Online marketplaces—from behemoths like eBay and Amazon to niche players like Etsy and Bonanza—are third-party platforms that allow vendors to sell their products to the marketplace’s audience.
With consumers’ attention split now divided across social media, traditional and online ads, word of mouth, brick-and-mortar stores, catalogs and online marketplaces … the question of which channel to expand to first is difficult.
Regardless of the specific channel, expansion requires upleveling marketing efforts to further build a brand and acquire a new audience.
What if we told you that expansion into marketplaces best fits the bill. These platforms offer a great first opportunity for single-channel companies looking to make the leap to a brand new channel.
As the name suggests, marketplaces aren’t tangible or physical but can be found online. They’re eCommerce sites where multiple third parties and vendors provide info on products and services. Transactions are handled and processed by the marketplace operator. Other elements — like order fulfillment, inventory storage, and logistics — can likewise be outsourced.
|MARKETPLACE||TYPE OF BUYERS|
|MercadoLibre||South Americans in search of electronics, cell phones, home & garden, fashion. It’s the 8th most visited site in the world; can sell across the whole of Latin America.|
|JOOR||Fashionistas searching for luxe brands, clothes and accessories.|
|Jumia||South African shoppers can buy television sets, appliances, hardware and fashion from this Nigerian marketplace.|
|Lazada||Largest site in Southeast Asia (owned by Alibaba) with 23 million active buyers searching for electronic gear, computer parts, motorcycle parts, homeware, toys & fashion accessories.|
|Wayfair||Homeowners and apartment dwellers in need of furniture and home accessories delivered to their front doorstep.|
|Houzz||Started as an inspiration platform among architects, interior designers, and homeowners. Now lists furniture, decor, lighting, storage and more.|
|Etsy||Buyers looking for handcrafted, artisanal goods.|
|Alibaba||Provides C2C, B2C, and B2B sales services via web portals, including electronic payment services, shopping search engines, and cloud computing services. Beauty was the fastest moving product. China’s middle-class are looking for high-quality products to satisfy discretionary spend and increasingly sophisticated lifestyle.|
|Fnac||Large French eCommerce site with 15+ million unique monthly visitors. Europeans looking for consumer electronics, eBooks and media shop here.|
|The Iconic||Australian online fashion and sports retailer with more than 1,000 local and international brands and 60,000 fashion and sports products for men and women.|
Listing and selling on eBay, Amazon, and other online marketplaces can lead to major gains for your business in a variety of ways.
First of all, online marketplaces are heavily populated with individuals actively looking to make a purchase.
Mass-audience marketplaces, like eBay and Amazon, attract individuals from all over the world, from all walks of life. Niche sites, such as Etsy, attract those looking for specific types of items. Either way, these mass audiences come to these sites primed to place an order when they find what they’re looking for.
Second, you stand to gain more visibility — product discoverability — through your presence on these marketplaces.
As you optimize your product pages, generate positive social proof, and otherwise improve your marketplace presence, you’ll improve your overall online presence.
Most customers don’t learn about new products until they see them “stocked on shelves.” Marketplaces provide better brand exposure. This means focusing instead on garnering positive reviews and gathering customer data to better serve your customers.
Third, becoming present on well-known and trusted marketplaces can lead new customers to trust your brand before they even learn anything about you.
Because you’ll go through a vetting process when working with a new marketplace, even brand new customers will be more likely to trust your company from the get-go.
Fourth, depending on the marketplace you choose, global selling is built in.
Most marketplaces operate internationally. If you decide to sell products on one, you’re given the option to expand your reach with minimal effort to other countries.
Fifth, you can test the waters (both product demand and in different geographies) by listing only select products.
There’s no need to list your entire catalog on marketplaces. Best thing to do is watch what’s selling and performing well. You have control what belongs and which products need to be removed from listings. Double-down on categories that are doing well with certain buyer-types and pricing levels.
