What Sort of Service Is Mercari—Japan’s Largest C2C Marketplace?

Hello, everyone! I am @Kayoreena, and I work on Mercari India’s Employer Branding. In this edition of Mercan, we take a deep dive to answer the question, “what kind of service is Mercari?”

Mercari is a C2C marketplace that first launched in Japan in 2013. Using a smartphone app, our users can sell items they are no longer using and also shop online for secondhand items. In Japan alone, 20 million monthly active users (MAU) now use Mercari. Early in the company’s history, we also launched our services in the US and now 4.9 million users buy and sell on the US version of Mercari. With the Mercari marketplace as its bedrock, the company Group has launched a number of other businesses in Japan. These include Merpay, our mobile payment service; Mercari Shops, a B2C e-commerce platform; and Mercoin, a company involved in cryptoassets, blockchain planning, and development services. In the summer of 2022, to further invest in our IT resources, we set up the Center of Excellence in Bengaluru, India.

Although Mercari is Japan’s largest C2C marketplace, the service remains unknown in some corners, so in this article, we’re taking a deep dive into the service model, history, social impact, and future developments of Mercari Group’s foundation service: Mercari’s marketplace.

For this interview, we spoke with Kazuto Uemura, from Mercari Japan’s Customer Marketing Team.

Kazuto Uemura
Kazuto joined Mercari in January 2016. Since the early years of the service, he has supported its growth as a member of Customer Service (CS). Currently a member of the Customer Marketing Team, he spearheaded offline initiatives, including Mercari Workshops. He also worked on strengthening the company’s messaging outside of the app, including our official Instagram page, Twitter feed, and the Mercari column, expanding our touchpoints with users and working to enhance engagements.

──The topic I’d like us to cover today is Mercari as a service. I would like us to go right back to the basics for a second to answer the question, “What kind of service is Mercari?”

In our company literature we say something like, Mercari is a C2C marketplace used by more than 20 million monthly active users in Japan, but personally, when I get asked this question I say that Mercari is a service that has democratized the process of selling, making it possible for anyone to sell things.

They say that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure; however, in the course of daily life, even if we do make purchases, most people don’t really sell things. People have the impression that the act of selling, like putting items up for auction, is something that only a few expert business people do. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for Mercari, some individuals could spend their entire lives without ever experiencing what it’s like to vault over the obstacle of making their first sale.

Across Japan, people have sold things at flea markets or secondhand bookstores, but I think that even this is limited only to people who are interested in these experiences. But now that Mercari is available, we’ve made it possible for anyone to easily sell online regardless of their level of knowledge or IT literacy, and I think that’s what makes Mercari a revolutionary service. What’s more, the fact that selling is tied to the consumption behavior of letting something go is where Mercari has created a new sense of value.

Everyone has a lot of experience buying things, but when it comes to selling, the options are more difficult. I think that what makes Mercari a thrilling place to work is being able to provide people with the option of selling, and I hope that a lot of people will get to have the experience of selling.

To help our users save time, Mercari developed a feature that allows listers to automatically upload their item’s product information to the listing screen simply by scanning the bar code of the item they would like to list.

──So is spreading the experience of selling one of the things that you keep in mind in the company’s marketing?

In pursuing company profits, there is a tendency to get caught up with the idea of wanting users to become sellers in order to spread the experience of selling. This is why we end up trying to come up with ways to encourage people who have never sold on Mercari before to become sellers. For example, we have prepared listing kits to make selling easier. Naturally, this is also an important strategy for resolving the question that many users have of how to sell on our marketplace. However, when we actually observe our users’ behavior closely, we see that the people who sell on Mercari do so without any such incentives.

Going forward, to provide even more users with the experience of selling, I think we have to contemplate how to expand the option of letting things go (as opposed to throwing them away). I work believing that we have to face the issues associated with secondhand marketplaces in earnest and that exciting the entire market will eventually lead to future users.

Owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company organized our first-ever online event, called Mercari Online Fest, where Kazuto was the MC. The event, which was broadcast on YouTube, took on the challenge of delivering information across a wide range of topics including the latest information from Mercari and techniques for using the marketplace, as well as sessions and discussions of development secrets with employees.

──What are some of the possible explanations behind why C2C transactions have become so popular in Japan through Mercari?

There are two things that people often say. First, our company’s launch was well timed. And second, when we launched, there was no existing service that was optimized for smartphones. For example, there were apps that catered to particular categories, such as fashion and handmade goods, but there was no single service covering all the genres that Mercari does. Mercari made it possible for anyone to buy and sell with ease, regardless of the age and gender of the user, or the category of the items they were handling. I think that’s probably the biggest reason why so many people use our service. Because Mercari was designed so that listing would be as simple as possible, I think we were able to impress users and provide a memorable experience for them.

Also—and I can say this because I have four and a half years of experience working on CS at Mercari— I think it was great that Mercari invested in CS early on and was prepared for customer inquiries. What’s more, we were able to move feedback on the product in a quick cycle, and we built a system that linked CS with development, allowing us to respond quickly to our users’ opinions and requests which also supported the growth of our service.

