Why this pets marketplace introduced biometric verification

Pets classifieds website introduces biometric verification and breeder reviews to build better transparency and trust around buying a pet

Introducing biometric verification to its pet marketplace is about facilitating trust and providing unprecedented transparency around the process of buying a pet, says PetsForHomes’ Adrian Smith.

Founded in 2019, PetsForHomes is an online classifieds portal offering free as well as optimised paid-for advertising for registered pet breeders, plus banner advertising and partner EDMs. Having initially focused on cats and dogs, the marketplace is looking at growing into other pet segments. It also has an adoption section and is working with rescue centres to promote their pets for free in order to find them a home.

Last month, the marketplace implemented government-level identification certification, more commonly known as ‘know your customer’ (KYC), to help instantly verify the identity of buyers and sellers. The same biometrics technology is used by cryptocurrency exchanges and banks to confirm end users' and customers' personal information.

A breeder who has completed KYC verification will get a Breeder Verification Badge displayed on their advertiser profile on the PetsForHomes platform.

PetsForHomes general manager, Adrian Smith, told CMO the latest security investment is a big step forward towards better transparency and accountability when acquiring a pet. A key motivation was to leverage technology so reduce the risk of buyers being preyed upon by fraudulent or irresponsible breeders. Given many pet suppliers are small businesses and individuals, this also offers levels of verification that usually doesn’t exist.

“That need [for a secure platform] has been amplified through Covid – a lot of people have been scammed and there are people out there taking advantage of the pet industry in recent years, and a lot of media articles on this as a result. It’s made it a more challenging environment,” Smith said.

PetsForHomes was also reportedly the first pet classified site to introduce breeder reviews, allowing buyers to share positive and negative experiences with breeders advertising on its platform, as well as across the wider ecosystem. This was again a direct response to addressing the lack of transparency when buying a pet.

“We wanted to have people get on there and leave their experiences with breeder. Like you would with an Airbnb or similar, people can see advertisers and past experiences with particular people,” Smith said. “These reviews give more social proof that there is a level of legitimacy behind it.

“That’s still in its early stages and we’ll will be amplifying that a lot more in future. But again, we have already had positive feedback from people happy to have a platform to share positive or negative experiences.”

KYC as a technology has been at forefront of cryptocurrency in recent years and aims to eliminate the chance of anyone trying to assume an identity.

“Scammers are getting creative with how they’re doing things,” Smith commented. “Some websites far exceed the quality of basic websites out there. You can see how people would put their faith and trust into it and part with $2000 or $3000, just to be scammed.

“The logic with KYC is it is government-led identification and used by banks. A breeder has to submit photo identification, which is then cross-referenced with the database to show legitimacy. Then they also have to take a 3D video of their face to show that matches their identification. Once you are KYC verified, you’re verifying you are who you say you are. People feel much more comfortable paying money and deposits when they know these suppliers are legitimate.”  

In an industry where families have had to take a lot at face value, this is a critical security step forward, Smith continued.

“That’s especially the case if you’re not physically or geographically in an area where you can pop in and meet with them. With lock downs, things had to be done via FaceTime or a phone call. Even with mobility coming back, this still gives the opportunity for interstate buyers or those geographically close our commit to a new family member with confidence,” he said.

While the security benefits are obvious, capturing biometric information, most notably facial recognition, has been in the headlines in recent months as a controversial technology in the advertising and retail ecosystem. It’s also one that can all too easily be used for social policing and racial profiling.

In response, Smith noted a level of breeder that always wants to go to the next level to set themselves apart. Establishing trust from the outset using biometric verification is a highly effective way of them removing engagement barriers.

“This is especially the case when they’re getting lot of scrutiny – some breeders might be getting 10-20 queries on their cats or dogs, and a lot of families are very hesitant,” he said. “For them to say we’re members with the breeding body, and we have had our identity verified, eliminates question marks and barriers for moving forward. It puts the focus back on making sure they are creating the right connections and pairing up the right family with the right animal.”

While it’s early stages, testing showed engagement of buyers tends to be stronger when they can see ID legitimacy before even reaching out and making contact. “I’d expect their advertising to have better clickthrough rates as a result,” Smith added.

In the back end, PetsForHomes had to tighten up its own security protocols to support KYC and a stronger verification approach.

“We have a strict format of how it goes through, a lot of which is automated,” Smith explained. “Once it has gone through, the head of IT has access to all information to cross verify. We expect to streamline this more through trial as we move forward, but a top priority is security is around any potential data going out there.”

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