The marketplace model of eCommerce is one such breakthrough that allowed everyone to become a part of the new ecosystem of online commerce. There was a time when the entry of an online alternative in a market would scare the hell out of small offline retailers. The consumer behavior was changing and the prices were getting aggressively competing; it was not easy for small retailers to keep up with their online counterparts.
Then came the marketplace model that allowed even small retailers to claim a share from the multi-billion dollar pie of eCommerce. Now, instead of competing with the offline retailers, the eCommerce sites were connecting third-party retailers directly to their customers. We called this model the pure marketplace ecosystem, where the owner of the marketplace did not maintain the inventory but simply connect the people with inventories to the people who want to purchase. The marketplace was just an intermediary, which would make money from the commissions they charged on each sale generated for their retailers.
The time changed, markets evolved, competition became even harsh, and marketplaces required more innovative ways to make money than the mere commissions. This gave birth to different sub-classifications of the actual marketplace model, which still exists:
- E-Bay: A peer-to-peer marketplace that sales only from the third-party inventories
- Amazon: A hybrid marketplace that sales from both in-house and third party inventories
- Walmart: A hybrid combined with the physical model to sell both in online and offline ecosystems
What’s next in the marketplace model of eCommerce?
The meaning of an online marketplace is changing as we speak. Today, the boundary that differentiates a physical marketplace from its online counterpart is as thin as a thread. The biggest names in the marketplace ecosystem, such as Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart, have established both online and offline presence and securing major shares of the pie through their Omni-channel manifestations.
Today, the marketplace business is no more about massive catalogs of different categories of products. Instead, marketplaces are creating ecosystems for their customers. They are driving customers towards the business from all possible sides and earning customer loyalty by offering everything at one place on any channel. Take Amazon for example. Is there anything that Amazon can’t offer to a common consumer? From entertainment to finance, grocery, vegetables, electronics, home furnishing, and cloud services, Amazon is the best example to understand the rapidly evolving face of the Retail 4.0 marketplace model today.
Is the marketplace is a profitable business idea in 2020?
It indeed is. Even the biggest entities in the market cannot cover everything. There are still numerous niches with profitable prospects for the new entrants. It certainly not an easy job to set up a marketplace and compete with the likes of Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, and Walmart. However, you don’t need to compete with them, if you identify some niche marketplace ideas. The marketplace model offers an array of benefits to the merchants and the customers, and all of them could encourage them to come along with your platform:
- A combined channel: You could offer a hybrid channel to small retailers and merchants to generate sales from both online and offline markets.
- Better exposure: Selling on a marketplace platform reveals new doors to the merchants who have been relying on traditional channels. They can even expand their business internationally.
- Reduced marketing cost: Merchants need not spend a fortune to build eCommerce sites and then marketing them. They can save all these costs by simply signing up on your marketplace.
- Established trust factors: Retailers get access to an established platform, which its customers already trust. This trust factor is induced to the sellers of the marketplace, too.
- Competitive product prices: With so many sellers available for a single product, the prices are l always competitive. It encourages more customers to shop from your site.
- Multiple revenue channels: As a marketplace owner, you need not depend on commissions alone to make money. You can make money from several non-traditional channels, such as showing featured products, sponsored products, and selling membership subscriptions for added benefits to sellers and the customers.
No doubt, the above benefits for everyone lay down the foundation of the marketplace model, but it’s not all breezy either. There are some pitfalls too that require strategic resolutions:
- It’s all technology: The core that drives an online marketplace business is pure technology. From the marketplace software to web-hosting, content delivery networks, third party APIs, and compliance with the laws, everything is driven by technology. That makes a competitive marketplace setup quite expensive, complex, and workforce-extensive.
- Chicken and egg problem: Sellers won’t board your marketplace until you have enough customers to make good sales, and customers can’t purchase until you have sellers. It makes the opening days for a marketplace business pretty complicated. You would need a significant amount of investment to market your platform, and then acquire sellers through handsome incentives.