──What do you think it is about Mercari that makes our services so enjoyable and appealing to our users?

To paraphrase our users, one thing I often hear people say is that it’s convenient. From the sellers’ standpoint, I hear a lot of people say that things that you wouldn’t think would sell, do. And from the buyer’s perspective, a lot of people say that they find what they’re looking for as if hunting for treasure. There are a lot of items on Mercari that have long since been discontinued or that are for connoisseurs of obscure niches. One thing that buyers and sellers alike say about the service is that it is safe and the customer service is well structured.

Moreover, I think that people see the advantages of being able to use Mercari to sell items you don’t need, in order to make spending money, as a universally accepted form of value. By selling items, users acquire income, and with that money, they can invest in doing things that they want. It’s a new source of income for our users that’s separate from what they get from working.

When you take a deep dive into users’ joy of using Mercari, you really hear from a lot of different voices. So if you ask 100 users what they like about Mercari, you’ll hear 100 different reasons and stories, and I think there is still a lot of room for us to relay those messages to other people.

──Next year will mark 10 years since Mercari started its service. How do you think the company has had an impact on the world?

I remember reading a past report that said because of Mercari, the primary shipping market had actually grown. An increase in shipping materials purchases and dry cleaning services were also linked to our business activities, which are yielding an economic multiplier effect on the market. In addition, there has been a shift in consumer perception, especially among young people, who increasingly shop with the intention of selling their purchases later thanks to the service Mercari provides. If a ¥200,000 brand name product can be sold for ¥180,000, the user actually only pays ¥20,000 for it. Assuming that these users will sell their products once they’re done with them, purchases are not a way of consuming products, but rather investing in them. I think that this sort of shift in consumer behavior takes hold a little more with each passing year.

But for all the positive elements of the service, there are also some negatives. The fact that Mercari’s service has resulted in people suffering losses has been the subject of repeated discussions in the past of what are called “negative externalities.” For example, there are concerns for secondary distributors. Rights holders have raised the issue of sharing revenue with the original owners and creators of items that are sold as secondhand products on Mercari.

The mission and vision of Mercari’s product contribute to the current SDGs, and using the service is for me the most familiar link I have to “actions that are good for the earth’s environment.” I think that using Mercari as a starting point for environmentally friendly actions like these is also a positive.

Mercari aims to contribute to realizing a society where finite resources are used sparingly and everyone can create new value. As part of this effort, Mercari carries out various activities that have a positive impact on the environment and on society through its businesses and operations, and since 2020, we have published a yearly Sustainability Report summarizing these activities.

──Starting this year, Mercari is aiming to further accelerate the company’s technology by investing in a development office.What do you think will happen to Mercari going forward, or alternatively, what would you like to do for the company?

Currently, items on Mercari have a minimum listing price, but there remain a lot of things that I would like us to list for free. Specifically now, because there is little distance between the users who do business with each other, if there were more options than shipping by mail, such as handing off items directly, I personally feel that this would link to the activation of local communities. In the true meaning of the word “circular,” I think more items would trade hands through Mercari.

However, people are still weary of business dealings that occur between individuals. When it comes to the Mercari marketplace app, I think that people can use our service safely, because we have a means of verifying users’ identities and credit information, and because of this you could say that the trust of each of our users is visible.

If we can organize our means for making Mercari a robustly safe and reliable product for people to use, I think that we’ll likely see a future in which material resources circulate even more.

Beyond that, I think there could be a broader world where people exchange more than just things, but rather intangible resources, including skill sharing, for instance. The options for transactions would expand and so too would the potential of material resources and people.

──Thank you for sharing that vision. In closing, do you have a message for all the people out there who are going to join Mercari Group as new employees?

I myself am a Mercari user, and I love our product. I don’t think there are a lot of services where you can be a user or a fan, and then also go on to become a provider for the service. This is one of the things that make our company an incredible place to work.

We are a C2C service that hears directly from our users. This is a driving force of my own work. Sure, some of our members do leave Mercari to pursue other things, but I don’t think that any of those among them end up leaving because they get fed up with Mercari’s service.

Even if you are knowledgeable about our service, you can’t really foster a sincere appreciation for Mercari unless you use it yourself, so I want our members to use our service a lot. Don’t forget the user’s perspective. I want you to value a mindset that looks at things from various angles and asks how we can make our users happier and also asks whether you are seeing things from the user’s perspective and without losing sight of their point of view.

I believe that Mercari is a product that still has a lot of potential for growth, so I look forward to working toward the next phase of Mercari Group’s future together with our new members.

We are actively recruiting members for our Backend Team, Mobile Team, and Engineering Manager right now. If you would consider working with us at Mercari India, go ahead and apply through the hiring page linked below! (The job postings may change from time to time.)

Keep an eye out for more articles from Mercari India about what Mercari Group is up to. We will keep posting the latest information to our official LinkedIn, so please give us a follow there!

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