You've just spent a year of your life and a whole lot of your (or other people's) money building an online marketplace platform.
It looks perfect and offers hundreds of custom-built features for your vendors and customers.
Then, you launch – and they don't come. A few sellers that join hardly use any of your beautiful features.
What a waste, right? You wish you'd started with a simpler setup and less features. Well, read on:
What features exactly do you need to start an online marketplace that doesn't suck?
Not as many as you think.
There are 3 main parties that make a marketplace platform possible – sellers, buyers and the platform itself.
Now, put yourself in their shoes. Think of their needs. What do they want first and foremost?
- Sellers primarily want to sell. This means listing, selling and dispatching products efficiently.
- Buyers primarily want to buy. This means searching for the best products and purchasing them quickly.
- The platform connects buyers with sellers and generates revenue doing it. This means offering the right tools and being optimized for sales.
Sounds about right? Now, the features:
Essential marketplace features for sellers
Quick onboarding for sellers
Entrepreneurs are busy people. You'll have to make their lives easier, not harder.
Make the signup and onboarding process for your vendors as straight-forward as possible.
The less effort it takes to get started on your platform, the more likely people will sign up to sell with you.
If you have an account with Etsy, you know what I mean – they make it really easy to just hop on and start selling.
Streamlined product management
Your marketplace is probably not the only way for vendors to sell their products. They might be already running their own Shopify stores and selling products on Etsy and Amazon.
So, make it easy to list products for sale! This means streamlined product listing forms, a convenient way to create product variations and getting rid of non-essential fields.
Consider offering an easy way for new vendors to import products from third party platforms like Amazon and Shopify if you're working with small businesses.
Order processing that's convenient
Running an ecommerce business takes a lot of effort. You'll need to offer your vendors a way to manage and process orders quickly and efficiently.
Notify your sellers about newly received orders and allow them to print shipping slips and mark orders as dispatched.
Offering a way to specify tracking numbers is another nice to have feature your customers will appreciate.
Features to promote listings and sell more
Give your sellers the power to sell more!
Let vendors take part in discount campaigns, create and distribute coupon codes and feature their products more prominently to drive sales.
Tools to communicate with the buyers
Communication builds trust and makes it easier for the buyer to commit to the purchase.
Offer your vendors a way to receive and answer customer questions, ask for and receive reviews and communicate with buyers to quickly resolve order issues if they arise.
Essential marketplace features for buyers
Powerful product search and display
If you can't find what you need on Amazon you'll go eBay. Make it easy for your buyers to find products they want or they'll go elsewhere.
"Streamlined marketplace navigation, clean and modern interfaces, good-looking and informative product pages – we're seeing that all of this is important as ever for a modern online marketplace in 2019." – Dmitry Sokolov, Project Manager at Roobykon Software
A good starting point is to offer a great product search, faceted category filters and well-designed and informative product pages.
Checkout flow tailored to your buyers
What are the most popular payment methods in your region? What delivery methods do your competitors use?
Do your research and really understand how people buy – don't offer PayPal if the industry standard is cash on delivery.
Your checkout process should be as straight-forward as possible and support the payment and delivery methods your buyers expect.
Reliable order processing and tracking
Taking orders your vendors can't fulfill is a great way to disappoint your customers and drive them away for good.
Make sure your vendors are reliable, keep the customer notified about the status of their order and offer them a way to track it.
Communication between the buyer and the vendor
If questions arise you want them to get handled quickly and efficiently.
Your customers will be much more likely to purchase again if they can ask vendors questions prior to the purchase, communicate with them after placing the order and leave reviews.
Essential marketplace platform features
Suitable payment gateways and delivery methods
If you can't process payments your marketplace platform is worthless.
Make sure your software supports the payment and delivery methods you'll use in your marketplace.
Tools to manage your marketplace operations
You have to be on top of things and keep track of everything as a marketplace platform owner.
Features like notifications and alerts, catalog moderation tools and marketplace activity overview will be a good start.
Marketing features to grow your platform
How do you run a marketplace platform successfully if nobody knows about it? You can't.
You'll have to promote it – and you'll have a much easier time doing it if the platform itself is built with marketing in mind.
