Generating supply and demand are the two main stumbling blocks of any online marketplace. You need to generate some demand for the products on your marketplace for it to be an attractive proposition for your sellers. On the other hand, customers and buyers will not be drawn to a marketplace that has few sellers and is lacking in choices. You need to have one before you can have the other. A classic chicken-and-egg scenario - crack supply first, or demand first? You need to figure out which egg to crack to get your multi-vendor marketplace going.Create An Online Marketplace >
E-commerce marketplaces have traditionally tackled the supply problem first by solving technical, marketing and logistics problems for their sellers. They have sorted out these problems to the point where they are running well-oiled machines that excel in getting products from the seller's warehouse or garage to the consumer's computer screen and then ahead to their doorstep in the shortest time imaginable.
There are many different kinds of marketplaces you can build. You could be selling physical products like clothing or auto parts. Or you could have a listings database for workout studios and fitness trainers. Or you could just bring together people who want to exchange power tools or computer games.
Whatever it is you build, bringing together the first few sellers and convincing them to start selling on your platform is probably the toughest problem you will tackle as a marketplace entrepreneur. Here's a few steps to help you get started with making your marketplace an attractive proposition for your sellers and merchants:
Your first urge would be to build an Amazon of all things and go Uber-size right from the start. But rather than solving nothing for a large number of people, concentrate on solving some core problems for a smaller segment of the market. Don't get this wrong, you will probably need to cast a wider net while figuring out product-market fit in the beginning and figuring out where the opportunities lie. It can be very tempting to go after the entire market segment, but unless you have unlimited reserves and $$$ backing you up, you will have to laser-focus your energy on one aspect of your industry, or a limited portion of your target geography.
Building a marketplace for clothes? Build it for women's clothes, or even better, build it for women's fitness-wear. Want to start your own version of Uber? Focus on your own city, get in electric cars, or build one for long-distance travel or something. Concentrating on one particular segment of your industry or geographical area also lets you identify pain points faced by sellers and consumers in those target areas. Solve these pain points, get in a core group to use your product and then look for ways to expand into other areas.
Identifying your core group of sellers and consumers will also get you some core data that will let you formulate marketing strategies for getting through to a wider spectrum of users. Use content marketing and generate some content specific to this group - industry-specific news and events, instructional content and videos. Draw in your sellers to your product via your content. Later you can even use geography-specific advertising to reach out to more sellers. So look for this core group and solve some real problems for them.
A hand-bag maker, a person with a spare room in their house, an engineer with a new gizmo, all these people have one classic problem in common - marketing. They are probably great at what they do - making handbags, knocking together gadgets in the garage, or running animal safaris in remote corners of the world. But all of them need help in getting through to the right consumer who can pay for their products and services. Your marketplace needs to solve this primary problem for all these sellers.
Marketing is all about crafting a message about a product and then getting that message through to the right consumer. Its amazing the number of people who have trouble spelling their own names online. Unleash this lot on your marketplace and you will have total chaos. It all starts with giving your product listing a short name that conveys what it is and a product image that is well-lit and cropped properly. Helping your sellers get these basics right makes your marketplace a neat and clean place and a pleasure to hang out in.
In the online retail space, where you cannot touch and feel your products, it is words and images that convince the consumer. Help your sellers get these right. Get rid of useless marketing messages and sloppy imagery. Convey product descriptions that are concise and informative. Tell consumers exactly what they are getting and have as much information in there as possible. Get your terms documents in place, make sure your sellers agree with it.
Product photography and copywriting are areas your sellers may need help with. If your sellers are located in one geographic area you could set up a photography studio that can turn out high-quality product images on a fast and consistent basis. And unless your sellers are award-winning authors, they may need assistance from a professional content specialist to polish product specs and other marketing content.
Next comes the actual process of reaching out to consumers and driving some traffic to your marketplace. It may take a while before word-of-mouth and network effects help your marketplace attain self-propelling nirvana. Until that happens, you will have to figure out a way to drive the first few customers to your site.
Your first few sellers are most likely to be friends or close business associates. You have helped them set up accounts on your marketplace, polished content for them, tested out their payment accounts and helped them get their pricing right. Now it is time to let some buyers find these amazing products and listings. Matters are simpler on the high street, where you have steady physical traffic and your shopfront design helps draw some walk-ins on a regular basis. Things are a bit more mysterious in the online space and figuring this one out is going to be the core part of your business.
It is easy to buy ecommerce tech online and there's always some product merchant somewhere who needs their goods sold. But figuring out where consumers are and then mastering the dark arts that will draw them into your digital space is what the whole business is really about. You can spend some $$ and 'buy' some customers through Google Adwords or Facebook. Or you can go the trusted old way and use some search engine optimization to rank your site/app for certain keywords. After that you can go a step further and invest in content marketing or YouTube videos.
Building traction is a combination of improving your product, cracking virality, generating referals and mastering digital marketing. Figure out what you are good at - making sticky YouTube videos or writing informative content for your target consumers or financial smarts that can help you generate advertising spend. It can be scary, as months go by without anyone showing any interest in your product. But it gets more fun when the first few customers drop in and start giving you some feedback, and you use that data to improve your product and make your first sale.
Marketing and having access to consumer traffic is one of the main reasons individual sellers and small businesses will be drawn to your marketplace. But generating bucketloads of consumer traffic is only half the problem. The next problem is getting products to your marketplace customers, providing award-winning customer support and putting in fool-proof returns mechanisms in place. If your marketplace involves shipping physical goods then you may need to come up with solutions for warehousing, packaging, and then finding shipping partners and order fulfillment companies who can take on end-to-end delivery logistics.
Finding sellers, helping them go online, generating customer traffic, delivering product and managing customer expectations, these are all links in your ecommerce chain. And your chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Your sellers will come to you for logistics as much as for your marketing chops. So get this right.
You will probably kickstart your project based on some assumptions. Very soon you will need to validate those assumptions and if required, change your product based on real user feedback. Instead of spending lots of time perfecting your version 1, put out a half-baked product and let your sellers cook it to perfection. What this means is that you put in a system whereby you can gather feedback frequently and make changes to your product rapidly.
Your system could be your vendor-management software, your ecommerce website or app and even the marketing techniques you use to reach out to your sellers. Have mechanisms in place - through Google Analytics and other means - that let you evaluate the flows taken by your users (sellers and buyers) through your software systems and marketing. Instead of building an assumptions-oriented product that no one wants to use, gather feedback and build a product your sellers actually need. After that, the more your product gets used in a real-world scenario, the higher the chances of attracting real users and onboarding more sellers.
On Blipteam you have one way to crack the supply egg first and create an online marketplace going. Each seller in your Blipteam marketplace can create an online store that they can operate independently of your online marketplace. So while you are selling products from hundreds of sellers and vendors, they can operate their own web stores under their own domain names. This gives them ownership over their online properties and saves you the headache of maintaining product information.
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