Eight Keywords for Delving Into Mercari: Our First 10 Years and the Potential and Future We Seek to Unleash / The Second Keyword: “Customer Experience”

February 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of Mercari, Inc. We now have a new Group mission of “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.”

Here at Mercan, we have kicked off a new series feature called “Eight Keywords for Delving Into Mercari: Our First 10 Years and the Potential and Future We Seek to Unleash,” where we will shine the spotlight on the thoughts and dreams put into this new Group mission and what we intend to achieve in the future. We will hear from key people who will lead Mercari into its next era, and try to paint a picture of the present and future of the organization that is Mercari to help us imagine how we can contribute to the company in the coming ten years.

For the second article of this series, the keyword is “customer experience.” We sat down with Aki Saarinen (@akis), CPO of Marketplace, David Ghijben (@david), lead of the Customer Experience Team, and Hyungjin Kim (@hyungjin), lead of the Data-Driven Team, and asked them about the kind of customer experience they have been creating at Mercari and their vision under the new Group mission.

Featured in this article

  • Aki Saarinen(@akis)

    Aki discovered programming at the age of eight and has aspired to create amazing products ever since. He joined Mercari in 2019 and currently serves as the CPO (Marketplace) where he leads our global product team to deliver excellent experiences to customers.

  • David Ghijben(@david)

    David joined Mercari in Feb 2020 to lead the redevelopment of our Mercari website, bringing with him experience from Rakuten and Fast Retailing. He currently leads our Customer Experience efforts, focusing on empowering our customers with a best-in-class experience.

  • Hyungjin Kim(@hyungjin)

    Hyungjin is the director of data-driven products at Mercari. After starting his role at Mercari in 2021 as the product leader in search & discovery, he is mobilizing his AI and data product leadership experiences in Japanese leading IT companies like DeNA and LINE. He is currently spearheading product-led growth by challenging the product’s maturity to unleash the full potential of the Mercari customers, marketplace and himself.

Focusing further on circulating all types of value and goods within our society

──To start off, all three of you are involved in customer experience at Mercari. What are your thoughts on the new Group mission, from the perspective of the customer experience?

@akis:Actually, before getting into the new Group mission, I’d like to talk a little bit about its connection to our previous mission. There have been many big inventions and developments throughout the course of human history. Going way back to the days of hunting and gathering, those early humans made the shift to agriculture and changed the way humans live and eat. From there, there was a phase of mass manufacturing and industrialization, which led to the development of countries and communities. I think it was around this time of industrialization that humans began buying and selling goods, and the concept of the marketplace was born.

When Mercari first launched in 2013, it was right around the time when smartphones were becoming widely used, and it introduced a lot of new ways for people to buy and sell goods. Mercari’s first mission of “Create value in a global marketplace where anyone can buy & sell” focused on this marketplace function and providing users with an easy, safe, and secure platform to buy and sell their goods. To achieve this mission, we have been focused on expanding our features and presence as a marketplace app until now.

The new Group mission is different in that it places the focus on unleashing the potential in people, and it takes into consideration the shift happening now toward a circular economy. Nowadays, there is a huge emphasis on reuse—it is no longer an age of mass production and consumption. I think Mercari has always been contributing to the realization of a sustainable society, but the new mission refines and defines our purpose in a broader way. Under this new mission, we need to go beyond just being a marketplace for people to buy and sell things. Our purpose is to circulate all types of value and goods within our society.

To go into the specific themes we have been working on with our product, building a safe and secure service has been and will continue to be a key theme for us. In terms of customer experience and continuing to improve our product’s features, another major theme has been simplicity of use and making selling easy. Going forward, by making our product easy and effortless to use, I hope Mercari will grow into a platform that allows anyone to participate in the circular economy.

@david:Aki brought up an interesting point about the industrial revolution and the beginnings of the concept of the marketplace. Actually, though, I think its beginnings may have been much further back in time. When you think about it, we hear about trading even back in the era of cavemen—someone would bring back an animal they hunted and get something in return. In that sense, I think the exchange of value and goods can be traced back to the days of hunting and gathering. The marketplace is just an extension of what our ancestors have been doing since the beginning of time.

