Hello ZAM forum-goers! I posted this idea over at the lodestone, but I would value thoughts from your crowd as well.
I would like to offer a concept for consideration that should address two elements often cited as concerns among players: the centralization of Ul'dah and the inefficiencies of the market wards. Firstly, Ul'dah has become the de facto staging area for players across servers. Irrespective of the initial forcing factors that got us to this state, the market wards threaten to keep Ul'dah as the central city-state for the game no matter what other changes and improvements to quests, missions, and transportation are implemented.
Limsa Lominsa and Gridania do not have enough traffic in the markets to reliably offload your items, nor can you effectively find the things you need to craft or outfit your adventurer. Ultimately, no matter where you go to adventure, quest, level, mine, craft, etc., you will return to Ul'dah because that is the most reliable place to sell your goods and/or buy new equipment.
Some have suggested making the market wards universal across all cities, with sellers able to offload goods from any city, while buyers can search a single market for whatever items they need. I believe three markets, loosely connected, is superior for both buyers and sellers than a single market per server. What I recommend is a variation on the single market concept, with universal buying but local selling.
I recommend a NPC trade agency where the player can search for items being sold in all three cities. If the item the player wants is in his or her current city, it can be bought in the way purchases are made now. For items in other cities, however, and for a fee, the NPC trade agency can buy the item on the player's behalf. This fee can be percentage-based, but is paid by the buyer rather than the seller (as opposed to market ward tax). If a mailbox system eventually is added, the item can be delivered to the player's mailbox. The NPC trade agency should give players access to the markets from bigger settlements, such as the Silver Bazaar or Aleport, for example.
UNIVERSAL RETAINER ACCESS
Players must be able to access their retainer from anywhere WITHOUT losing their active bazaar status. As long as contacting your retainer means losing its bazaar, players will consistently return to Ul'dah to manage inventory. I recommend two improvements to dealing with retainers from outside the market wards:
1) Contacting retainers via NPC linkpearl
Have the retainer give the player a linkpearl once they are hired. The player can then contact the retainer and modify the retainer's bazaar from anywhere. If a mailbox system is ever implemented, the player could also request the retainer forward any money or items to his or her mailbox. The linkpearl does not give the player the ability to directly exchange items with the retainer.
2) Summoning retainers at summoning bells
Summoning bells should be added to larger settlements (Silver Bazaar, Aleport, etc.), and summoning your retainer will no longer remove them from their bazaar. However, your retainer can charge you a travel fee for summoning if they had to leave their current city to get to you (i.e., no charge for summoning from the Gridania inn if the retainer is already in the Gridania market wards).
IMPROVED ITEM SEARCH COUNTER
Item searches should be sorted based on skill-set and function rather than by ward type. An example: antelope sinew can be used to make 3 things, two of which are leatherworking and one which is carpentry, and yet the item itself can only be searched for under "clothier's ward" because it is categorized as "fiber". I recommend that the item search counter list all functions with a sub-list of more specific categories. ZAM has a completely sensible and easy-to-navigate search system, as just one example. I believe the game should be able to provide at least as straightforward a search system.
Also, and very important, there should be a heading for every item that can be bought and sold, even if there are no items currently for sale. Players should be able to use the item search counter as a way to see what items are in the game, and what equipment they can aspire to as they progress, regardless of whether or not the item is currently being sold.