Trust Me: NZ’s top trader explains the foundation of online business

Published on the 09/08/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson


Trademe trust

Trust is central to Trade Me’s operations. What role does it play in yours?...

There are multiple good reasons for the success of Trade Me and its venerated ability to see off even the most determined of competitors. But among those secrets is an open one which, while obvious, is neither taken lightly nor for granted. Trust.

“Trust is the glue that binds the site to its members,” confirmed Jon Duffy, head of trust & safety at Trade Me. “It’s simple to say, but worth stating: if people didn’t trust the platform, they wouldn’t use it.”

Duffy spoke to iStart ahead of the Advance Cyber Security Summit which is taking place at Mac’s Function Centre in Wellington.

For any organisation, but particularly those which trade on the internet as their core business, trust is essential.

Just how essential for Trade Me becomes clear when considering the size of Duffy’s ‘trust team’. “There’s 35 of us and we operate more or less twenty-four seven,” he noted. “There are multiple angles you can approach trust from. At a basic level, for Trade Me, it is ‘Will the goods you’ve paid for arrive? Are the goods safe for use? will the people you interact with who come to your house harm you? These are the issues we confront with daily and which we stay on top of.”

It’s a fascinating subject, more because Trade Me offers such an enormously diverse range of goods for sale that it has to become subject matter experts in multiple fields. Part of the trust team is a ‘site policing’ unit, the role of which is to monitor listings in real time; hit the ‘Community Watch’ button and the team is alerted to anything from potential stolen goods, counterfeit or prohibited items. “If it is illegally obtained moa bones, we’ll chat with Heritage New Zealand. Firearms, the police.”

Counterfeit moa bones? It can get complicated quickly and, with some 85 000 incidents reported each year, the site policing team is kept busy (those interested can read Trade Me’s Transparency Report for more detail).

Indeed, two of Duffy’s team members purely work with incoming requests from the police, with some 1600 of those requests per year. In, considering the outwardly benign nature of Trade Me’s business, some occasionally hairy areas arise. “That’s anything from a potential stolen laptop – does the listing predate the burglary, or was it made afterwards? – to missing persons, child exploitation and homicides. It can be time consuming work, so we have to stay up to speed with what is going on,” he explained, matter-of-factly.

Some events the team must handle aren’t criminal at all, and he admits that in many instances Trade Me must take a moral stance in line with what its community might want. Laws don’t always keep pace with goods and services which can be offered for sale, either, said Duffy, and that means Trade Me often plays a role in legislative reform.

“Take firearms; existing legislation didn’t contemplate the internet. More broadly, nor did the Consumer Guarantees Act cover online auctions. It didn’t apply as recently as just 2 years ago. We often find ourselves having to make a call, taking cognisance of any laws which might apply or the gaps in them and also our own terms and conditions. We have to take a stance – and when you do that, you have to think carefully and be guided by conscience as well as the law in the inevitable grey areas.”

That’s occasionally reactive: “Take the mini crossbow craze recently; we took an initial view that these were not prohibited goods, but we asked the Commerce Commission which then said they are prohibited so we updated our policy to prevent their sale.”

There is a broader lesson from an organisation which has done business online for nearly 20 years, and that is quite simply that trust is of enormous value. “Sometimes, we’ll close things down even though it will cost us money, and with a team of 35, trust obviously does cost us a lot already. But that cost is offset by the gain which comes with being a trusted platform,” said Duffy.

“It’s the old adage of selling on the internet: you’re paying a person you’ve never met for goods you’ve never seen and hoping they will arrive. It is a leap of faith; perhaps less so these days, but still. That is your starting point. Of course, there will be nuances in how trust is handled in your business, depending on what you do and how you transact or otherwise use the internet.”

Whatever the approach, trust online is a lot like trust in the real world. It is valuable, difficult to earn and easily lost.

More information or register for the Advance Security Summit.

Advance Cyber Security event

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