And as Aki mentioned, the new Group mission is broader and more abstract to encapsulate the opportunities we have moving forward. The future we envision is not just limited to a marketplace for buying and selling goods. With the new mission, we can branch out and capture these new opportunities in areas like blockchain or bitcoin. Right now, we are in the preparation phase to carve out this kind of future for us.

More specifically on the product side, we have been putting a lot of focus on expanding Mercari Shops over the past year. Businesses are facing a challenge in what to do with their waste and deadstock. Some companies give them away to charity organizations, but in some cases, they may be burned or otherwise disposed of. We have been trying to expand Mercari Shops to help resolve this waste problem by acting like an outlet mall, where products can be bought and sold apart from the conventional ways of distributing goods. If Mercari Shops can serve this sort of function, it will also give us an opportunity to make a bigger ESG impact. This is just one example, but we are working on building our platform with the grander mission of circulating value within society and creating a circular economy.

In terms of the word “value,” I think it can be interpreted in many different ways. Money, points, bitcoin…these are all different forms of value that Mercari can potentially provide to our users. Instead of having only one type of interaction to choose from—exchanging goods for money—we can unleash more possibilities and allow goods to be exchanged for investment vehicles, for example.

To make this vision a reality, we will need to create a more solid link between our marketplace services and our fintech services, including Merpay and Mercoin. At the moment, they are a bit separated, but I think we can better integrate both sides and allow users to move between the services more seamlessly.

Finally, we are currently working on what we call the “wakuwaku transaction completion screen” in the app. Like the name suggests in Japanese, with this feature, we are hoping to give people a sense of accomplishment and joy (or wakuwaku) when they receive their money from Mercari. Once the money is deposited, we will send them a congratulatory notification, along with recommendations on easy ways they can use the value they just earned, like investing in some bitcoin. By further personalizing our product’s touchpoints like this, I believe we can enhance and add more value to the customer experience.

David Ghijben(@david)

@akis:I’d also like to mention that we recently revamped our technology with the GroundUp App (internal development code name), which we released in September of last year. This project applied to both our iOS and Android apps, and it will accelerate the speed at which we can develop and improve the customer experience. We spent a lot of effort on this project in 2022.

Looking forward at the coming years, there have already been many ideas thrown out about how we can further enhance the customer experience. David touched on the wakuwaku feeling of excitement and joy. That is an important factor that has come up in our discussions recently. Using Mercari should be fun, and it is! It is inherently a very emotional experience to exchange items with another person. As a seller, of course, there is the desire to convert your items into money. However, there is also the appeal of being a part of a community and helping others. It feels good to make a positive impact on society and the environment by circulating your items. Then, on the buyer side, there is the excitement of finding a good deal. We want to highlight and display these positive emotions that come from completing transactions on Mercari.

Circulating value is not just about items moving from point A to point B. The beauty lies in the overall experience and the feeling people get when circulating their items. If it makes you happy, you will do it again, and that, in turn, will promote a healthy cycle of circulation. Buying and selling things on Mercari should not feel like a task. It should feel more like a hobby, something you want to do for fun. That is my vision for the customer experience.

Unless we create something better for the user, we cannot grow our business

──I thought your point about the idea and role of the marketplace in human history was very interesting, Akis. It also made me curious, within the product organization, do you ever go into the fundamental question of why you are developing and working on this product with your teams?

@akis:This is related to the development structure that we are trying to create. I believe every member of a product development team—including but not limited to engineers, product managers, designers, and data analysts—is essentially a creative person. Perhaps they collaborate with marketers, or work with some other customer support members. With all of these teams, we definitely try to empower them to dig deep into the “why” and ask themselves, “Why am I doing this work?” And ultimately, we want members to connect this “why” to both business value and customer value. This is because for a consumer-facing company like us, business value is reliant upon customer value—unless we create something better for the user, we cannot grow our business. This connection between the “why” and customer value looks different depending on each team’s role, but it is essential to come up with ways to measure whether customer value is being created. That’s where metrics like KPIs come in. These figures help us quantify and measure whether or not something is enhancing the customer experience and creating customer value.

