Do We Really Want To Talk To Robots: Event Round Up

Freespee’s event; “Do we really want to talk to robots?” was a resounding success. An array of topics were covered by industry experts and GDPR fears were quelled. All in all, an evening of progress.

We started off with office preparations and photographs of the staff amongst the din. Prosecco was poured, and canapes were munched. Guests streamed in and socialised with Freespee team members in our open-plan space.
Eventually, we took our seats to begin the enlightening panel discussion featuring our CEO Anne de Kerchhove, Gumtree/eBay’s Head of Motors Vik Barodia and Freespee co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Carl Holmquist. The chat focused on AI, trust and the future impact of technology on brand and consumer relationships. Vik also brought up the future of MaaS (mechanics as a service), the gig economy and more.

The first quarter of the conversation covered AI. “It will become less an ‘I need something; therefore, I need to transact,” to a fully immersive experience that says, ‘hey have you thought about this?” and ‘we know what you want,’” said Vik.

He visualised a scenario where artificial intelligence is fully integrated into everyday goings-on.

“I’m amazed by what could one day be real life,” said Vik.

Presently, Barodia defines success in his industry not as predicting what a consumer wants before they want it, but by the building of trust.

“The reason that eBay is so successful is that it enhances the level of trust. eBay was one of the first businesses to introduce ratings. Ratings drive trust and probably the single biggest element of any transaction is trust. We see it on eBay and Gumtree all the time. Buyers are willing to pay more from a trusted seller. Influence comes from trust,” Vik stated.

Speaking of trust, during the Q&A portion, audience members brought up the word on everyone’s lips; GDPR.

One question explored how a post-GDPR world could stifle creativity when justification is now needed for every piece of data captured by marketers.
“I do think we’ll have a period of cleansing, but much of that pre-GDPR data wasn’t based on real relationships, replied Anne de Kerckhove. “We’re going to rebuild on true and trustworthy data and relationships. It’s a painful period, but once the data is clean, we’ll be able to renew our creativity.”

Renewal of creativity in this ever-changing world is something everyone can get onboard with.

“We are not that far away from big names in the digital space disappearing because they have failed to recognise what is happening in the online space, it’s completely cyclical,” Vik added.

Photographs: Howard Sayer 

The Future Of Marketplaces: Vik Barodia, eBay/Gumtree

Vik Barodia has been Head of Motors at eBay/Gumtree for close to three years, with this position he has garnered a front row seat to the current digital revolution hitting both marketplaces and the automotive industry. We had a few questions for Vik before his panel appearance at Freespee’s upcoming May 23rd event, “Do we really want to talk to robots?” in London. 


How has the buyer/seller relationship evolved in the last five years?

Gumtree and eBay are all about introductions. By that, we mean introducing buyer and seller so that they can agree on a transaction. That is the basic premise of marketplaces like ours. In the last years, what we have seen is that trust is now the single most important things deciding factor between the two parties. In fact, the “trust-drive” is so strong; buyers would rather pay more to buy an item from a trusted seller than a cheaper, identical item from a “weaker” seller. Trust is formed in many ways – experience reviews, ratings and a verified status all play a significant part.

Gumtree is focusing more on personalising the user experience, do you think the advent of AI will help or hinder this for marketplaces?

Artificial intelligence will play a very important role in the future of classified marketplaces. From booking tickets, buying and selling cars parts, and delivery – all facets of the buyer and seller chains can be impacted by AI. The challenge for marketplaces will be in our ability to use AI to build seamless experiences. Imagine a car part – AI can help the seller accurately list the part correctly for all the relevant vehicles it could be fitted into. The buyer gets the correct part every time. The use of AI can then help the buyer to fit the part themselves with DIY help or book the car into a service centre. All done seamlessly. Or a user buying a dress – AI can help them match that dress to a pair of shoes, handbag and even nail varnish colour – displaying all combinations for the user to choose from and buy. The options are endless – ultimately always driving success for seller and buyer which is what our platforms are all about. Personalising the entire value of any purchase is very much our focus in the coming years.

