College students buy and sell many things, whether it is Football tickets, class textbooks, or sublets. On top of this, students prefer the convenience and security of meeting in person with fellow students and making the buying/selling transactions. As a fellow student, I am in the same boat and understand this through experience. I prefer buying or selling with a University of Michigan student rather than a sketchy person I find on Craigslist. There are multiple ways students currently buy and sell, whether it is through Craigslist, Facebook groups, or through apps like Letgo. However, each has its own issues that detract from the user experience for students.
Our idea for UList started in one of my entrepreneurship classes. Another student that I grouped up with brought the idea of an app marketplace where students can buy and sell with fellow students. Her personal reasoning was because she didn’t like the current marketplaces for buying and selling: she didn’t like Craigslist because she (and most students) considered it to be sketchy because of untrustworthy strangers. She didn’t fully like the Facebook groups that much either (even though most students use them for buying and selling) for multiple user experience issues. Because I also had similar difficulties with these platforms and had almost the same exact idea of making an app marketplace specifically made for students to buy and sell, we thought it would be worth a shot to explore the idea.
We started by walking around our campus and asking students about their experiences with the most current offerings for marketplaces—the biggest being student-created Facebook groups followed by Craigslist. Through the data we collected from these interviews, we found that one of the reasons students used Facebook groups was because there are already many students in the groups. The “Maize Market” page, for example, has over 15,000 students in the group. There are many posts here, ranging from students selling hockey tickets to an upcoming game to the transfer of leases for the upcoming school year, and posts appear almost every hour during the day. A student selling something can easily post something they want to sell in seconds and students buying can easily find a multitude of items to buy. Student salso said there is a better sense of security with buying and selling with fellow students.
However, students also had complaints about these groups. When posting an item to sell, that post is easily buried under a great number of posts by fellow students. This makes selling more difficult because students who may be looking for your item will have to continuously scroll to find it. That is the irony of these groups—the more students that are in the group, the more buyers students have to sell to, but the more competition they have for a small amount of posting space. And the fact that there are so many different types of goods and services being sold makes the marketplace disorganized and searching for the exact thing to buy difficult for students. There were also many groups similar to this, like “University of Michigan Class of 2017” or “University of Michigan Class of 2018”. I am personally part of eight similar Facebook groups, and students would often go through multiple groups in order to buy or sell, having to repeat the posting or searching process on every page every time.
Craigslist is another well-known marketplace for students. Although some students use this website as well in order to buy or sell, the biggest complaint we found from students is that it has a very “sketchy” vibe (and we heard most students use “sketchy” as the exact word to describe it). The reason for this is because there is little regulation on the items sold and you can be sold fake items. Some of the students that we talked to bought football or concert tickets through Craigslist, but ended up with fakes. This was the kind of “vibe” students were talking about.
After receiving a great amount of feedback from students, I started making mockups through Sketch. We tried to solve the biggest complaints we found with the current marketplaces, such as security (largely associated with Craigslist) and disorganization (largely associated with Facebook). In order to solve the first issue, we decided that the only way students could join a college’s marketplace is through having that college’s email address. For example, in order to join the University of Michigan’s marketplace, you would need a @umich.edu email account. This keeps out “sketchy” non-students and adds a sense of trust within the marketplace.
To make our app more organized than Facebook’s marketplaces, I decided that we needed categories. I’m currently in the process of meeting students and doing card sorting with them to figure out what they feel are the top 10 categories students want to see in the marketplace. I have already found a great amount of insight here, seeing answers such as student “food” delivery, “tickets”, and “study guides”.
Every student we talked to who bought or sold with another student said they would try our app. However, it’s one thing to say it and another to actually take action. In order to get a better feeling of if they would take action, I decided to build a sign-up website and use goo.gl to analyze how many students would click on the URL. After creating the website using HTML, CSS, and PHP, we posted the URL along with a description of our app to 8 Facebook groups. The sign-up page received 280+ clicks and 40+ email sign-ups within 5 days. Through this experiment, not only did we find that students really showed interest in our app, but we also got a list of students (who gave us their emails) as potential beta-testers with an MVP we will create.
Since I have web design and development knowledge, I decided to create a web version of the app to really test our idea and let students buy and sell items using a real website with a database that stores their information. To use the website (in it's temporary URL location), click here