With most of the changes we make to the product, we do not know whether the change is good or bad until we try it and see the response. At Mercari, we give teams the power to formulate and try out ideas on what they think is best for our product. It is a development cycle of teams coming up with ideas, presenting proposals, running different experiments, accumulating data on the user response, and measuring whether the change had a positive impact. User interviews are another important way we measure whether something was a positive change.

As you can imagine, it is not always easy to take the abstract idea of customer value and turn it into concrete changes to make to our product. Sometimes, it takes time to find the answers we are looking for. However, by encouraging teams to think about the bigger picture and empowering them to experiment with their ideas, I believe it leads to a better and stronger product.

In this way, we place a lot of emphasis on demonstrating and quantifying the impact on our users. Our organization trusts the product teams to iterate and keep learning from this cycle of trial and feedback. And, this is exactly why working on customer experience improvement can be a never-ending journey! (laughs)

@hyungjin:Well, there you go! Aki basically covered it. (laughs) I agree that creating business value is closely linked to creating customer value. Personally, I define customer value as our users being able to experience success over and over again within our marketplace.

This success will look different for each person—for example, it will look different between buyers and sellers. So, part of the challenge is understanding each individual and finding the common ground. That is where data can help. Right now, we are actually thinking about establishing a common set of metrics or goals for data usage between teams. These metrics will be focused on the question of “What is the best way to create value for our users?”

Now more than ever, we are in an age that places a lot of focus on the individual’s thoughts and opinions. However, we must also keep in mind the fact that individuals can be limited by their own context or environment. If we can give individuals a greater understanding of all the functions that the Mercari marketplace can serve, it may open them up to more opportunities for success. I believe that by carefully analyzing, visualizing, and presenting data about our marketplace, we will be able to further unleash the potential of each individual user.

Hyungjin Kim(@hyungjin)

@david:Each team has various functions within our organization, but we have been trying to strengthen our user research capabilities in particular. Through user research, we are aiming to gain a clearer understanding of Mercari’s value propositions to determine the best approach to take. On a similar note, we are planning to work more closely with the Customer Support Team. I want to make sure their input is shared with the development teams, since it will also be increasingly important to incorporate Voice of Customer (VOC) data in the development process.

Hyungjin spoke about our users experiencing success, but I consider there to be two sides to this: seller success and buyer satisfaction. And, I think there is still room for improvement on both sides. For sellers, perhaps we can simplify parts of the user journey or provide seller metrics for them to have more success in selling items. On the opposite end, for buyers, we may be able to offer a more satisfactory experience by incorporating Mercari Shops into the product more seamlessly.

As we touched on before, we want to introduce the feeling of joy and excitement—of wakuwaku—to the product. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to overdo it, like inserting some random animals to pop up and start dancing in your face. (laughs) But we do want to spark some joy in the user when using the product.

@akis:Ultimately, in these discussions that happen during the course of the development process, teams are empowered and encouraged to think on their own. It is not a top-down approach where we have them execute things by command. In the journey of understanding what our users are feeling and trying to spark their emotions on our marketplace, we have also been promoting more collaboration with design teams. Their input can also empower the development teams to design the product with a more complete understanding of our users, through the additional perspectives of UX research, analysis of user behavior data, and VOC data.

Unleashing the potential in our users by letting their creativity run free

──For me, when thinking about the Group mission in terms of the customer experience, a word that comes to mind is “inclusivity,” or making Mercari a marketplace for everyone. Up until this point, Mercari has expanded its features using just one product and device, but I imagine this may also present some limitations or challenges. You have mentioned the need for Mercari to feel easy, approachable, and exciting to use, but how do you pack all of these components into one product?

