Looking back on Mercari UK: What the founding members are up to now #BoldChallenge

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Go Bold, All for One and Be a Pro: Out of these three company values, we believe that “Go Bold” in particular is a perfect representation of Mercari’s culture. In the “Bold Challenge” series on Mercan, we will give the spotlight to Mercari members who have strived faithfully in our evolving environment, revealing the background behind the challenges they are taking on today.

The first entry in the series features Kazuya Kawashima and Takahiro Masaki, product managers (PM’s) who work on developing Mercari and Merpay’s services.

Mercari’s UK app was released in March 2017, the third one following the JP and US versions. Kawashima and Masaki originally joined the company with the intention of expanding Japanese services abroad ーwhat did they learn from launching the UK service, how did they respond to its closure, and what are they up to now?

We found out about the UK service’s closure when were were in Japan

ーThe Mercari Group announced in December 2018 that it would be ending its services in the UK. You two are the ones who originally went there to help start up those services. When did you hear the announcement?

Masaki: The closure was announced on December 18, and I’ll never forget it. Kawashima and I had already returned to Japan and were assigned to work at Mercari and Merpay. We didn’t know it was going to happen and we weren’t told beforehand, so the announcement took us by surprise. Right before I left, they decided that the UK app would focus solely on iOS. Looking back now, it’s possible that they were already trying to make a big decision at that point regarding the app’s future.

Kawashima: Yeah. I feel like I let down those who gave us their support and those who worked with us, but I feel really grateful at the same time. And I couldn’t let this stop me. My thought process was more like “I’ll have to do an even better job next time.”

Kazuya Kawashima (Merpay PM)

Masaki: Same here.

ーDid you both join Mercari knowing that you would be making the UK app?

Kawashima: For me, yes. I was interested in launching a CtoC service overseas while making full use of the knowledge and data gathered through Mercari. I joined the company in 2016 and went to the UK that summer, working on hiring and launching Mercari’s services.

Masaki: I wasn’t drawn so much by the idea of Mercari UK as I was by the fact that Mercari had the potential to take Japan’s services and develop them on an international scale. I joined in October 2016 and was assigned to work on the US Mercari CS Tool as a PM, and… Not even a week after that, Kawashima told me during a meeting, “I want you to go to the UK and work as the CS Tool development manager.”

Masaki Takahiro (Mercari PM)

Kawashima: Is that what happened? (laughs)

Masaki: Yes! (laughs) I looked back in my calendar to prepare for this interview. When I was coming home from a business trip in the US, Kawashima asked me, “do you want to go straight to the UK after that? Go Bold!” and I remember declining, saying “come on, that’s too much.” In November of that year though, I went on a business trip to the UK to work on CS Tool development, and ended up taking a position there.

EC in the UK is really advanced

Masaki: To continue the story, there weren’t really multiple product teams back then. We worked as a single team until the official release in March 2017. We were able to start hiring locally in January 2017, and we started splitting into different teams as we got more members. We made a lot of progress at once, and I think we had 3 teams in the end.

Kawashima: It was a pretty international team with a lot of members coming from several different European countries. And everyone got along great. I was originally worried about team splitting into a “Japanese members vs non-Japanese members” kind of state, but it turned out to be a wonderful team. We went out for drinks at the local pub almost every Friday. One thing that set us apart from other CtoC services was the fact that we were constantly exploring new options.

The moment of the UK product’s soft launch

Celebrating the soft launch

ーDid Mercari UK have a lot of competitors?

Masaki: Yes. The UK has a higher EC conversion rate than Japan. Using Amazon and eBay is completely normal, and there are also EC’s for fresh food and unmanned lockers for people to temporarily store their things. There were more people using apps to order groceries than people going to the supermarket.

ーWow, it really sounds like an advanced country for EC.

Masaki: Yep. Mercari UK and Mercari US used almost the exact same design. Only the payment and delivery options were changed to meet the UK’s standards. But because there were already so many EC services, it didn’t matter how good our features were. People would still think, “why would I need to use that?”

Kawashima: We had a lot of competitors, and that’s exactly why we had to differentiate ourselves. But Mercari is a marketplace app for selling any and every type of item. Because it covers such a broad scope, users end up not knowing exactly what the service is capable of. Finding a way to change that was one of our biggest challenges after the official release.

ーIn July 2018, you rebranded the UK app with a new logo. Was “differentiation” one of the reasons for this?


Kawashima: Yeah. Up until that point, us Japanese PM’s were leading development, but we passed off the decision-making to the local PM’s. I wasn’t directly involved with Mercari UK at that point, but the members held discussions on market positioning and value proposition, and I feel that they worked in a very Go Bold way.

