Marketplaces are now the go-to place for most people shopping online. Whether it is Amazon, Alibaba, or Zalando, marketplaces are deeply ingrained in buyers’ minds and have a huge influence on online habits.

Amazon’s 1 T USD valuation makes it a genuine threat to even Google. Alibaba is also so powerful that it is probably the only Asian entity that has been able to burst the western bubble and convince the European users to ship items all the way from the Far East. And Zalando may not be a challenger to these two but the store that started selling flip flops online is now the leading marketplace for clothing and it is not an exaggeration to say that it effectively introduced fashion to the online channel.

If you are building a marketplace, it is impossible to take on these behemoths but you can take inspiration from the customer service they provide. Let’s look at some must-have marketplace features and how they benefit merchants and end customers.


We've compiled all of the articles from this series into one handy, downloadable resource which is augmented with additional statistics, expert opinions, and other great content. No matter your knowledge entry level, it's the ultimate guide to online marketplaces.

Go to: A guide to online marketplaces and how to build one

7 online marketplace features you can copy or take inspiration from

Social proof

Let’s start with Amazon, which really nails its UX. There are a lot of impressive features; some, such as drone delivery, are not easy to replicate, but there are others that any smaller eCommerce businesses can implement. Social proof is one such feature. Amazon has tons of user reviews on products, not because they are particularly fun to read but because they strongly influence purchase decisions. Users go to Amazon with a strong intention to make a purchase and are often just looking for the right merchant to fulfill their order. However, the buying journey is still a long way from finalization at that point as many users need help to dispel any doubt they may have about unknown merchants. 

On Amazon, the importance and sheer volume of customer reviews (especially as Amazon encourages users to leave their opinions by rewarding them with special badges and rewards) actually leads to a counter-issue with trustworthiness. Merchants rely so much on good reviews that many begin to look like they are made by bots. In fact, Marketing Land quotes a study that found that 61% of electronics reviews on Amazon could be classed as ‘fake’. 

If you start your own smaller marketplace, you need a social proof section but should also take advantage of your smaller size and the fact that you have less to deal with than Amazon. Make sure that reviews are useful and try to duplicate the model of rewarding clients for getting engaged and leaving their feedback.

THE BENEFITS OF SOCIAL PROOF

For marketplace owners:
Check if merchants and the goods or services they provide are up to the standard you expect in your marketplace. Monitor merchants and take action if rating from customers falls below a certain level.

For merchants:
Customers buy from people they can trust. Every good review is gold for online stores.

For customers:
Customers trust the opinions of other buyers more than anything else. Social proof is a key element of the purchase decision.


One-click buying

Once they have selected a product and have positive social proof, users usually have no second thoughts about buying… and yet so many eCommerce sites give them an opportunity to back out of the deal by taking them through a three- or four-step checkout process. Amazon now does it differently and has introduced 1-click ordering for return customers. 

"When you place your first order and enter a payment method and shipping address, 1-Click ordering is automatically enabled." 
Amazon

The marketplace has introduced a “Buy Now” button that enables users to make impulse purchases the way one might buy a candy bar in a convenience store. It has been questioned by some as a slightly sinister move which removes any obstacles to unrestrained consumerism. But should online purchases be held to a different standard than those in brick-and-mortar stores? The trend is always to remove obstacles in the users’ path, shortening the path from intention to purchase, and reducing the number of abandoned carts. 

THE BENEFITS OF ONE-CLICK BUYING

For marketplace owners:
Everything about a marketplace should be driven towards higher conversion, lower bounce rates, and frictionless customer journeys. 

For merchants:
Abandoned carts are the ultimate lost opportunity for merchants. They have a buyer with a strong intention to purchase a product that the merchant is offering, but the long checkout process stifles the sale. ‘One-click buy’ largely solves this problem.

For customers:
Buyers are looking for comfortable experiences. As long as a system is safe and their data is protected, they will always choose the path of least resistance.

Exceptional search and layout 

With potentially millions of products in the catalog, a marketplace thrives on its ability to give users what they want without making them dive into an ocean of vaguely similar items. The search bar is the ultimate shop assistant. It should be immediately visible and have all the answers. Implement a search engine that will auto-complete sentences, filter results, and guide visitors in their shopping. Whether the user has a specific product in mind or wants to just browse around through some category, search usability is crucial.

As we discussed in a previous article about eCommerce trends, sites like Pinterest are exploring the promising areas of voice and visual search. These have the potential to change the future of eCommerce and are certainly worth a closer look, especially for marketplaces that attract younger users who are starting to favor more visually-driven shopping websites. However, all marketplaces should still start with the basics: delivering a simple and intuitive layout that makes products easy to find and a fully functional text-based search engine.

THE BENEFITS OF A GOOD SEARCH ENGINE

For marketplace owners:
Merchants have a choice of marketplaces. They will sell on the one that makes their products easiest to find and buy, meaning the one with the best user interface. 

For merchants:
Visible and findable products lead to a higher volume of sales.

For customers:
Speed is the number one factor for customers. Every second counts. Sites need to work lightning fast and product searches should be near-instantaneous.

Influence and inspiration 

Finding clothes may be faster and easier for customers than ever before but the purchase decision is not as simple as it was a decade ago. There is now an aspirational aspect to fashion where buyers want to express themselves, make statements, and—let’s be honest—be seen on social media. Zalando and AboutYou take advantage of this perfectly. They play with social media, putting Instagram influencers in store to guide users through the goods in stock.

“I play a part in making Zalando more than just a store, but a place where customers get inspired about expressing themselves through their fashion choices.”