Automated search engine optimization, social media integrations, user-friendly interfaces and a modern design are all must haves in this day and age.
Monetization tools to help you generate revenue
It's not a marketplace business if you're not making money. If you can't monetize it, you can't sustain it.
There's a lot of ways your marketplace can generate revenue (wrote about it a while ago). Vendor subscriptions, signup, insertion and selling fees, featured and sponsored products and stores and more.
Have a business plan at hand and make sure your platform makes it possible.
That's it with the essentials. If your platform can do these – you're good to go (but make sure the features you're offering work as expected)!
"You'll generally want to start with the essentials, like allowing your users to leave reviews and communicate. We didn't have an app until six months after we launched and it was fine. But you have to make sure the core features you start with work flawlessly." – Duane Brown, Founder & Head of Strategy at Take Some Risk
Now as your marketplace grows, you'll probably want to offer more tools to your marketplace users.
Here are some non-essential features that are nice to have once your marketplace is off to a good start:
Non-essential or nice-to-have marketplace features
These are the features your marketplace platform can live without – at least during the early stages of your business.
Advanced analytics and reporting
Giving yourself and your vendors a set of basic analytics and reporting tools is a good idea, but leave advanced analytics to professional analytics software.
If you really think your vendors need something more advanced, offer an integration with existing analytics platforms like Google Analytics instead.
Customizable front stores for your vendors
Remember how Myspace allowed people to build glittery colorful backgrounds and add background music to their profiles?
If you want your marketplace to look and feel like a unified whole (you do), offering vendors too much customization options will absolutely backfire.
Some customization is fine, though – especially if you're running a marketplace like Etsy where sellers are individuals, not faceless companies.
Too many payment gateways
You might think offering your users as many payment options you can think of is a good idea.
In reality, usability studies show that even just displaying multiple payment methods makes checkout more complex. Now consider using them all for settlements with vendors.
Different regions have different payment preferences, but it's better to start with one or two most popular payment gateways and offering more later as needed.
Consider using a marketplace payment gateway like Stripe Connect that allows you to instantly transfer payments between the buyers and the sellers.
A complex vendor plan structure and fees
Many marketplace platforms allow you to create multiple different subscription plans for your vendors and charge them a whole lot of fees depending on their plan.
This doesn't mean you should jump right into it and design a fee structure that takes up multiple Excel sheets.
Remember – the simpler your offer to your vendors, the more likely they'll be to join your platform. (Even Amazon offers vendors two base plans only).
Standalone mobile apps
It feels good to offer your users a standalone marketplace app they can use on their smartphones.
However, unless your software offers it out of the box, mobile apps are expensive to build and maintain – and it's not an essential feature, especially for smaller projects.
Instead, make sure your marketplace website is responsive and leave standalone apps for later.
Advanced product management
Your first priority is to make it easy for your vendors to list products for sale.
Advanced features like product drafts, custom templates and bulk stock management is something you can offer professional vendors down the road.
Seller badges and performance scores
A vendor performance system allows you to automatically track and reward your best sellers with badges, lower fees or other benefits.
It also brings an extra layer of complexity into your system. And unless you're starting out with thousands of vendors, you can handle promotions manually.
Vacation or holiday mode
While helpful as your platform grows, this is a feature your vendors can live without when you're just starting out.
As a workaround, you can make it possible for vendors to get in touch with you and have you temporarily place their store on pause while they're away.
Digital products and file management
Unless you're running a digital marketplace, your vendors don't need a file manager and ways to deal with digital downloadable products.
Integrations with third party shipping providers
Automating all of your shipping processes is a good idea, but doing it in an online marketplace is a difficult task from a technical perspective.
Start with a simple way for your vendors to specify shipping prices themselves, then offer integrations with hand-picked shipping services as you grow.
Multi-user access to vendor accounts
Larger, enterprise-grade vendors may want to have multiple different users control their vendors accounts.
But unless your marketplace is specifically tailored to enterprises, you'll probably not need this feature. (And if you're in enterprise, you'll know better than me what features you do and don't need.)
Well, this list has gotten pretty long by now. The point is: start small, have the basic marketplace features available to your users and expand as you grow – not the other way around.
Did I miss an essential marketplace feature? Let me know!