Finally, since marketplaces take care of a number of backend processes, you’ll be able to allocate additional resources to growing your company.
This includes infrastructure setup, design, hosting, order processing, handling financial transactions, and even fulfillment. Simplicity and low barriers to entry shine.
While online marketplaces provide valuable opportunities to companies getting into multichannel sales, there are a few obstacles to avoid when doing so.
Number one, each marketplace implements its own fees or payment structures.
This may take the form of sales commission, listing fees, monthly membership fees, etc. Taking advantage of the supplementary services offered by many marketplaces (e.g., Fulfillment by Amazon) will add to your operational costs.
Two, when selling on a marketplace, you relinquish some of your branding to the marketplace in question.
For example, if you sell on Amazon, your product will be wrapped—both physically and digitally—in Amazon branding. This means you’ll have to take extra steps to ensure your branding shines through to your audience.
Three, you give control over your customer’s experience … and customer data.
Customers aren’t yours. Many marketplaces, like Amazon, restrict your ability to communicate directly with buyers. eBay and Etsy do release information to sellers but, ultimately, they control which data is transferred to sellers. For privacy purposes, no personal information is passed on to you, the seller.
Finally — and perhaps most obviously — competition and the risk of commoditization run high.
The online marketplaces in existence today are full of companies vying for the attention of your target audience. In other words, competition is fierce.
While this shouldn’t deter you from using marketplaces to generate more business for your company, it should make clear that you need to have a well-planned approach to navigate them and stand out.
Simply “being” on an online marketplace isn’t enough to guarantee success.
Like any marketing initiative, you’re going to need to be strategic in how you generate a presence on these platforms. Taking the above pros and cons of selling on marketplaces into consideration, let’s now look at how you can go about doing just that.
Since you’re likely to discover a decent amount of competition on any online marketplace, you need to be sure that your products stand out to your target audience on the site in question.
While each platform differs in terms of what you can include on your product pages, the key areas to focus on will be:
In addition to organically driving traffic to your product pages, you might also choose to advertise on your online marketplace of choice. This allows you to promote specific products based on the search terms they use.
(Note: Even if going the paid ad route, you still need to optimize your product page to drive conversions. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting ad spend.)
Social proof is a key differentiating factor in the modern consumer’s decision to make a purchase (or not).
That said, you need to be sure your satisfied customers are making their voices heard via your product pages.
While some of your customers might take it upon themselves to leave a positive review on your page, others might need a bit more prompting. So, you might leave a note in the product packaging for customers to read upon receipt of their order or send out an automated email after they’ve received their item.
(Note: Though positive social proof of any kind is always appreciated, for our current purposes, you’d want to direct the customer to the specific product page on the marketplace in question.)
One of the main downsides to operating on an online marketplace is that you sacrifice some autonomy in terms of branding.
For example, all Amazon product pages use the same overall template, color scheme, and font. Similarly, products sold through Fulfillment by Amazon are packaged in Amazon-branded containers.
There are a number of ways you can do this, such as:
Note that each marketplace has specific terms as to the “extras” that can be included in your packages. That said, you’ll want to take full advantage of the terms you’re given, and stuff as much additional value into your packages as you can.
In working with online marketplaces, you may have access to services that will help maintain internal fulfillment-related operations. For example, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) essentially takes care of the entire process, allowing you to focus on developing your products and overall customer experience.
Alternatively, Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM) gives you the chance to delight customers with fun and environmentally-responsible packaging, which could also encourage them to share the unboxing experience on social media.
Regardless of how much assistance you’re getting from a marketplace, you never want to be completely hands-off. And you definitely need to ensure that your inventory, orders, and fulfillment processes stay in-line with one another as time goes on.
This is especially true as you continue to add new channels to your marketing and sales operations. The last thing you want is for demand to skyrocket on a given marketplace, only to realize you don’t have the inventory to meet these new needs.
Many savvy SMEs are taking an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach to Amazon, and using the online marketplace to their advantage.