Sponsor Spotlight - Marktplaats

In this fourth edition of Sponsor Spotlight we're focusing on Marktplaats. Founded in 1999, the giants of classified advertising are one of the most visited websites in the Netherlands. Marktplaats is a Dutch institution akin to appeltaart and stroopwafels and we're delighted to have them back sponsoring us for a second year in a row.


We met up with UX Lead, Jeroen Mulder to discuss Marktplaats ongoing transformation, challenges and get his thoughts on the state of UX in 2017. We also talked about Cricket (but for some reason, that part of the conversation didn't make the edit!)

Jeroen Mulder.jpg

Jeroen, thanks for your time. Tell our readers a little about yourself?

I've been interested or involved in design from an early age, launching my own small businesses as a teenager and then moving on to study Communication and Multimedia Design at de Haagse Hoogschool. After I graduated I started working for Funda. I was there for 9 years and saw a lot of growth and focus on UX. When I started, there were 1.5 UX'ers, but when I left that had increased to 8. Funda was founded in 2000 and already had "User Experience Design" as a role and focus within the company at that time, so design was part of its DNA. I learnt a lot there. Just over a year ago I started looking for a new challenge and now I am working at Marktplaats as UX Lead.

Tell us more about Marktplaats and it's focus on UX?

Marktplaats has been around for a long time and has really made an impact on the Netherlands, but at the same time, it's an 18-year-old company: we all know that you have to continue to re-invent yourself. Right now, Marktplaats is in a period of change, we have been through a big re-organisation focusing on the way we work, moving from business lines and silos to cross-functional teams while, at the same time, building a UX team that adds value at a strategic level, which is my job. It's a big challenge for a company like Marktplaats. We have around 150 employees and the classified advertising space hasn't really changed a lot. But if you look at what we are trying to do, which is to help people find the best deal, then there is still a lot of room for improvement and that is why I joined the company. I truly believe that we can play a much bigger role in the Netherlands than maybe we have done in the past. Also, the world has changed, people are expecting more and more from market leading companies. Our challenges are to ensure that we meet and preferably exceed the expectations of our users. It all starts with having the right culture and organisation and if you've got this right, hopefully you can create great products and services.

How do you address some of the challenges that designing for a demographic as wide as Marktplaats?

We have to accept that we are designing for "everyone", which makes it difficult. We all know the saying that "If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody!". Every time you approach a product it's really important to get a laser focus on who is the customer and what is this customer actually trying to accomplish. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the "Jobs to be done" framework, which is less focused on the demographic and more on what a user is looking to achieve. The demographic is so wide that you can't just pick one, so you need to find a common-ground. This is typically what the user is trying to do and the context they are trying to do it in. This is what we attempt to design for.

Do you take a different approach to how you design for sellers and how you design for prospective buyers?

Our cross-functional teams are organised on one part of the customer journey and part of that is focused on people looking to buy and part of it is focused on people looking to sell. But at a certain point in the journey, there will be a moment when the two start to interact with each other. Instead of having a team focus on either one of the two, we have a "Trading" team, focused on facilitating the communications between buyers and sellers, so that's one way we try to bring them together. They are both attempting to accomplish the same thing, but from a different point of view. They're trying to get a good deal. It's all about setting and meeting expectations from both sides. We're a market place and we're all about connecting people, so it's important that everything we do takes both sides into account.

Where do you see that the User Experience of Marktplaats "ends"?

There is a difference between what we've done and what we are looking to do. Markplaats has traditionally been a platform to either list your goods or look for items to buy. As soon as people start interacting with each other then we leave it up to them. If you look at the entire customer journey, then it ends somewhere after the transaction is complete or goods have been exchanged. One of the things that we use a lot internally is the Peak End Theory from Daniel Kahneman (Psychologist and Author of "Thinking Fast and Slow"). This focuses on the idea that an experience is defined by the emotional peak and the emotional end. So if you apply that to the Customer Journey at Marktplaats, a lot of the Customer Experience is defined by the end of the experience, so the interaction between the buyer and the seller, the negotiation, meeting up at a stranger’s house or trusting each other that if you transfer the money, the goods will be shipped to you. That's an incredibly important part of the journey where we haven't played a role historically, but it's where I see we can make a difference. We're still a facilitator, but we want to give users tools to establish trust and minimise frustration. If a transaction is unsuccessful or someone has a bad experience, it may have an impact on whether that user considers using Marktplaats in the future.. 

With a user base as large as that of Marktplaats, User Research must play a large part in what you do. Can you tell us a bit more about your research methods?

