Online marketplaces offer an easy, low-risk way for small businesses to venture into the world of online retailing, without having to set up their own e-commerce stores. And even for those with existing online stores, online marketplaces still present a great opportunity to expand your customer base.
What are online marketplaces?
An online marketplace is a type of e-commerce site that connects customers to multiple retailers, all in one place. Online shoppers have the chance to browse a range of products from different sellers without having to find individual websites.
Online marketplaces function the same way that markets do in real life – just in an online format. The same way you can go to a market or shopping centre and visit a number of different retailers in the same space, online shoppers can browse multiple brands in an online marketplace. It’s easy for them, as it means they can find everything they’re looking for in one place without having to jump from website to website.
Online marketplaces differ from e-commerce stores in that they are third parties providing the space for other businesses to sell their products in one place. They let customers browse a range of different brands, whereas e-commerce stores are run by individual businesses selling solely their product offering.
The convenience that online marketplaces offer consumers has been the driving force behind the huge popularity of platforms like Amazon and eBay. And for small businesses, it presents a significant opportunity. In fact, 58% of SMEs in the UK sell their products through online marketplaces.
Here are some of the most popular:
- Amazon - the global marketplace for just about everything.
- eBay - a trusted online marketplace for businesses and individuals.
- Etsy - the internet’s number one destination for handmade, customised products and independently owned businesses.
- Alibaba.com - a huge online marketplace for supplies and products alike.
- Zalando - European online marketplace specialising in fashion and footwear.
- Wayfair - global marketplace with a focus on homewares.
- OnBuy - a UK-focused online marketplace.
Benefits of selling through an online marketplace
Using an online marketplace to market and sell your products offers a range of benefits for small businesses. From hassle-free selling to a larger customer pool, it’s definitely worth considering if you want to expand your business and boost your brand’s visibility.
Lower risks for your business
Compared to setting up your own e-store, selling on an online marketplace is a much lower risk choice. For businesses that don’t have the resources or risk appetite to go it alone in the online retail world, selling through an online marketplace like Amazon or eBay is a much safer option. While there are costs involved with listing your items, the costs associated with shipping and payment processing are covered by the marketplace provider.
Setting up and maintaining your own e-commerce store can be extremely costly, but with an online marketplace, you don’t have to worry about site maintenance or paying out for the infrastructure of an online store.
Access to a wider range of customers
Online marketplaces have established and dedicated customer bases who return to their sites for repeat purchases. And by choosing to sell your products on an online marketplace, you get access to that customer base too.
Some online marketplaces have a more niche offering – such as Zalando’s focus on fashion or Etsy’s emphasis on handmade products. The customers you can reach on these marketplaces are even more valuable thanks to the niche nature of these spaces. Customers visiting niche marketplaces are already more committed to making a purchase, so reaching them is worthwhile for small businesses.
A chance to boost your sales
Selling your products on an already established site will increase your chances of securing sales significantly because of the sheer number of customers you gain access to. Rather than having to rely on just your own efforts to attract new sales, the reputation of an online marketplace brings customers to you.
It’s no secret that the online retail world is extremely profitable for small businesses. In fact, 29% of all retail sales were made online in 2021 in the UK – so if an online marketplace is your first dip in the pool of e-commerce, it’s a great way to give your sales a boost.
Build a trusted reputation
The reputation of online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon mean that customers are more likely to trust your brand, simply because you’re associated with them.
In addition to this, the review features on online marketplaces are heavily used by consumers to inform their purchasing decisions. This means that it’s a lot easier to build a reputation for being a high quality brand because customers rely a lot on reviews.
Gain marketing exposure
Online marketplaces often have their own internal marketing opportunities – think of the carousels on Amazon’s homepage or sponsored listings on search results. For small businesses looking to get their name out there, advertising on marketplaces helps to get your listings onto the right screens.
Access new markets
One of the biggest benefits of e-commerce is that it unlocks new opportunities for retailers. And with an online marketplace, these opportunities are even easier to access. Because marketplaces cover things like shipping and payment processing, small businesses can sell to customers in different regions and countries with ease.
The insights that online marketplaces provide also give small businesses an edge. Analytics data is readily available and sales patterns are easily identified with the programs that online marketplaces provide to their sellers – allowing businesses to seek new opportunities.
Are online marketplaces worth it for small businesses?
There are definitely costs associated with online marketplaces that might put off small businesses. Selling fees can be high on online marketplaces, and not all of them provide support with order fulfilment. Take Etsy for example, you can sell your products through the marketplace, but sellers must organise their own shipping.
On large marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, there’s also the issue of competition. The downside of having access to a huge pool of customers means that you’ll inevitably have to deal with lots of competitors too. It’s here where the more niche marketplaces present a more attractive option for smaller businesses.
However, the exposure and growth that small businesses gain from online marketplaces make it an opportunity that’s definitely worth exploring.
Want to sell on an online marketplace?
If you want to sell your products online without opening an e-store of your own, then online marketplaces are an ideal fit. Amazon, eBay and Etsy are the top three online marketplaces in the UK – making them a good place to start if you want to sell through an online marketplace. They present the biggest opportunity when it comes to customer bases, with a huge amount of shoppers that you can gain access to, simply by selling on their platform.
Setting up an account with your chosen marketplace is easy and straightforward – you can launch your listings and start making sales quickly.