Sam Makad is a business consultant. He helps small & medium enterprises to grow their businesses and overall ROI. You can follow Sam on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.
The steps to follow when setting up an easy-to-manage, highly scalable e-commerce platform where multiple vendors can sell their products.
There was a time when there seemed to be just one solution that seemed natural when it came to selling online — one would start a web store, and that was pretty much it. The days appear to be long gone, though.
Given the colossal popularity enjoyed by giants such as eBay, Etsy, and Amazon and their likes, and especially the fact that Amazon has been listed among the top five most valuable brands of 2020, it’s no wonder more, and more people are getting attracted to the idea of multi-vendor e-commerce marketplaces.
Indeed, hosting a variety of sellers on a single platform can be a highly profitable business model. With a range of single-stop solutions offered to anyone willing to start their own project, such as the eCommerce platform multiple vendors CS-Cart proposal, the task should not be particularly daunting. Here’s what to consider if you plan to build your multi-vendor marketplace online.
How Are You Going to Stand Out?
We have to ask this question because it’s only by standing out in this way that you are likely to attract customers now that the notion of a multi-vendor marketplace has long been invented. Generally, there are two ways in which platforms differ from each other, namely, who uses them and why.
1. Know Your Audience
The first thing to consider when you start a project is who you will target. There are several questions that can help you figure out your audience for a less generic platform with a this-was-made-for-me feel.
In the context of multi-vendor marketplaces, the crucial choice is business-to-business or business-to-customer, or B2B and B2C, respectively. Translated to simple terms, this means you can either partner with companies that will further sell your goods or services or choose to deal with the customer directly.
Of course, both models have their pros and cons, which is exactly what brings about the dilemma. If you opt for a business-to-customer platform, you get a nearly infinite lead pool, while the range of potential corporate clients is normally more limited. You’ll also need to guide the people you work with through different decision-making scenarios depending on your choice. Individual decisions are generally quicker. Working with companies, the chances are high you will need to convince not one but many stakeholders, going back to square one each time a certain representative of the customer says no.
This probably makes B2B sound like too much risk, but there’s a reward — once you’ve started a relationship with a corporate customer, it’s likely to last longer than the one you have with an individual. The scale of sales obviously differs, too.
Finally, if you prefer to combine both approaches within a single platform, there’s nothing to prevent you from doing it. It is not uncommon for B2B-oriented vendors to start selling to corporate customers as they grow. You might simply accept it, provided your web-based marketplace has enough flexibility.
2. Think of a Differentiation Strategy
Your audience needs to understand what your unique selling proposition is. Commonly abbreviated as USP, the term refers to the feature, or possibly set of features, that make your business stand out. It takes a USP to make the transition from being “another e-commerce marketplace” to becoming “the marketplace” for a particular purpose.
Specialization is probably the most obvious and popular approach, illustrated vividly by the success story of Etsy, which has gained immense popularity as a place to shop for unique, hand-crafted items.
The Secret Cellar, made with CS-Cart’s solution for multi-vendor marketplaces, helps local producers showcase and sell their wines. The business has a chain of brick-and-mortar shops and even a bar where customers can taste less-familiar drinks, attracting an audience of people who like to explore the world of wine and support aspiring small-batch producers.
However, your USP doesn’t have to be about what you sell. Alternatively, you can make a selling point of where you sell it or why. The former approach is best illustrated by another CS-Cart-based platform that aims to expand the limits for producers across Morocco, called Veemo.
Uniting over 500 sellers currently, the website clearly owes part of its success to the local circumstances. The name of Keep America, also running on a CS-Cart model, is the answer to the why as the platform sells US-made products in various categories, focusing on creating more jobs in the country’s economy.
How Can You Bring Your Idea to Life?
The next step after answering all the questions about your target audience and how you will appeal to it is to start implementing the model. It is common practice to start with a minimum viable product, that is, a straightforward, no-frills design focusing on the essentials. This way, you can avoid the confusion commonly associated with running a newly launched project in e-commerce, where identifying a specific pain point can be challenging because of a bloated set of features.
On the contrary, a multi-vendor platform that starts lean has every chance of growing smoothly as you learn from your experience. There are multiple ways to make it happen, each promising a set of benefits at a cost.
3. Building Your Own Marketplace from Scratch
Creating a dedicated website can be a viable solution if you feel like customization is key and want to stay in control at every stage. It offers endless fine-tuning capabilities, but it is time-consuming, too.
Depending on your project's complexity, web development alone can take hundreds of hours, and there’s so much more to it than just the code, including design and quality assurance. This brings about another major disadvantage of the handmade approach, which is the high cost of implementation as compared to using pre-made tools.
Even though you can control every detail as you build a marketplace from the ground up, this doesn’t eliminate the need for maintenance and real-time adjustments following implementation. Generally, the approach is more likely to be worth it with high-budget, innovative, ambitious projects.
4. Using Ready-Made Solutions
Given the high costs associated with setting up an e-commerce marketplace, it’s only natural that many entrepreneurs choose easy-to-manage, customizable templates over building an all-custom website with proper vendor management. Companies that offer ready-made solutions in e-commerce are numerous. However, few are prepared to handle a multi-vendor project rather than deal with several individual stores using an existing marketplace platform.
Choosing the Perfect Marketplace Builder
Since most builders rely on their own apps, it’s essential that the provider has enough flexibility ingrained in its software to accommodate your model the way you see it. One example is CS-Cart’s specialized marketplace software with strong admin functionality and vendor support.
The Admin Panel
Administrative features are a factor to pay close attention to when choosing a marketplace builder. The way the person (or people) in charge interacts with the vendors and how the selling process is organized determines the platform’s appeal to sellers and end-users alike, so choose an option that is sure to cut in.
Some likely investment-worthy features are customizable vendor plans, payout automation, multiple-tier product approvals, and flexible administrative access. Detailed statistics can be a welcome bonus as well.
Another aspect to take into account is vendor comfort. The part of the software that your vendors interact with should be easy to navigate yet powerful enough to offer flexibility when it comes to managing the catalog and individual product categories.
Automation is another way of boosting vendor experience. This can be achieved through smart shipping calculation tools and built-in translators for potentially international projects.
There are at least two parties to each deal, and the customer essentially makes the decision.
Buyer experience should thus be a priority, even if your plan is centered on the vendors. This requires an empowering user interface, especially regarding the application, sufficient cross-platform compatibility, localization depending on your intended geography and target audience, ease of use, and, once again, flexibility. The latter becomes crucial when it comes to aspects such as payment methods.
How Much Support Is Enough?
Maintenance is part and parcel of marketplace operation. Suppose you want your newly created e-commerce environment to work smoothly as it grows to include more vendors and possibly expand its geographical limits or product range. In that case, you can purchase a ready-made project and invest in maintenance separately or opt for a lifetime or limited support. The latter option is often offered by marketplace building companies.
Apart from sparing you with a technical collapse during the run-in period, it might facilitate the required training for your staff and generally make the initial phase smoother.
Summing It Up
Starting your multi-vendor e-commerce marketplace requires a lot of preliminary brainwork to eliminate confusion regarding the underlying strategy. Whether you choose to have your website designed for you from scratch or use multi-vendor marketplace software, you need to make the decision with your target audience and differentiation in mind.
This will give you an idea of how much flexibility to invest in terms of administrative control as well as vendor and customer options. Finally, consider your preferred level of involvement in maintenance if you decide to use a ready-built environment.
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