What part of the auto marketplace environment can be improved by the right technology?

For me, data is the secret to all success, and any technology, whether it be AI or predictive tools for users – dealers and private sellers – needs to sit on reliable and structured data. The auto sector has fantastic structured data, but the industry as a whole is not good enough at generating maximum value from it.

When its a high value purchase like a car, how do you build trust?

Trust on high-value items like a car must be built up for sure, both for buyer and seller, but also on the vehicle itself. Notwithstanding reviews and ratings for interested parties, we at Gumtree and eBay also help build trust in the vehicle itself by screening vehicles before they are listed. Every car listed with a number plate is checked in the background for four key things: Has the car been stolen, scrapped, exported or involved in a serious incident? That means that car is not sellable.
If at least one of these checks is positive, then the vehicle is blocked from being listed on the website. As a result, we ensure two things. Buyers on the platform can be sure that they have a choice of vehicles that are legal to sell that have a sound history. And by making this check visible, we remove inertia from the contact process, i.e. potential buyers do not need to go elsewhere to do this check – we keep the buyer on site and in front of the seller’s vehicle. This is great news for buyer and seller alike.

Do you see a collaboration between auto brands and marketplaces like eBay in the future?

Very much so. We can already see that the huge parts and accessory category on eBay drives vibrancy in the car selling category. We are not far from a world where car manufacturers use platforms like ours (because of the huge amount of traffic that we generate) to provide services to car buyers and car owners alike. The impact of eBay and Gumtree in helping auto brands to drive engagement beyond the car purchase/disposal should not be underestimated as they seek to find a new way to lengthen their relationship with those customers.

What is your view on the increase in car rental via marketplaces especially among millennials?

We are fast becoming a rental economy, and the industry is morphing into rental on demand. Disposable income is low, and millennials, with their funds fragmented in location and only in supply on a gig-to-gig basis, will make car ownership for this category difficult.
Enter CaaS –cars-as-a-service if you like, or any other fad name that can be applied. There are already start-ups with this model – today I need a small town car for a city meeting (renting for function), at the weekend, I need a convertible to go top down to the beach (renting for experience). How these early adopters fare will be interesting to watch as pricing is still quite premium. However as more come to market, and the choice is widened, prices should come down. I fully expect this sector to grow, alongside the more entrepreneurial car owners who use platforms to rent out their cars. It will be stronger as a proposition in cities where car picks up and drop off locations are more readily available as opposed to an out-of-town location. My thought is that it will take some time to become a standard mode of “ownership”, mainly because private leasing is still booming and is very affordable.

What part of the Freespee platform transformed your business? How?

The most significant impact across eBay and Gumtree has been our ability to demonstrate value to our dealers. This is not just about saying how many calls we generate for them as a return on their investment, but also to add value to the process too. The most loved feature we have is that of missed call notifications – telling dealers what number they have missed, but also linking that to the car they have listed. Notwithstanding the benefit of helping them sell more cars, we have been amazed to see how vibrant our Gumtree and eBay motors categories are. We can now claim that in any working day, between our platforms, we generate a call to a dealer every five seconds!
Find out more about Freespee’s May 23rd event here: https://lnkd.in/eeNiZZ8 

What We Learned About Feedback From Online Marketplaces

Not everyone loves feedback, especially the negative kind. Online marketplaces love it all. Feedback, both good and bad supports reputation, and without a good rep, there is little trust from the buyer and seller base – which is a marketplace’s bread and butter.

Since eBay began in the mid-nineties, they were arguably the pioneers of the online review system. Now, “61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision,” claims Econsultancy. eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar introduced the process within six months of launching the website where he explained the benefits of open communication in a letter to customers.

