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Are marketplaces a good e-Commerce option for you?

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Why read this? : Marketplaces are a quick and easy way to start selling online. We review the main options, and what they have to offer. Learn what the likes of Gumtree, eBay, Etsy and more can do for your online selling. Read this guide to work out if marketplaces are a good e-Commerce option for you. 

Marketplaces are a good place to start if you’re new to e-Commerce. 

They’re built to make online selling easy. They’re a quick way to get yourself online and start selling to customers. You don’t have the hassle of setting up your own store, or dealing with an online retailer.

They’re quick and easy because they “rent” you the space to sell on their site. You access their back-end systems and list your products or services.

Customers either contact you to buy, or the transaction takes place on the marketplace’s site. Delivery is usually (but not always) down to you. 

e-commerce 5 key channel options - on a x-y graph against level of complexity and control

Marketplaces act like a middle man

Technically, they’re not a retailer. They don’t buy the products from you and then sell them on. They act more like a middle man between you and the customer. It keeps the selling model simple. That can be (but isn’t always) a good thing. 

If you want more control over the selling experience however, marketplaces aren’t such a great option. You can’t do many of the more advanced e-Commerce techniques with marketplaces for example.

They also work in different ways. Some marketplaces only provide a website to showcase your products. You handle everything else. Others are more sophisticated and manage payments and deliveries. Some, as we’ll show, even make the product for you. 

How marketplaces work

The customer-facing part of marketplaces works like a digital classified advert. It tells shoppers what you have for sale.

But it’s also interactive. The shopper can place an order on the site. The call to action is “Buy Now”. 

You control the content of the product page. That means you choose which products to sell, which product information to include, and the price you’ll charge. (usually handled via the marketplace’s product information management system).

Woman holding credit card near a macbook and typing in her details

Most, though not all, will give you some control over the design of your product pages. Adding your logo for example. Adjusting the colours and typography.

But everything else is usually automated. You can’t control or change much of the customer experience. It’s a transaction between you and the customer, but it all runs on the marketplace’s terms. In many cases, you don’t even have any direct contact with them, unless there’s a specific issue.

Let’s now move on to look at how some of the most popular marketplaces work.

Gumtree

Gumtree is the most visited marketplace site in Australia. It’s been part of ebay since 2005. The ownership structure changed in 2020, but it’s mostly still ebay.

They have over 7 million users and 3 million listings, with 80,000 new listings daily.

It’s a very simple selling model. They connect buyers and sellers to enable transactions. 

On Gumtree, you post adverts for the products you want to sell. Buyers contact you via the site, and you manage the sale.

Screengrab of Gumtree home page - Headline says Spend the $5k with the Gumtree Allstars

Gumtree doesn’t handle transactions. Payments are usually via PayPal. 

You also manage the delivery (including delivery costs). Or you arrange for the buyer to collect the product from you. It’s also up to you to fix any customer service issues.

It’s really more like a digital media channel than an e-Commerce platform, albeit one where buyers and sellers come together. In fact, Gumtree tries to avoid having anything to do with the actual transaction. It makes most of its money from advertising fees.

Gumtree works best when selling one-off items in high ticket price categories. For example, it’s good for selling second hand cars, electronics and furniture.

It a great way for online shoppers to find bargains in those sorts of categories. But for online sellers, selling on Gumtree can be more of a challenge.

The Gumtree online seller experience

The easiness of selling on Gumtree has an unfortunate knock-on effect on the online selling experience. 

Anyone and everyone can sell anything and everything on Gumtree. That means the quality of advertising, products and services is highly variable. 

Sellers post their own product images. Write their own sales copy. There’s little quality control. The site only intervenes if sellers break the rules.

It feels like a crowded place for online shoppers. The structure of the site often feels random. As if you’re visiting an online car boot sale. That might be fine for selling a one-off item. But it’s not what you want for regular online selling.

Regular online sellers find it hard to build their brand on Gumtree. There’s so much noise. So many competing offers. It’s not a great experience if you sell premium products. It’s a hard place to make your brand stand out, and build your competitive advantage

ebay

Gumtree’s owner, ebay has more quality control over what’s sold, and how it’s sold. There’s more structure in the selling process.

They offer better options and services for regular online sellers. For example, regular online sellers can set up and design their own store front through the ebay Seller Hub.

This gives you more flexibility in how your product pages appear. You still have to work with their templates, but it’s more flexible than Gumtree. 

Ebay home page - headline says Ebay Plus - start a 30 day free trial

However, it’s less flexible than if you manage your own online store.

Still, within reason, you can build a distinct brand feel for your store on ebay. That helps towards finding a competitive advantage. You also have access to more digital data and insights than you get with Gumtree. 

Ebay also let you set the price. Their original business model was as an auction-price site. Now, you have the option to set auction and fixed prices with them. 

