Design-audit: Municibid.com

This audit was for Greg for Municibid.  I wanted to take this on because marketplaces are interesting cases and Greg does a lot of things right here.  It doesn’t need a major overhaul, just some improvement.

Here is the full site, capped.  As you can see it’s pretty bland.  Just because you are appealing to municipal workers doesn’t mean you have to style down to their subdued sensibilities.  So lets get started.

1. Logo

This is just a lost and confused logo and type treatment.  There are concentric arcs on the “m” which don’t make sense.  When you use concentric arcs your company better have something to do with wireless, transmission, communication, or RSS feeds.  Municibid has nothing to do with any of that.  The irony is that the name Municibid is such a good and descriptive name, that the logo and type treatment should be simple and not distracting.  Now if we took away the arcs and the random italic “i” we just have a boring piece of text.  So I took the liberty of doing a few logotypes that are more appealing.

You may have already guessed, but the font here is a variant of Highway Gothic, which is what many of our nations highways use.  Further more I pulled the colors out of highway signs as well as the arrow which you maybe remember from such signs as “Exit here” or “Next exit.”

I think these changes, perhaps subconsciously would juice the government imagery a little bit.  The best logos are always subtle.  Gregg could pull some of these colors into the rest of the site if he were to redesign it.

2. Showing Activity

The single most important thing a marketplace wants to convey is activity.  New marketplaces always face the chicken-egg problem of bringing both the buyers and sellers to the table at the same time.  As a new visitor, the very first thing I want to know if I am a seller is “is stuff being bid and sold”, and “is there enough being listed” if I am a buyer.

Gregg’s Bid Now link does a good job of featuring that, as there are in deed several large ticket items with bids ending in the next day or so.  Putting a selection of auction items on the front page also does a good job in showing activity as well as orienting the visitor to the types of things being sold here.

3. Don’t show your empty shelves

Now that the user has satisfied their initial question of activity they are ready to dive deeper to find something they may actually want to buy.  This is where the process falls apart for municibid.  There are several ways the visitor can do this and they all paint municibid as a desolate place.

The first is the left hand side bar of Auction Categories.  There are lots of categories listed, but a click on most of them lead to a “No items found.” page.  This is not the best way to treat a visitor.  Eventually they will pick up on the number in parenthesis and see that municibid is primarily a place to sell autos and furniture.  There is a category for Jewelry, but I doubt they have even sold a piece of municipal jewelry.

The second UX failure is the browse by state page.

With marketplaces that are dominated with small items, like ebay or etsy, the location of the seller doesn’t matter much as it all can be shipped.  But from the municibid homepage I can see that we are likely going to be buying furniture and vehicles here so it behooves me to be near the seller.  The browse by map is a good idea in theory, but in practice it fails because there are only items available in a few Northeastern states.  So a normal visitor will click their state first and see its likely unpopulated.  Then they will check the big states to see if anything is populated. California, Texas? Nope.  Florida, New York? Nope. The user will likely bounce at that point.

The final failure is the Browse page.  Ebay has a great one… just reams of categories and subcategories.  Municibid has one too, the difference is there is nothing there.  Automotive has 99 items, but sporting goods has zero, real estate is empty, electronics is barren, and do we really need a category for vinyl records?  Did the municipal DJ business every really take off?

The bottom line here is that municibids is building in a lot of unnecessary disappointment for the visitor.  Let’s say you walk into a story called Jack of all Trades Supply Super Store.  An employee greets you and says “Welcome, what can I get you?”  You ask for drywall, “nope!”.  What about power tools, “sorry!”  Windows and doors?  “‘fraid not.” Electrical? “not here!”.  Well then what do you have? “Plumbing, lots and lots of plumbing supplies!”

Well for fucks sake, just call your self Jacks Plumbing Supplies.

4. Recommendations

1. First step is to get rid of all of the empty categories on the home page and browse page.  You can expose these to the SELLER when they want to sell an item, but not to the visitor.  Municibid started strong in the activity front, but shot themselves in the foot by diluting their activity with non-activity.  If you want to keep the map page then it needs to be a choropleth map so the visitor can immediately see “oh it’s a north east thing.”  Trust me, if this scares away visitors from other parts of the country, they were never going to be your customer to begin with.  People in Arizona will be your customer once you get to Arizona first.

2. Given the locality issue, I suggest on focusing on big ticket items only.  Autos, dumpsters, farm and construction equiptment, or anything over $500.  There is a greater chance of a buyer traveling a longer distance to get the item, thus you have increased your pool of potential buyers buy focusing on large items.  I might drive 250 miles to get this moble fire safety house or a fire engine but wouldn’t drive 5 minutes to get a $5 computer cart.  Gregg mentioned he used the small ticket items to hook the agencies so that when they did have to sell that $20k back-hoe they would come back.  But to me, the small ticket stuff isn’t selling, or has no bids.  And why should it?

