The inside story of Facebook Marketplace - Deepstash

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Facebook Marketplace inside story

Facebook Marketplace is the world’s second-largest marketplace, in terms of monthly active users, behind only Amazon. It’s ahead of Alibaba, Walmart, eBay, Taobao, and has quietly left the once-unconquerable Craigslist in the dust.

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Pitched the idea for Facebook Marketplace in 2009

We didn’t start working on Marketplace until 2015, however. Five years after launch, the Marketplace Tab on Facebook now has over a billion monthly active users, more than Snapchat and Twitter combined.

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Commerce was a core part of the “jobs to be done” on Facebook

Many early research studies, more than half of people studied in many countries cited Facebook as a place they had bought or sold things. This was less common in Western markets, which made it a blind spot for many of those at the company.

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The only PM who was a mom

I was a member of multiple mom groups, where people bought and sold all sorts of things. Kids generate a lot of used goods, many of which are insanely expensive to buy new. I also had friends in Asia who talked about how meaningful buying and selling in groups was to them, and how Facebook was the place to connect for commerce. 

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There was no way to know what groups were meant for selling things

We decided to set up a way to allow group admins to opt into becoming classified commerce groups. This allowed us to track organic behaviors on the platform. We found that many more people were part of Facebook Groups communities that had been set up specifically for buying, selling, and trading than we expected.

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The pivot

Almost every two-sided marketplace struggles with bringing on enough supply and/or bringing on enough demand. Surprisingly, Facebook didn’t. We already had both buyers and sellers, but we weren’t succeeding in making the connection between the two.

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Mark Zuckerberg wanted to make space for more “jobs to be done”

He offered the opportunity to our team and the Video team first. As other teams began requesting tabs, including Groups, Pages, and News, the team that managed the navigation within the app had to create rules about how tabs could be used and how the channels could be leveraged. This led to the development of the system of dynamic tabs you see today. 

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DEB LIU

Our early bet was that supply would drive demand—that having sufficient inventory would get buyers excited about coming to this new tab to browse. To do that, we had to get sellers on board. Sellers had no incentive to create new listings on an unknown marketplace with no clear buyer engagement.

DEB LIU

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The launch

The launch

The launch of Marketplace happened on October 4, 2016.

Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. A small bug in the fraud queues resulted in a massive flood of violating items. We were able to get it cleaned up quickly by reinstating the rules, but it was an inauspicious start, to say the least.

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How we made Marketplace work

1. Focusing on trust

Buying and selling face-to-face meant that trust was a huge factor, especially when it came to bulky items that required people to meet up in person. We sold our minivan on Marketplace, and we knew we had to meet with buyers. My husband reviewed the profiles of everyone who messaged him and arranged a meetup with the first two people who reached out. He felt more comfortable seeing their real identities and the duration they had been on the Facebook platform

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How we made Marketplace work

2. Engaging Facebook active users

People use Facebook widely and frequently, often multiple times a day. Adding a local and shipped commerce solution only extended the value of the app and the things that could be done with it.

3. Integrating with Messenger

Being integrated with Facebook Messenger makes communication fast and easy.

4. Leveraging the Groups community

This idea of people-powered commerce, buying from your neighbors, and reducing waste was part of the ethos of the product from the start. 

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Lessons learned

1. Follow the data

From the start, we noticed that some of the most popular items on Marketplace were cars and rentals, which surprised us. We did not realize that there was such demand for these big-ticket items online.

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Lessons learned

2. Device matters

While the product started primarily for mobile, we realized that to be competitive, we needed to add a desktop version. This was important for larger purchases and would make listing easier for high-volume sellers. 

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Lessons learned

3. Navigating scaling

Once we had expanded beyond five countries, we began to notice new issues that hadn’t appeared when we were in testing in just a few states. For example, it was very difficult to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic goods. We ended up having to work with brands and build models to detect violating items. 

We noted when buyers and sellers messaged back and forth to get a sense of the ways they interacted. Later, we added online payments and shipping labels with tracking information so that we could see when transactions were completed and items were delivered. 

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Being responsive to challenges

We had to stay on top of new issues as they arose but also keep the team innovating and building features that customers expected. This is the constant push-pull of building a product that balances the needs of buyers and sellers while preventing bad actors and negotiating the external environment. Without a team that is able to flex to the right priorities at the right time, this product would never have been successful. 

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CURATED BY

adriananghel

Full time dad and IT enthusiast for the rest.

Deb led the team that pitched, built, launched, and scaled Facebook Marketplace from just an idea to what it is today. During her 11 years at Facebook/Meta, she also led teams that built Facebook Login, Facebook Pay, Facebook Commerce Manager, and dozens of other foundational Facebook products.

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