They can also help manage payments. For every transaction, ebay take a 10.9% fee from the final payment amount. Depending on the category, they may also take other listing and transaction fees.

For new or small sellers selling up to 40 items a month though, there’s no listing fee. If you’re just starting out with them, that helps your initial profit and loss.

Delivery is on you though

Ebay don’t however manage the delivery for you.

You need to work out how you’ll deliver ebay orders to the customer.

That includes covering the delivery costs and dealing with any customer service issues. 

Ebay do have more controls in place than Gumtree to protect buyers and sellers though.

“Bad” accounts can be reported and removed. That means transactions feel safer on ebay.

Close up of a delivery driver handing over a cardboard box delivery to a customer

The ebay selling experience

Selling on ebay is the digital equivalent of renting a small store in a large shopping mall. In fact, a lot of major retailers you find in shopping malls like Coles, Chemist Warehouse and Myer also sell though ebay.

The main benefit to online sellers is the quality and quantity of online shoppers who visit ebay. It’s perceived as a higher quality shopping experience. The quality of content / products you find and the transaction experience is usually better than Gumtree. 

Shoppers visiting ebay are usually in product search and “buy” mode. As a seller, that means you have access to lots of customers with high potential. They’re looking for products like yours. And they’re looking to buy now. 

However, there are also challenges to selling on ebay.

You have to follow their selling rules and processes. The only changes you can make to your store are those pre-defined by ebay. 

Say you want to change the branding of your store front. You’re limited to the options they give you. Or you want to dig into the digital data to understand why your conversion rate is so low. Again, you’re limited to what ebay give you.

You can’t add extra customer experience features and services as you could with a Shopify or WooCommerce store. Different payment or different delivery options for example. Extra brand content. Special offers and promotions

Not really possible with ebay.

With ebay, you “rent” space on their platform, rather than “own” it. You don’t get any of the advantages of owning your own space online. Search traffic you generate boosts their site, not yours. Customer data goes into their CRM system, not yours.

Ebay’s an interesting option for online selling because of the quality of the shoppers. But, the limits of creating your own customer experience make it more of a challenge long-term.

Etsy

Etsy is another popular option, working more as a marketplace for artists. It tries to create more of a community feel for buyers and sellers.

It focuses on 3 categories :-

  • handmade items
  • vintage items (over 20 years old)
  • craft supplies.

If you make jewellery or handbags, or you make or sell fashion items, Etsy is a good option for you.  

Screengrab of Etsy Home page. Headline says Find things you'll love. Support independent sellers. Only on Etsy.

While it’s free to join the site, the financial model on Etsy can be challenging. 

They take a variety of different fees for “hosting” the transaction. For example, Etsy can charge listing fees, shipping transaction fees, transaction fees, payment processing fees and currency conversion fee for each transaction. They manage the payment for you, but don’t cover deliveries or customer service.

Added up, these fees can take 15-20% off what you get from the sale. That can make a big dent in your profit and loss. You need to pay for production, advertising and delivery costs out of 80-85% of the selling price.

On the plus side, you’ve got lots of shoppers looking for more unique crafted products. If that sounds like the products you want to sell online, Etsy can be a good fit. You also have some flexibility to adjust the design to “brand” your store front, though it’s at a similar level to ebay.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook have also tried to build their e-Commerce presence with Facebook Marketplace.

It runs as an online classified ads site, similar to how Gumtree works.

The platform connects buyers and sellers together, without handling actual transactions.

It’s really more of a digital media channel to tell people what you have for sale.

Its main benefit is the high number of people who use Facebook on a regular basis.

Screengrab of Facebook marketplace with different items for sale like office software and camera equipment

As per our digital business model guide, around 60% of Australians use Facebook. Despite the bad press it gets, it’s still the number 1 social media channel in Australia. 

So, it has high potential to reach a lot of customers. And as per our digital media guide, there’s a lot of options to help you find the right target audience when advertising on the site. 

However, it’s got similar challenges to Gumtree in terms of the overall experience. Because anyone and everyone can get on there and sell, the quality of the experience varies greatly. 

For example, you might be trying to sell your ultra-premium brand on there, but find yourself listed next to Daryll from Woop-Woop selling his battered old Ford Falcon. That probably won’t sit well with the brand identity or e-Commerce positioning you want online. 

For one-off sales of second-hand items, it’s a direct competitor for Gumtree. But, it’s really targeted more at personal rather than business selling. So, you’re usually better looking at some of the other marketplaces first before your try selling on Facebook.

Hybrid marketplaces

When looking at marketplaces as an e-Commerce channels option, there’s 2 other options to consider.

First, there’s Amazon. Amazon offer a couple of different ways for you to sell online.

Though they’re best known as a retailer, they also run Amazon marketplace.

In this model, they manage payments. You can handle delivery yourself or use their delivery systems.

Prices and fees vary depending on what type of product you’re selling.

