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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 sell and purchase on a platform. Ash McCallum, Elina Unterweger, Hesham Youssef, and Mathias Jenny all have worked on increasing trust and safety on TX Markets platforms from different angles of expertise and have shared with us what they have learned and what User Trust really means to them. 

Trust represents the degree to which a user feels comfortable about exchanging their most valuable belongings (like money and identity) via a platform. A good framework for trust is the pyramid of trust (see below). 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 also is a differentiation between the different parties involved: 

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


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

Designing for Trust

Designing for trust starts at the very beginning of the brand. The perception of a brand and its product is detrimental when it comes to making the first decision to use said brand. This is one of the reasons word-of-mouth recommendations are so effective. We trust the people giving us the recommendation and in turn, we place this trust on the brand. 

In a recent survey of tutti.ch users, it became clear that tutti users who previously had a bad experience either with the platform or with other users, trust significantly less compared to users who do 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 plays 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. 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 come into play? 

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 have an influence on 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. 

CAR FOR YOU as well as Ricardo offer buyer protection. CAR FOR YOU additionally offers verified listings, which can be compared to the Airbnb Superhost Programme. Here you can see what this looks like on the CAR FOR YOU website:

Trust-raising elements used on CAR FOR YOU

Another small but effective initiative that can build trust is “showing faces”, meaning that sellers are asked to upload a picture or description of themselves. This increases trust because there is a decrease in anonymity in the buyer-seller relationship. But when will a platform be perceived as trustworthy?


Building Trust by Exposure

Elements associated with trust (e.g. above-mentioned buyer protection or public profile images) 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 a 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 thank you to Ash McCallum, Elina Unterweger, Hesham Youssef, and Mathias Jenny for their insightful inputs and contributions to the topic. 

Check out this UX and engineering discussion, where Armin and Mostafa talk about cybersecurity collaborations that are crucial to reach a good level of trust on a marketplace:


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