So I think municibid should go out of it’s way to pitch it self as a great place to sell big ticket municipal items.  A bit of a redesign is in order to do this, including some good use of…

3. Social proof!  Where is it?  Activity is great but municibid is still an unknown marketplace.  Throw up some quotes from city managers or whomever saying “Muncibid allows us to liquidate our old inventory super quickly.  It’s the secret weapon of our financial tool chest”.  Gregg mentioned there were 700 agencies signed up.  Where are they?  Using municibid for the seller is a risk.  What if they screw up and let go of a F150 for a super cheap price?  Then they look stupid and no one wants that.  Tell them, with social proof, that municibid is legit and it works.  There is actually a good amount of social proof buried in its blog… but no one is going to read that.

4. There is a smart feature on muncibid that allows agencies and municipalities to have their own stores.  I suggest this be really blown out and customized for each agency.  If the Agency had their logo on the actual store, and a customer url like municibid.com/BatonRouge then that is something they can easily actively promote.  You want the sellers to do as much of the outside selling as possible.  You want municipal workers to say “yeah just go to municibid.com/BatonRouge”  Make it easy on them.  These agencies are years behind in the tech world, and would love a little marketplace to call their own.

5. Conclusions

Municibid has a lot going for it.  The auction pages are done well and the site is pretty straight forward.  That is exactly how it needs to be for its audience.  It just needs a less confusing logo and to double down and focus on what it is selling, and not sell what it doesn’t have.

17
Jun 2012
AUTHOR jess
CATEGORY

audit, design

COMMENTS 5 Comments
  • http://gregmberry.com Greg Berry

    Jess,

    Thanks so much for the audit!  I always appreciate hearing an outside perspective and appreciate your forward approach to the audit.  You make some great points!

    A couple of comments…

    In general, the thing to remember is you took a “snapshot” of one day on municibid.  Furniture, by far, is one of our smallest categories of items sold… you just happened to check in on a month with a ton of furniture only 2 or 3 agencies are selling.  We’ve been jokingly calling it “furniture month.”  The two biggest categories are vehicles and heavy equipment.  We have no true idea when items will come up from agencies, what they will be and what state they are coming from. 

    We not only handle surplus type items, but also police confiscated items… this is where the electronics, jewelry, etc come in.  We have a police confiscated airplane coming up next week!  

    We have bidders buying stuff from all over the country, including cross country… It’s not uncommon for someone from California to buy something in Massachusetts.  

    1) Logo  - We have struggled with our logo, so it’s no coincidence you bring it up.  We created the logo ourselves.  It’s worked for us, but I agree it’s not going to win any logo competitions.  I do like the concepts of your logo design.  By the way The (( )) around the m is supposed to represent the head of a gavel.

    3) Don’t show your empty shelves – I couldn’t agree more!  We actually have this change as part of our next round of updates.  I agree with you on the browse page as well.  We are reducing the number of categories and will be only showing categories with items.

    Yes, vinyl records have been sold: https://www.municibid.com/detail.asp?id=10139&n=Over-450-Vintage-Vinyl-Albums

    Yes, jewelry has been sold: https://www.municibid.com/catalog.asp?catid=193&n=Jewelry&view=&show=closed

    Yes, real estate (small tax parcels) has been sold: https://www.municibid.com/catalog.asp?catid=250&show=closed&sortpref=bids_desc

    So, with the new update, on the homepage (and hopefully the browse page) we’ll only show categories with items at that particular time.

    Social proof:  Agreed we need to include more of it.  I mean we have big cities contracted with us for multiple years, we need to show this to users.   As far as letting go of the F150 for too cheap… it rarely happens, but if an item sells for a price the agency doesn’t like, it is under no obligation to accept it, they have the right to reject any bids for any reason (a requirement for most govs), bidders agree to this prior to bidding.

    We do setup and give sellers their own store addresses i.e. br.municibid.com, phila.municibid.com, hennepin.municibid.com.  We have in our plans to create better looking stores and landing pages for each agency.

    Thanks again for the outstanding feedback!

    • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

      Thanks for the rebuttals Greg.  Remember that every single first time visitor will essentially be taking a “snap shot” as well.  If its 60% furniture, they will think you mostly do furniture.  It’s up to you to present the right pieces of information so their snapshot is accurate to more than just a single day.

      • http://gregmberry.com Greg Berry

        That’s a great point!  Never really thought about it like that.  

    • BradPineau

      @Greg, you said: “So, with the new update, on the homepage (and hopefully the browse page)
      we’ll only show categories with items at that particular time.”

      Curious – why wait until the next update? Why not push updates up as they are ready?

      @Jess, great article.

      • http://gregmberry.com Greg Berry

        Hi Brad, we decided to go ahead and make that change now.  We have about 40 updates/enhancements we’re rolling out over the next 2 months.