What we learned through guerilla interviews: Donation culture and the importance of UX research

ーOne major part of expanding a service overseas is “localization.” How did you find out about the needs of Mercari UK’s local users?

Kawashima: We conducted UX research with a variety of methods like user interviews, focus groups, and guerilla interviews on the streets. We did more than just have users come to the office for interviews – we also made full use of online user testing tools. Guerilla interviews were tough! We’d have to awkwardly say “Hi!” to people on the streets, and some of them were a bit suspicious in the beginning. (laughs)

Masaki: Yeah, we did things like talk to people waiting at train stations. Not everyone was willing to listen to use, but we learned something important from doing this. The UK has a “donation culture” for unneeded items.

ーDonating instead of throwing away?

Masaki: Right. During the guerilla interviews, we asked people what they do with unneeded items. Many of them said that they donate to charities. We were only able to survey people in the UK, but it’s likely that other countries have similar cultures. At the very least, the UK has a lot of charity shops and thrift stores in town where people can bring their unneeded items at any time. So “donating” generally comes before “throwing away.” Mercari JP and Mercari UK both involve selling unused items, but the customer psychology is very different in the two countries.

Kawashima: Looking back, Mercari UK could have done more to get a feel for the marketplace before making its product. Of course, that doesn’t mean we weren’t paying attention to the market. At that time, Mercari made decisions in a product-driven and data-driven way, and our decision was to release a product first and work from there. I do think we could have done more to search for qualitative information and adopt them into our services at an earlier stage.

Masaki: There are certainly things we wish we had done better, but we’re taking that experience and putting it to use in Mercari and Merpay.

ーI see!

Kawashima: Nobuo Suzuki, a designer who helped establish Mercari UK, has brought his own ideas to Merpay such as the following: “In-depth research needs to be done before release” and “we need to be very particular about the UX.” To achieve that, we thoroughly conducted user interviews up until right before the release, and did internal testing and dogfooding on our services. I think that we were able to make a very high quality and satisfying UX thanks to that. Merpay has also been welcoming UX researchers since before the product release.

Masaki: I’m now part of the Lister Growth Team working on projects to increase the number of customers listing on the Mercari app, and we’re also starting to put a lot of focus on the UX. Mercari doesn’t have an official job position for UX researchers, but we do work together with the BI (Business Intelligence) Team which has members who can fill that role.

Kawashima: Yep. The Mercari Group as a whole has come to a point where it emphasizes UX research and focuses heavily on understanding the customer insight. I think that the knowledge gained from Mercari UK was one of the major factors that led to this.

Mercari is a place where talented members can regularly take on new challenges

ーYou both mentioned that you joined Mercari with the intention of taking on global challenges. Did your feelings change after hearing about the closure?

Masaki: To be frank, there’s so much to do every day that I don’t really have time to think about it. Whenever I have time to sit and think, I just end up with an urge to do the work in front of me.

Kawashima: “I don’t have time to think about it” is right. I like trying new things, so a big reason I wanted to get involved with Mercari UK was because it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s the same for Merpay, where I work now. The payment market is getting really heated, so working with stakeholders to expand our service is a fresh challenge.

Masaki: A big part of my motivation was “spreading Japan’s services around the world.” I decided that in order to achieve that, I needed to get involved with Mercari JP, the core of our services. That’s why I decided to join my team. It’s true that the Mercari Group has expanded significantly since the two of us joined, and that’s exactly why we want to test ourselves to see how much of an impact we can leave.

Kawashima: The best part of the Mercari Group is being able to work with so many talented people. It’s incredible, and I really want nothing more than to simply work together with those members to make great products.

Masaki: I totally understand! Being able to work with such talented people is a rare opportunity. We now have Mercari JP, US, and Merpay – our three pillars, so to speak. I’d love to take on Europe again if given the opportunity.

Kazuya Kawashima

After graduating from California State University, Northridge, Kawashima worked at Information Services International-Dentsu, Ltd. before joining Enigmo Inc. in 2006. As the VP of Engineering, he worked to launch a number of new businesses, including BUYMA, and experienced Enigmo listing on TSE Mothers in July 2012. In 2014, he was appointed representative director of stulio inc. After joining Mercari in March 2016, he moved to London, where he launched the UK version of Mercari. He returned to Japan in spring of 2018, and joined Merpay as a product manager.

Takahiro Masaki

After graduating, Masaki joined an IT startup as a backend engineer and product manager, working on services for supporting company recruitment. He joined Mercari in October 2016. For two years, he worked for Mercari UK as a product manager, starting from the very beginning and up until its closure. He returned to Japan in winter 2018 and now works for Mercari JP as a product manager.

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