trustworthy relationship between different parties is negativity bias, in which a negative experience has more potential to ruin a positive overall view of a platform than a positive experience has to compensate for a negative experience.

However, by constantly improving the platform’s security, fraud detection, and implementing user feedback regarding the customer journey, trust is something that will be continuously built and increased.

A big thank you to Elina Unterweger, Hesham Youssef, and Mathias Jenny for their insightful input and contributions to the topic.

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