- Data security: When you are managing a massive marketplace with so many merchants, customers, and sensitive information onboard, there is a high risk of data security. Since the only asset you have is your platform and data, you have to be very particular about keeping it secure.
How you can start an online marketplace business?
It’s a big question – how to start an online marketplace business? There is the technology and there is business process development, both go hand-in-hand to form a complete marketplace ecosystem. If you have a business plan or a niche in your mind, you need to focus your efforts on handling the following four challenges first, and you could own a great marketplace business:
Note: You need to manage these challenges keeping your customers and sellers/merchants in thought. You can’t start a marketplace by conciliating with the needs of any of the two stakeholders.
Marketplace software constitutes your entire platform. You would need a collection of different marketplace solutions that work collectively to build your marketplace platform. One of the major constituents is – the marketplace website.
Marketplace website builder: You can develop your marketplace platform from scratch by outsourcing your project or hiring in-house developers. However, this would be a highly expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Instead, you can purchase a ready-made, open-source, multi-vendor eCommerce script to set up your platform in a few hours. There are various clone scripts in the market; you can get one of them and build your website. These scripts will provide all the fundamental features you need to build your platform. Since they offer open-source code access, you can also customize them the way you want.
Another alternative is using a free eCMS like Magento, PrestaShop, or OpenCart. However, these Commerce platforms are mainly suitable for inventory-based eCommerce sites, as they do not provide multi-vendor support out-of-the-box. You will have to purchase a corresponding multi-vendor module or extension from a third-party vendor to add marketplace features. They are open-source too.
Some SaaS solutions are also present in the market with ready-made marketplace sites. If you are ready to pay a monthly recurring fee, transaction fee per-sale, and can do with limited control over your site, this could be one of the fastest ways to build and launch your site in a day. These solutions are closed-source.
The choice is yours, you can use any of these options based on your preference and requirements. Do some research and select the most suitable option, as it would be a long-term commitment. You can’t switch your marketplace software every now or then.
Branding and Marketing
Be advised that customers don’t remember the seller but the marketplace platform itself. Therefore, every bad experience customers receive from your sellers directly affects your business image. All the discounts, Ads, and promotions, happen in the name of the marketplace platform. If you can’t get your customers to remember your brand identity, know that there is something wrong with your marketing and branding activities.
Supply-chain and Demand
The sole purpose of a marketplace platform is to fill the gap between supply and demand. Both the buyers and the merchants are your customers. You need to maintain a steady flow of demand and supply to keep both of the ends happy. Without buyers, you will lose customers and demand; without sellers, you will lose the supply-chain. Happy customers create demand, and sellers create the supply. You have to maintain an optimum balance between the two entities to succeed.
Flawless Customer Support
For both the buyers and the sellers, customer support is the most volatile constituent that might just ruin everything at any stage. There is a need for offering continuously impeccable customer support to the stakeholders. However, it cannot happen unless your sellers are supportive to the customers. You might try your best to give flawless experience to the buyers, but everything stops if your sellers don’t do their part. You must create an environment where everyone is doing his or her jobs properly. From quality control to addressing queries, processing refunds, and undertaking replacements, everything should work in harmony with each other.
Overall, the marketplace is a challenging business. However, easy businesses don’t furnish good returns. You can win this war with technical advancements and customer-friendly policies. If you want to create a hub of customers like Amazon and eBay, you shouldn’t arbitrate on the above four fronts. Invest in innovative marketplace software solutions, bridge the supply-demand gap, market your business, and extend the best customer support –this is the optimal way to command the new challenges of marketplace business and succeed effortlessly.
About the Author
Jessica Bruce a professional blogger, guest writer, Influencer & an eCommerce expert. She is currently associated with ShopyGen as a content marketing strategist. Jessica also reports on the latest happenings and trends associated with the eCommerce industry.
Follow her on Twitter @Jessicabruc (https://twitter.com/Jessicabruc)