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Etsy discovers A/B testing is best used for buyers, not sellers

NEW YORK – An Etsy executive at Forrester’s CXNYC 2016 claimed that while the online marketplace relies heavily on A/B testing for optimizing its site layout and checkout options, the strategy is best leveraged from the buyer side rather than the sellers’ side.

During the session, “Getting Customer Understanding Right,” the executive discussed the evolution of Etsy’s commerce initiatives, which sprung up from the enthusiasm and innovation within the crafting community. He also highlighted the brand’s need to continue its research efforts regarding customer service, a goal that is partly met by leveraging A/B testing platforms.

“There was a need to develop a qualitative understanding of buyers and sellers,” said Alex Wright, director of research at Etsy. “We had to develop a really robust A/B testing platform.”

Best practices for research
Etsy, a marketplace that enables crafters and artists from around the world to sell their goods via its Web site and mobile application, first grew organically as a community and then encouraged technical depth, per Mr. Wright.

While research always existed in some capacity at the company, Etsy ramped up its research division three years ago after deciding it wanted to conduct more qualitative studies of its buyers and sellers.

Etsy developed its own A/B testing platform, but also uses a self-service tool that allows an engineer to come up with an idea, spin a test and have the solution offer a sample of statistical evidence.

Etsy reportedly deploys this strategy up to 30 times a day.

“There’s a lot of continuous experimentation and tweaking going on,” Mr. Wright said.

The company has experienced significant growth in the past few years, thanks to consumers’ rising interest in homemade and one-of-a-kind goods.

Last year, Amazon targeted Etsy and eBay’s customers with a new handmade shop available on mobile that also produced higher sales for competitors, showcasing how the ecommerce giant shines light on the category (see story).

Targeting buyers vs. sellers
When it comes to experimenting with new strategies, checkout experiences and site layouts, Etsy has found that buyers make better guinea pigs than sellers. Often times, a buyer is focused on the product he or she wants to purchase, and will not notice if the checkout page is slightly redesigned.

Understanding the different nuances of buyers’ and sellers’ experiences on mobile and online platforms is an imperative strategy.

An eBay executive at Forrester’s Marketing 2016 Forum claimed that the online marketplace continues to optimize its mobile offerings from both transactional and research-oriented standpoints in the hopes of giving more control to its buyers and sellers (see story).

Since some sellers make their living off Etsy and use the online marketplace as a tool to run their businesses, their propensity for noticing changes is extremely high.

“Sellers are in there every day,” Mr. Wright said. “They have a real sense of ownership of their shop.”

This prompted Etsy to step away from conducting experimentation on the seller side, and hone in more closely on qualitative insights.

“When we started over-experimenting on sellers, they didn’t really appreciate it,” Mr. Wright said.