We do a lot of different things. We have a toolbox of qualitative and quantitative research and the method we select will depend on the question we have and the potential time and cost to perform the research. We talk to users and invite them to our office, but preferably, we'd like to visit them in their homes. We also visited an Afvalpunt (a waste disposal point / recycling facility) where we asked people who turned up with their cars, "Why are you throwing this away?" The conversation is not, initially, about Marktplaats. Going back to the “Jobs to be Done” framework, we're trying to find out the reasons as to why people are disposing of these items. There are several possible reasons; maybe it's just in the way at home or there is no resale value or they just don’t know any better. So a lot of our work is about finding those edges of the customer journey and understanding why people use Marktplaats in the first place, ensuring that we understand this and then work on meeting their expectations. When I ask people to name our competitors, they name the obvious candidates, other platforms or free ads or whatever, but from a customer point of view, we are also competing with the garbage man, the neighbour, the nephew or just simply leaving the item in the house and doing nothing with it. The motivation for using Marktplaats is not always the money that you can make on listing items you no longer use. Some people just want to free up space in their house or they want to make someone else happy.

Do you see yourselves competing with platforms like Free Community Facebook groups where users give away their goods for free or are these "free" trades of less interest to you?

We're all about connecting people so that they can exchange goods. Typically, most of our users are listing items for sale, but not everyone is motivated by money and we don't always offer those with other motivations the tools that they need. We have started to change our thinking and taken an "Outside In" approach. The world has changed in 18 years. People have changed, technology has changed. If we only look "Inside Out", we may miss the obvious and what is happening out there. It's the same with the sharing economy or the circular economy; we need to constantly talk to the users, not about our company, but about them and their lives to understand if we're still relevant and whether our role is the same as we envisaged it to be. Talking to users should be like oxygen for a company. It's highly qualitative and that's fine. It helps us find out, as Donald Rumsfeld calls it, the "Unknown Unknowns". That's where the disruption can happen. So if we want to stay a market leader, then we have to be constantly critical of ourselves and keep challenging ourselves.

How big is the UX team at Marktplaats?

We currently have 5 designers. They do quite a lot of research with Product Managers. We also have a shared resource of people who perform dedicated user research. But currently, these researchers have to serve the entire company, so they can often be busy with other tasks, therefore we try to hire designers who are capable of asking the right research questions. 

It sounds like you joined Marktplaats at an interesting time, can you tell us a bit more about the changes that the company is going through and the challenges that these bring?

The company knew it needed to change when I joined. We're an established company and that comes with its challenges, but we're building a User Experience Design team. We've also re-organised to focus on self-organised, cross-functional teams and we're managing on outcome and not output, so we have a lot of initiatives and structure in place to make sure that we can move quickly and try to do the right things for our users.

One of our main challenges now is the fact that each cross-functional team is delivering on three platforms, web, iOS and Android. We use dual track agile. All of our initiatives are labelled as either Discovery work or Delivery work. The single goal of Discovery work is learning: getting through the "Build, Measure, Learn" cycle as quickly as possible to determine that we're building the correct thing or indeed that there is a problem in the first place that we need to build for. I expect designers to spend about 50% of the time in the Discovery track, preferably a bit more, than the rest of the time in delivery, working with developers to build for iOS, Android and Web. But if you have to deliver on three platforms, that's a lot of work and we're not currently in the position where we have a well-established style guide or component library to really move quickly and deliver easily and swiftly across all platforms. Designers are still spending a lot of time in the Delivery track. We're investing in style guides and component libraries to hopefully reduce the time required in Delivery and free designers up to do more Discovery.

What are some of the pitfalls that you see in the UX world?

As designers, we tend to show screens to people very quickly. While screens are often what we deliver, I'd argue that most of our work has nothing to do with screens. It has to do with understanding the problem, what needs to be accomplished, understanding users, understanding our vision, strategy and Information Architecture. These elements have nothing to do with screens. But designers can be guilty of showing screens and showing options. We should postpone showing screens for as long as possible and talk about goals, principles and visions. If you are all aligned on that, then a screen becomes an obvious piece of output. Also, if you've done the groundwork correctly, there shouldn't be many options to present, your background work should eliminate the possibility that you are presenting options to people who are not experts and who have not performed or been involved with the research. I think we are selling ourselves short in this area. We are experts.

You were at UXcampAMS16 last year. Any highlights or talks that you found interesting?

There was a great presentation from Adyen on Point of Sale UX. It was really interesting, as it's so different to what I do on a day-to-day basis. It's important to step outside of what you know and explore different areas to really understand how they work, learn from them and gain confidence that the design skills we have can be applied to pretty much any area.

Will you pitch a talk this year?

We plan to pitch one or two talks, we're still working on it. We have an interesting story about how we approach design and the changes that the company is going through. There will be three designers present from Marktplaats and we look forward to having some interesting conversations throughout the day.

Is there a topic or area of discussion that you'd like to see addressed at UXcampAMS17?

I think, when we talk about corporate design and design strategy, design is the easy part. Really changing the company and the experience of the company requires designers to go beyond their "design part" and delve into business, marketing and technology and really understand the problems in these areas. I'm a huge fan of Design Sprints as they can help to align people on the same principles and goals and ensure that you can build products that are good for the user AND good for the business as the same time. This leads to a sustainable product. I'd be keen to hear and contribute more on a discussion in this area.

Thanks to Jeroen for his time. It was great to hear what’s happening at Marktplaats as well as gain further insight into how Jeroen approached UX. I’d encourage you to vote for one of Marktplaats’ pitches during the Madness Session and find out more.