“Now, we have an open forum. Use it,” Omidyar wrote in February 1996. “Make your complaints in the open. Better yet, give your praise in the open. Let everyone know what a joy it was to deal with someone.”

eBay soon achieved a reputation for candid feedback. However, the introduction of these feedback systems in online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay also highlighted the flexibility of our trust as buyers. It seemed that once we were able to connect and contribute our pleasure or distaste somehow, it was safe to exchange funds with another anonymously.

“How is it that strangers who have never transacted with one another, and who may be thousands of miles apart, are willing to trust each other? Any transaction requires some level of trust between the buyer and seller, usually in the shadow of some institutional support like the law or other enforcement mechanisms,” writes Steven Tadelis in a paper titled “Reputation and Feedback Systems in Online Platform Markets” from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Pierre Omidyar and eBay’s reputation mechanism arguably caused a shift in how buyers interacted online then and today. The company did it by cleverly utilising an online buyer’s newfound willingness to trust, by creating an environment of transparency using age-old commerce methods like the two-sided market; which is the core business model of most online marketplaces today.

These days feedback goes beyond the online marketplace and is prevalent in most consumer-based businesses. It has evolved from a single channel to multiple forms, including SMS which has become a leading source of survey, making it even easier to gather relevant data for customer management.

We can learn a lot about feedback from eCommerce and its ability to automate a kind of moderation within the heavy customer traffic produced in online marketplaces. Here are few facts that taught us a thing or two.

There are two types of feedback

One-sided and two-sided. One sided is mostly derived from one party, such as the buyer reviews on Amazon, while Air BnB uses two-sided where both tenant and owner can leave reviews on their experience.  In the early days of this process, eBay introduced this idea of both buyers and sellers leaving commentary freely, but after 2008 their direction changed. Now, two-sided feedback is relegated to service-based forums like Airbnb and Uber, where both parties rely on each other. One-sided procedures put the onus the marketplace to oversee operations, viewing the product as the buyer and the seller as the client. eBay even initiated a protective scheme for their sellers/clients by introducing PowerSellers, “Buyers must wait at least seven days before leaving a negative or neutral Feedback for a PowerSeller who has been registered on eBay for at least 12 months,” states their website. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, at the end of the day, it’s about what’s healthiest for that particular forum.

It doesn’t affect the bottom line but something more important.

Surprisingly, feedback in online marketplaces does not affect revenue directly, “a one-point increase in reputation corresponds to a 4 cents increase in final price,” writes Tadelis. The one metric that is in fact undermined by a weak feedback system is buyer and seller trust. Trust is the backbone of any B2C e-commerce platform, and it can be difficult to attain, “Since there is no physical interaction with our customers, we rarely get to share traditional dialogue, build a personal rapport or shake their hand. Therefore, in case of marketplaces and e-commerce, on the whole, trust must be perceived and interpreted by the customer,” says WC Marketplace.

So does trust really increase revenue? Yes, it’s the motivation to turn a user into a customer and influence KPIs like growth rate which controls transactions between buyers and sellers. With growth comes higher liquidity, and that is the ultimate goal of all online marketplaces. Most of the time it starts with giving customers the opportunity to participate in the social environment created by e-commerce, feedback may be the most important tool they have in their belt.

There is an entire economic principle behind it.

The economics of reputation is legitimate and was touched on by “Luis M B Cabral, Professor of Economics at New York University, in his study, “The Economics of Trust and Reputation.” Cabral’s theory explores the benefits of investing in reputation, claiming that the better a brand’s reputation, the less they have to invest in building it. “According to Cabral, therefore, high trust and reputation can together help companies earn higher profits. Not only can a company increase the price of its products and services, but it can also decrease its expenses (the amount of money invested in reputation management),” writes Clear Logic.

The future of feedback

Feedback’s future looks more SMS based, a response to the growing impatience of tech-dexterous customers. Following up service with an SMS feedback survey is more rapid and proven to increase customer click-through rate, “The average open rate of a text message sits at about 99%, while email ranges from 28-33%. Next, to this, the click-through rates are vastly different. Include a link in your text message, and you will observe a CTR of about 36%. For email marketing, the CTR usually sits between 6-7%,” according to Business 2 Community.