Samsung mobile phone with amazon logo on screen

They can be anywhere from 6% to 25% for handing the payment, and similar when they handle the delivery. Plus, though they’re a huge site with many shoppers, there can be a lot of challenges to working with them. 

Check our online retailer guide for more on working with Amazon.

Print on Demand (POD) is another variation on marketplaces. POD sites like Redbubble and Spreadshirt set up a range of “blank” standard printable merchandise items.

T-shirts for example, which we sell in our own shop. But also other clothing items (e.g. baseball caps and hoodies) and common household items (e.g. cushions and art prints)

You create artwork designs to appear in the “blank” areas of the items.

edbubble back-end - how you can adjust behind the scenes with a Redbubble account

Customers choose your design and the POD supplier prints it on the item and sends it to them. 

You have a store front on their site, similar to how other marketplaces work. But you can also connect this store front to your own site, so it looks and feels more branded.

When a customer orders your design, the POD company handle the payment and delivery for you. They print it and send it to the customer. You never see or touch the product itself. This makes it simple to manage. 

However, it has limits similar to other marketplaces. You have only limited control over the product pages for example. And you have little or no control over the back-end order to delivery system. If there’s an issue with the quality of the printing for example, you have to ask the customer to contact the POD supplier. That’s not always great if you’re trying to build your own brand.  

POD works best for people interested in the design aspects of creating products. It’s less good for those who want to get into the nitty gritty of managing the whole e-Commerce customer journey

International marketplaces

So far, we’ve covered the main marketplaces popular in Australia. But there are many international marketplaces which should also be on your e-Commerce radar.

For example, T-mall which is part of the Alibaba e-Commerce empire. It gets huge amount of traffic in China and other Asian markets. 

The Lazada group of stores and marketplaces (and again part of Alibaba) is another popular platform through South East Asia. 

Screengrab of t-mall home page

The benefit of these sorts of marketplaces is the huge customer reach. Australia’s a relatively small country in terms of population (and potential online shoppers) compared to most other markets. 

The challenge though is to understand and meet the needs of customers in these markets. You won’t know them as well as you know your local customers.

There’s also the challenge of overseas shipping. Some products are easier to ship overseas than others. Books or fashion items are usually simple to export for example. But for say, food and drink items, there can be many customs and import regulation challenges. 

Advantages of marketplaces

Marketplaces are popular because of their easy set-up options for online sellers. You can be selling online in a matter of minutes just by setting up an account with them. No complicated online store set up, or difficult online retailer negotiations to worry about. 

You can also flex your product range and pricing, without a lot of technical know-how.

These sites get lot of visitors. Those visitors are looking to shop. They’re a source of high potential customers. It’s easier to sell to customers already looking to buy.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

When they can also handle payments or deliveries, that means you don’t have to work out how to handle these complex areas. That takes away some worries for new online sellers. 

They work best when you want to sell specific items at a specific point in time. They’re good for selling one-off high-value items like cars and electronics. 

Disadvantage of marketplaces

But if you want to sell online regularly, or have more control over the selling experience, that’s where you’ll run into the disadvantages of marketplaces.

It can be frustrating not having the flexibility to set up the e-Commerce customer experience the way you want. You don’t own the space when you sell though marketplaces. 

You can’t change the functionality of the site. Or do anything special or different.

You also have limited access to data and insights.

hand showing a thumbs down

It means if your products aren’t selling, you may not have access to the tools you need to fix it. 

Also, these platforms take a relatively high percentage of the selling price in fees and commission. You pay for them making it easier for you to sell. But if you can manage your own payments, shipping and deliveries, the profit margins are usually better in other e-Commerce channels. Other channels usually have a better looking profit and loss.

Conclusion - marketplaces

Marketplaces are a great way to start in e-Commerce. 

Their main benefits are speed and easiness to use. 

You can start selling online quickly. If other channels seem too complex, and you want to keep things simple, they’re a good option.

They’re also good for selling high-ticket items and one-offs. They also work well for some creative items like the stuff that sells on Etsy, or selling T-Shirts via Print on Demand.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

However, as your e-Commerce knowledge grows, you soon find the limits of marketplaces. They limit what you can do to control the customer experience. Most online businesses who want to scale up usually move on from marketplaces and start selling direct.

There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity and speed of marketplaces. You should include them in your e-Commerce planning process.

But make sure you go in with your eyes open. They make their money because they take a percentage of everything sold on their sites. You need to make sure you’re still making a profit after they take their cut. 

Check out our guide to online retailers for more on other e-Commerce channels. Or contact us if you need advice on marketplaces as part of your e-Commerce planning. 

Photo credits

Woman holding credit card near Macbook : Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

Delivery – driver handing over package : Photo by RoseBox رز باکس on Unsplash

Amazon on phone : Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Thumbs up / down (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Credit Card / Laptop : Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash

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