@hyungjin:We were actually just talking about this yesterday. (laughs) This balance is indeed very challenging. In designing a universal product, one of the most difficult things is finding the right balance between new and existing users. Especially when it comes to some of Mercari’s existing users, they are experts who know the ins and outs of our product. There is no simple or automatic way to figure out how to satisfy these two very different types of users. I think in the end, to re-emphasize a point that has come up a few times in this conversation, the key is to look at things from the user’s point of view. Our users are sharp and intelligent, and their perspective on Mercari’s product value is a valuable one that must be taken into account.

Take updates to our Home screen, for instance. If there are too many features and tutorials directed toward new users, it will not be useful or interesting for our existing users. In order to prevent this from happening as much as possible, we develop features with this balance in mind. Come to think of it, though, marketplace platforms as a whole are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. Nowadays, even if someone is new to Mercari, there is a chance they may already be familiar with how to participate in an online marketplace, so that is another layer to consider and balance.

@david:I think in trying to find the balance between simplicity for new users and advanced functionality for power users, we must use the principles of human-centered design. Users are looking for a simple product that does not require much thought. However, at the moment, there are several occasions in the product where we make the user think too much. It is necessary for us to provide more informed choices to users while maintaining a seamless user journey.

@akis: I agree, maintaining balance is a big challenge. There are a few things, though, that I think could help us get closer to achieving this balance. The first is removing features. Building a good, simple product is not just about creating features, but also getting rid of features. Over the past few years, we have actually removed quite a lot of features for varying reasons—we may have seen that the feature was not being used that much, or found that the original hypothesis for creating the feature did not hold true. This is a hard thing to do, because it is very rare to find a feature that absolutely nobody likes. For most of the things we build, there are people who like it. But, in order to build a product that is inclusive and understandable for millions of people, removing things is equally as important as adding things. If we hold onto everything, it will become too complicated.

The second relates to what Hyungjin mentioned earlier: we are pursuing a product that is also beginner-friendly. In the development process, we always make sure to ask ourselves, “How would this look for someone who has never used Mercari before?” The tricky part is, if we spend too much time and resources thinking about something, there is a risk of over-complicating it. There is only a fine line between making something that everyone understands and making something that nobody understands. In other words, if you try to cater to everyone, you may end up catering to no one. This is a common pitfall that we must be mindful of.

And finally, the third thing. I have noticed that when we build product features, the most effective features are the ones that allow users to be creative. That is, the features that give people the freedom to play around with them and have fun. Prescriptive features that tell users exactly what to do may seem user-friendly at first, but in reality, people tend to be less interested in those features, since the possibilities are more limited. It is better to leave some opportunities for the user to take the feature and run with it.

Take a look at people’s user profiles, for example. Even though there is a character limit, people have found creative ways to customize it and express themselves. You see people writing fun self-introductions, or coming up with a theme for their item photos. We have a very broad user base, and one of the ways to make a product inclusive for a wide range of users is to give them a space for self-expression and unleashing their creativity.

The thing is, what users will end up doing with a feature is often not obvious. It is hard to predict, and to be honest, I don’t think we should even try. (laughs) Rather than sitting in a meeting room and trying to plan exactly how things will go, our approach is to build something that will empower our users, launch it, and see what they do with it. That’s part of the fun, actually! If we do the right things, people will find great utility and great joy in using those features.

@david: I couldn’t agree more. It is very interesting to observe how people find new ways to express themselves within the bounds of our feature set.

@akis:Right? Even with the item photos, there are so many different ways people include item information in their photos. And, trends like these are also hints for improvements we can make—maybe those item photos are an indication that we should change the metadata so users no longer have to do that. Mercari’s philosophy has always been to create relatively simple features that inspire creativity in our users. I think that this philosophy is part of the reason why Mercari has been so successful. Going forward, we will continue to follow this philosophy to unleash the potential in our users—if we can do that, I have no doubt it will ultimately lead to our own growth.

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