Feedback aggregation is also on the table for upcoming developments, such as meta-platforms, which establish a culminative reputation score for a customer based on their interactions across e-commerce. There are companies out there currently attempting this idea by creating platforms to moderate reviews, so the marketplace doesn’t have to.

The art of reviewing has been around a long time; now the digital space has made it even easier to interact with each other, communication is only going to get more comfortable. As Tadelis notes, “It is apparent that the design of feedback and reputation systems will continue to play an important role in the broader area of market design as it applies to online marketplaces.”
Via: Econsultancy, Steven Tadelis, Business 2 Community, Clear Logic, WC Marketplace. 

This Is An Online Marketplace’s Biggest Challenge

Digital marketplaces, both big and small, face a common problem – the chicken and egg quandary that comes with high demand from both buyers and sellers. Behemoths like eBay, Facebook and Fiverr each tackle their own challenges when it came to both inciting and maintaining activity on their forums. In fact, a few well-known brands even faked it till they made it.

“Services marketplaces put up fake projects to show activity. Steve Sammartino talks of how he seeded Rentoid.com by essentially buying the initial items himself and renting them out (though he refers to it as “Inventing Demand”, when actually he was seeding supply,” writes Pipes to Platforms.

However, once the deception springs a significant audience of both buyers and sellers, segmenting and maintaining a smooth purchase process to meet revenue targets takes a certain level of finesse.

The problem with having too much of a good thing is that it is very easy to tip the scales, especially on the buyer side of the agreement. “Buyers who are unhappy with the product or service one of the sellers provides will typically direct their ire toward the marketplace, instead of the respective seller,” claims Entrepreneur.

Sometimes its the seller who causes the ripple, if a once-faithful seller leaves a marketplace, the vast buyer base they accumulated is then left aimless without a place to land.

No marketplace wants to leave their brand at the mercy of their seller’s reputation.

A Few Solutions

The common denominator in every instance usually involves balancing the ecosystem by taking a closer look at CX for both buyers and sellers. Automotive marketplace TrueCar saw a share price “nosedive from $24 in August 2014 to $4 in 2015,” due to an alienation of their sellers according to Yapstone. “Losing dealerships meant fewer choices for the consumer and higher prices for car buyers in the TrueCar network. Ultimately everyone in TrueCar’s marketplace ecosystem – buyer and seller – felt the burn.”

Fortunately, TrueCar learned from this slip-up and introduced changes to their seller relationships, including dealerships in their advertising. Their share price rose back to $21USD in 2017. 

Buyer-wise, CX is more multifaceted and involves building both trust and expectation. Both of these facets can be improved through reliable communication. If a buyer knows that their queries will be received and dealt with in a personal manner, it reflects their overall ethos which can lead to iron-clad loyalty.

Giant marketplace eBay found a way to fix this issue by igniting a 7-day call service for top buyers and sellers in 2009. According to AdAge, the brand saw an increased net promoter score and more activity from top buyers than ever.

Today, eBay has found a way to maintain expectations. “Companies like Alibaba and eBay are successful because they have been able to communicate to buyers that when a product or service defect exists, it is the factory or seller, not the platform, that is responsible,” writes Entrepreneur.

Overall, the chicken and egg problem will always be a bee in the bonnet of marketplace growth, but the evidence suggests there are innovative ways around it, sometimes all it requires is a bit of synergy.

Via: Yapstone, Pipes to PlatformsVentureBeat, AdAge, Entrepreneur.

Freespee strikes a major classified ad partnership

We are proud to announce a new strategic partner in Germany – mobile.international GmbH, owned by eBay.
Through the company’s AutoAct ad management system, Freespee’s call and leads management tools are now available to 36 000 car dealers who advertise on mobile.de and 22 other classified sites and car search engines AutoAct has direct access to.
Our platform is now fully integrated into AutoAct, making life easier for everyone – just how we like it!
Please see our press release below and contact us for more information!

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