Building an online marketplace? Get the secrets of success

Rome wasn’t built in a day.   

It took much longer — more than 1,229 years, to be exact — to create this monumental ancient metropolis. Millions of Italians were on the “development team”, and some groundbreaking architectural feats were accomplished in the process. 

One major thing Rome’s businesspeople integrated in the city’s infrastructure was marketplaces — common areas where Romans could wander among seller stalls, sample the goods, chat with their neighbors, stock up on olive oil. 

Rome was a global hub for business, and the marketplace was here to stay. As business models, various types of marketplaces are still flourishing today (e.g., flea markets at fairgrounds). Plus, physical marketplaces have since also morphed into online shopping hubs.

Today, ecommerce marketplace platforms Etsy, eBay, Airbnb, Alibaba, Amazon, and Fiverr are good examples of marketplace success. These sites, in many ways following the template that was pioneered in Rome, have exploded in popularity as more sellers and potential customers have discovered their charms.

Trade secrets from Rome?

Thinking about creating a high-quality online marketplace business of your own — a bustling product or service marketplace? In terms of web development, building an online marketplace platform could be a fairly challenging feat. As you know, the marketplace market is already brimming with heavy hitters, so you have to be somewhat strategic.

With that in mind, your first step as an entrepreneur and prospective marketplace owner who’s happily generating online sales should be to get equipped with the right planning, a sound step-by-step approach, and the best marketplace software and other tools you might need for the job.

Here are some basic marketplace-site-building tips that can help you steer clear of issues.

Lay the foundation 

Starting anything new is typically difficult, whether you’re running a marathon, creating a startup, introducing a new product, or engaging in online marketplace development. Whatever it is, revving your engine and getting warmed up can be the hardest part.

At this stage, as you’re thinking about setting up an online marketplace website, aim to come up with an airtight master plan. Make sure you understand what’s happening — and what’s likely to happen — in the online market that you’re about to enter.

Define your marketplace

Conceptualizing a marketplace ecommerce website typically involves: 

  • Identifying a specific problem or inefficiency in the market 
  • Ensuring that your marketplace site will provide a unique solution  

Whether it’s filling a gap in the market, catering to a specific target audience that’s not currently being courted, or effectively addressing an offline problem through the virtues of your chosen marketplace app, you must be able to clearly identify and understand the problem you’ll solve. This clarity is what will allow you to shape a workable value proposition, then come up with the right features and services that will set you apart from your competitors. 

Define your audience 

Whether it’s a B2B marketplace, a service marketplace, or one geared for consumer products, every online marketplace needs an abundance of shoppers. Understanding your target market — who they are and what they want — is an obvious prerequisite. You can get to know these people by delving into their characteristics, preferences, and pain points (through data mining on your standalone website, for instance). Then you can determine how your platform will provide a unique solution for them, whether you do it through enhanced convenience, competitive pricing, an expansive selection of products or services that are available from a variety of online stores, excellent trust and safety measures, or some other differentiating factor.

Know your competition 

You have a great marketplace idea and the drive to make it a reality. Where do you start? How do you stand out in a presumably packed market?

The key is assessing exactly what your prospective competition is doing. By perusing existing marketplace sites, you can gain insight on what’s already being done well and where things might be challenging for a newbie marketplace owner who wants to make inroads. More importantly, you can potentially identify areas where you could do better.

How do you gather the market-research data on your competitors’ multi-vendor marketplaces? Start by opening and labeling a case-study spreadsheet, and then:

  • Explore competitor websites. What do you notice? Look closely at their homepage, product pages, product descriptions, even their fonts. Assess their overall marketplace design, their UI design, their ease of navigation, and the quality of the user experience (UX) as a whole.
  • Examine their product or service offerings. Identify any unique selling points that seem to set them apart and any things they’re missing.
  • Read their customer reviews and ratings. Get a feel for what their visitors like and dislike about the marketplace buying experience. What might you want to incorporate in your own UX design?
  • Note their marketing strategies. See how they handle their marketing campaigns, advertising, their social media presence, their content marketing messaging. 
  • Investigate their pricing and policies. Determine whether there’s room for a more-competitive pricing model or an innovative new feature.

Detail all your findings on your spreadsheet, then set aside this trove of data for a while. When you come back to it, see what stands out in terms of informing your path forward.

Build the foundation 

Once you’ve pinned down your prospective marketplace niche, identified your target audience, and learned all there is to glean about your competition, it’s time to start the back-end development-stage process, as well as set up the right front-end functionality.

Choose the right platform  

Imagine being the architect of your marketplace kingdom; every brick, nook, and cranny is crafted to perfection. That’s the power of a custom-built platform. You have the flexibility to tailor every detail to your requirements.

But maybe you just want to skip ahead of a lengthy marketplace website development process (as well as those pesky associated development costs) and start living out your marketplace site dreams.

