The eBay User Experience: A Love Story

Building consumer trust, running tests, and gathering feedback to improve the eBay user experience

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Every shopping experience is unique, and every shopper has specific wants and needs. That is one of the biggest struggles brands face in the world of ecommerce. How do you create a customer experience that resonates with and meets the needs of drastically different customers?

This problem is magnified further when you run a marketplace that sells millions of products to tens of millions of users.

eBay has 180 million active users, which, according to Bradford Shellhammer, means there needs to be 180 million different eBays to meet each of those users exact needs. Shellhammer is the Vice President of Buyer Experience at eBay, and part of his job is to make every eBay user fall in love with the brand and the eBay experience.

Shellhammer has always loved eBay — he collects shoes, art, and even chairs — so when he was presented the opportunity to join the company, he jumped in. A serial entrepreneur and designer, Shellhammer brought to eBay a love of product and curation, and experience with marketplaces. When he started with eBay, he thought he would be helping with those things, especially curation. But what he found was that the experience he loved and expected was vastly different than what most eBay users wanted or needed. In fact, each user essentially needed to have a website personalized specifically for them.

In order to achieve that lofty goal, Shellhammer said that the first thing eBay needed to do was redesign its homepage to lean heavily on technology and A.I.

“We redesigned [the home page] and built a lot of new algorithms to make it a science-powered hub for you,” he said. “And the goal was that there’s 180 million active buyers on eBay, so there should be 180 million different eBays because everybody’s eBay is different.”

Different eBays for different users means that there are various elements of the website that needed to be added, removed, improved or iterated on to build out the experience that was best. Shellhammer said his team needed to listen to the eBay buyers and sellers to really get a handle on what they needed. And that is a process that is ongoing.

Shellhammer said that his team spends about 10% of their time combing through various forms of customer feedback to get to the heart of issues.

“We have a myriad of surveys on different pages,” Shellhammer said. “We do lots of focus groups. We do tons of user research. We do tons of dogfooding internally. You weed out the things that aren’t going to work way before you even start to build them usually. And so, for us, it’s about having that real commitment to just listening to your customer through the process rather than having someone come in and just say, ‘I want to do this thing.’ Because when you listen to your actual customers, there’s a real great respect for them and you actually don’t want to break their current experience, you just want to make it better.”

Making the platform a better experience also involves a great deal of testing. A remarkable experience is not something that can simply be thrown together. Shellhammer said that at eBay, there is never a new application, solution, or aspect of the website that is released without massive amounts of testing first.

“We have a very strong test and learn culture,” he said. “We don’t just flip the switch on something and see how it works. We test and learn and we do hundreds and hundreds of A/B tests and we’re constantly testing everything. We would never launch anything that didn’t resonate with our customers.”

One of the things that customers most wanted from eBay was more protection and security in their purchases. eBay users crave trust, whether they are buyers or sellers. They want to know that the products they are buying are legitimate or that the person they are selling to is reputable.

In an open marketplace, establishing that kind of trust is a real challenge. But Shellhammer and the rest of the team at eBay have been leaning into new and improved ways to protect users. There are seller reviews, purchase guarantees, and the ability to return and report bad products. And there are more improvements coming because the user experience is always evolving, and Shellhammer is thrilled to be on the front lines of all the innovation.

“I have this awesome responsibility to help other people fall in love with and use eBay the way that I do.”

To hear more from Shellhammer, check out his episode of Up Next in Commerce.

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