Gabriel Lovato, Visual Designer at Zalando
Zalando
AboutYou

Both of these marketplaces convince users that they sell something more than clothes; it’s about the look and feel, as well as the cultural significance. And it works! Not just because of the aspirational element but because end customers also gain real value from seeing the piece of clothing they are interested in presented as an element of an entire outfit before they click “Add to cart”. 

Using social media such as Instagram or Pinterest—especially in the beauty and fashion industry—is a big win for even the smallest marketplaces.

THE BENEFITS OF INFLUENCERS

For marketplace owners:
Social influencers are the strongest endorsement in the online world. Validation from popular influencers is a huge credibility boost for a new marketplace. 

For merchants:
Whether it is fashion, sporting goods, DIY equipment, or any other product, the credibility offered by influencers is a similar boost for merchants.

For customers:
Influencers let customers know that they are on trend, as well as showing how good products look and work in real life.

Personal recommendations

Personalized experiences are now an absolute must for online businesses. There is a thin line between being helpful to customers and being somewhat over-familiar or even creepy. The eCommerce industry has solved this problem by delivering a “login” option to users, which allows the system to save data and enhance future experiences. This step can’t be obligatory, as it lengthens the user’s path, but it shouldn’t be missed if at all possible. There are many subtle ways to use data and make personal recommendations which, in the case best scenario, develop or deepen customer loyalty.

Data is the engine of any online business. To attract merchants to a marketplace, you need to show that you are going to be offering a continually improved and calibrated service that will consistently enhance customer experience and increase conversion rates. Recommendations are one sure-fire way of achieving that aim.  

WAYS OF MAKING EFFECTIVE RECOMMENDATIONS TO CUSTOMERS

- Wishlists created by customers save products that they love and want to buy in future
- Goods that fit the customer’s profile can be prominently displayed on the front page based on previous browsing and purchase history
- Items from abandoned carts can be displayed to users as reminders of what they previously planned to buy (so-called remarketing)
- AI algorithms can create a “Recommended for you” section based on what customers previously bought or liked (in fashion marketplaces, for example, the algorithm can use the brand, style, color or size tags to suggest what other clothes may be of interest)
- An “Other users also bought” section can suggest items that other shoppers regularly paired with the product the customer is interested in 

Fast and reliable delivery

According to the Stuart report, in 2016, 72% of consumers were willing to spend more if the goods are delivered on the day of purchase. Same-day delivery was first offered as an option by Amazon but Alibaba quickly followed in its steps, as it is something that blurs the line between offline and online shopping experience and makes the latter more accessible and pleasant. 

Amazon offers its same-day delivery option only to Prime members (without a Prime membership it is available for $9.98 per item). Zalando also offers faster delivery (there is no same-day option) as a payable extra. Both models suggest that it is a non-standard option.

If you are a smaller merchant or marketplace owner, the more specific delivery times you provide, the better the customer experience. Typically, the “last mile” was the most vulnerable part of the experience clients had with eCommerce, but the store or marketplace owners had very little control of it. This is now changing for the better. Delivery is becoming more and more reliable, along with the ability for customers to choose a very specific date or place of delivery… though it often comes at a price as it is a paid extra.

THE BENEFITS OF SAME-DAY DELIVERY

For marketplace owners:
Simply put, you cannot be competitive if other marketplaces can get the goods to customers faster and more reliably. No marketplace can win without winning “the last mile”. 

For merchants:
Delivery is a key factor in the purchase decision.

For customers:
Waiting days for a courier who turns up when he chooses is no longer necessary. The online shopping experience starts to mirror the speed of in-store purchasing. 

Friendly returns policy

Online shopping took time to win the trust of customers and returns were the most significant issue. Many potential buyers were put off by the difficulty of returning products, especially as many eCommerce sites had different policies—something that does not mirror in-store experiences where returns are generally the same and feel familiar.

These trust issues are now fading thanks to more consumer-centric laws and also thanks to the internal policies of marketplaces. For example, eBay introduced a “Money Back Guarantee” that applies to everything on its site. This means that, regardless of the merchant’s individual policy,  a customer can get a replacement product or a full refund if a product isn’t as described in the listing or it isn’t received within 7 days of the specified delivery timeframe.

Zalando also extended the standard time for the return of goods from 14 to 100 days, which definitely helped break users’ resistance to buying clothes online. Such actions raise the bar for the others and make all marketplaces work better. 

The key to a good returns policy is total transparency and clarity. In brick-and-mortar stores, everything is clear and simple; conversely, return processes can be handled in very different ways from one online store to another. Marketplace owners need to understand that the ease of returning faulty products or getting refunds is actually a key part of the purchase decision.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR RETURNS POLICY A POSITIVE 
ELEMENT OF THE PURCHASE DECISION

- Make sure that all merchants understand and adhere to your policy
- Provide reusable boxes and free shipping for returns
- Treat your returns policy as a way to win against the competition. See where you can innovate and excel
- Display the information on the main page in a prominent place. It’s one of the top five decision triggers for customers, so don’t bury your returns policy in the footer of your website 

Next time around, we’ll be looking at B2B marketplaces and taking you through a step by step process from market research to launch and beyond. We’ll go deep into the business and technical elements of bringing a marketplace to life. If you want to know even more, feel free to contact us and chat to our experts.


Editorial team: Kaja Grzybowska, Tim Clayton

Kaja Grzybowska

An experienced journalist writing for Wyborcza.biz, biznes.onet.pl, NewConnect.info and Inwestycje.pl. Previously was a managing editor of Interaktywnie.com, a website dedicated to technology, advertising, digital media and economy.

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