That’s where a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform could come in pretty handy. These require minimal technical expertise to set up and maintain. An SaaS platform comes complete with features and tools, letting you get up and running to focus on the business at hand: growing your custom marketplace. Think of it as moving into a fully furnished home and proceeding to host dinner parties every night.

Create a seamless user experience

As with any ecommerce platform, with a marketplace UX, it’s important to balance your aesthetics with the best functionality. A platform that looks gorgeous but is annoying to navigate will undoubtedly frustrate your marketplace shoppers. Conversely, a poorly designed though perfectly functional site may not win them over, either.

Visually appealing, cohesive design that aligns with your branding can instill confidence and enhance every aspect of the marketplace shopping experience. We’re talking about well-organized layouts, intuitive icons, and attractive color schemes. You also want well-thought-out navigation that presents categories, filters, and search functionality in a user-friendly manner. Having the know-how to implement clear labels, hierarchical menus, and navigation elements will take you a long way toward setting up an enjoyable user journey. 

Finally, in case you weren’t aware, more than half of all global website traffic comes from mobile devices. So with an increasing number of people shopping with mobile apps, keep in mind that optimizing your marketplace website design for mobile can help you reach and engage a broader audience. 

Create a strong seller base

Your sellers are your MVPs: some of your most important stakeholders, who can make or break your budding virtual Roman empire. A vibrant, diverse range of sellers can expand your marketplace product offerings and attract more buyers, driving overall engagement and growth. 

To attract the best sellers, you’d do well to provide compelling incentives, such as competitive commission rates, favorable terms, lower listing fees at times, and a user-friendly onboarding process. 

For a marketplace ecommerce business, ensuring seller quality is equally important. Implementing a thorough seller vetting process will help you maintain high standards. This process could include verifying their credentials, conducting background checks, and continually monitoring vendor performance. Valuing quality, reliability, and trustworthiness among your sellers can help stoke strong buyer satisfaction. 

Add the finishing touches 

Every worthwhile marketplace-creation endeavor requires a little finesse — extra details that can elevate a good site to an exceptional one. How can you add just the right flair and functionality that will make all the difference to your sellers, shoppers, conversion, and bottom line? Consider these ideas:

Provide effective search  

When shoppers visit your marketplace site, possibly locating it as a result of search engine optimization (SEO), they expect to find what they’re looking for in an instant, peruse your product pages, buy what’s in their shopping cart, have fun doing it, and then get on with their day. That means modern search functionality is usually a big “yes” for optimizing the user experience.

To meet shoppers’ expectations, you might focus on three vital components: advanced search functionality, filters, and ranking algorithms. 

Advanced search simply lets shoppers do more-precise searching. The latest search technology brings up relevant products or services even when people have specific or complex search requirements. By incorporating features such as keyword matching, synonym recognition, and natural language processing (NLP), your search engine can respond to shopper queries in a more “intuitive” manner. 

Use secure payment methods  

Online shoppers need to feel confident that their financial and personal information will be protected and their checkout process will be conducted in a secure payment system. Payment gateways and fraud prevention are two ways to ensure security, build trust, and promote a sense of well-being among your marketplace shoppers.

A payment gateway serves as the intermediary between buyers, sellers, and financial institutions, ensuring issue-free payments. You can partner with a reputable payment gateway provider and offer your marketplace shoppers various payment options, for instance, credit card, digital wallet, Stripe, and Paypal.  

As far as avoiding fraud, you can use identity-verification procedures, address-verification systems, and transaction-monitoring tools to help detect and prevent fraudulent activity. Collaborating with fraud-prevention services and utilizing machine-learning algorithms to analyze patterns and detect anomalies is likely to bolster your marketplace transaction security, reassuring both your vendor business owners and your customers that all is well.

Provide top-notch customer support

Timely, effective responses to customer inquiries and support requests (for instance, related to refunds) are essential for a marketplace site. Having a dedicated customer support team and utilizing customer-support software are two ways to handle inquiries and provide expedient resolution and quality assurance. You can also cater to individual preferences for getting support by offering communication channels ranging from email to online chat to picking up the ’ol phone. And of course, you want to start by providing detailed FAQ content to head off the need for contacting Support.

Ensure your marketplace success 

With the right marketplace business model for your niche, a lot of passion, a little project-manager dedication, and expert advice, the chances are good that you can build a Rome-worthy ecommerce destination.

Want help with getting your own marketplace up and running? With advanced search and recommendation capabilities, Algolia can get your shoppers instantly to the products and services they want, plus potentially intrigue them with new finds.

Our API provides “intelligent” search that encompasses autocomplete, faceted filtering, and almost-real-time, personalized search results, plus scalability. The prospective payoffs? Better shopper engagement, new customers, an improved conversion rate, and, ultimately, improved metrics, as our customers have enjoyed.

Contact us and let’s get your soon-to-be-successful marketplace site off to a stellar start!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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