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. It states that 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 Trust

Designing for Trust starts at the brand’s inception. The perception of a brand and its product is determined when making the first decision to use said brand. This is one of the reasons why word-of-mouth recommendations are so effective. We trust the people giving us the recommendation, and in turn, we place this trust in the brand.

In a 2021 survey of users, it became clear that for users who previously had a bad experience either with the platform or with other users, trust was significantly less compared to users who did not report bad experiences. Interestingly, word of mouth may influence users’ trust just as much, as the same effect was observed for people who merely heard about bad experiences from their family or friends. This is why setting and meeting user expectations play a big role in establishing trust. Throughout the whole user journey, it is about providing an overall experience that meets expectations. One can still trust a product even if it involves a high-risk transaction IF the expectations are set correctly at the outset. Not meeting expectations harms and diminishes that trust. In this sense, one could say that trust can’t be separated from a good experience. What does that mean for marketplaces where more than one party is involved?

Trust in Marketplaces

One of the biggest challenges in establishing user trust in a marketplace is that there are different trust relationships to be considered. The three relationships mentioned above all influence each other. This means that a bad experience concerning trust between the buyer and the seller has a negative impact on trust levels between the buyer/seller and the platform. As a marketplace, there is limited control over the buyer-seller relationship, which is a difficult uncertainty to navigate. The challenge is to help users avoid bad experiences (e.g. fraudulent or unreliable transactions) without over-engineering a prevention system that, in turn, could harm a simple and smooth user journey for both parties. Simple measures – like buyer protection on Ricardo or informational banners about fraud on and homegate – are elements that evoke trust and that users are constantly exposed to, which over time, builds trust.

Building Trust by 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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