All elements under the hood of a marketplace and the tech we recommend

Care to share?

In our recent articles on B2C and B2B marketplaces, we looked at various elements of what makes a good marketplace, which features you can try to replicate from the big players, and how the real-life two-year implementation process of a B2B marketplace looks. 

As a wrap-up to this series, we’ve made a checklist for technical teams and CTOs about everything that is under the hood of an online marketplace and which technologies we recommend. Of course, there are other great solutions out there but we have chosen a couple in each category that we enjoy working with and which have helped us build marketplaces for global players.

We also 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 

Essential elements of a marketplace | Merchant’s panel

What is it?

This is important for marketplace sellers (distributors, manufacturers, and pure players). It is the administration panel that allows merchants to:

  • Manage their profile (name, description, and policies)
  • Manage products (manually, by import or by API). One great advantage here is the possibility to map attribute data between the merchant’s system and the marketplace system
  • Manage offers (add prices, promotions, and adjust stock levels)
  • Manage shipping details
  • Fulfill orders (add tracking numbers, invoices, and so on)
  • Manage return and refunds
  • Manage communication with end clients, answering questions about products and orders and handling complaints)

What do we recommend?

The key to a good merchant’s panel is a balance of simplicity and rich features. If you are missing any of the above elements, then at least one critical part if the marketplace will fail. It needs to be feature-rich but intuitive. We cannot assume that marketplace administrators are technical experts, so the interface should require no coding skill. Check out the following software, which we recommend:

Essential elements of a marketplace | eCommerce

What is it?

The products and services on offer need to be visible to end customers somewhere. This is the eCommerce section and it should have the following aspects:

  • It should clearly show which products are sold by which merchant to give end customers transparent information before they make a purchase
  • End customers should be able to find and compare all similar products by price, ranking, shipping methods, additions to the product, and other filters
  • Information should be available on all merchants such as rating, customer opinions, shipping methods on offer, and cost
  • End customers should be able to communicate with merchants directly to ask questions, place orders, and make complaints
  • Shopping carts should be able to handle products from multiple merchants
  • Customers must be able to make only one payment, even if the goods they choose come from a number of merchants
  • Product returns should be possible both to the marketplace and to a specific merchant

It’s a real advantage if the eCommerce has a ready-to-use connector which will allow it to be linked to the Merchant’s Panel. You save yourself a lot of time and resources and end up with less ongoing maintenance. For example, Magento has a module to integrate with Mirakl which makes them a good pairing.

What do we recommend?

Most importantly, we recommend dividing the eCommerce part of your marketplace into distributed architecture, separating the frontend from the backend. This will allow for more technological flexibility and scalability. 

Essential elements of a marketplace | Payment system

What is it?

You need something that allows users and merchants to make transactions through your marketplace. Payment Service Providers (PSP) are third-party companies that specialize in payment infrastructure. However, you need to remember that you need a PSP that offers specific marketplace features. Some of these features are crucial when selling on particular markets while others are optional.

Some PSPs, like HiPay, have some ready-to-use marketplace processes inside, while others contain a marketplace payment structure but expect you to take care of processes such as calculating commission yourself, outside of the PSP. 

PSPs is a complex subject with many elements that go beyond the scope of this checklist. However, if you want to go deep, we recommend this article series from Sharetribe.

What do we recommend?

Choose specially-designed PSP software that allows you to map marketplaces in the area of business. Check that it has a level of fees that is acceptable for your business, as the cost of solutions can vary. And look for ready-to-use plug-ins for your selected architecture. We recommend:

The technological ecosystem of an online marketplace
The technological ecosystem of an online marketplace

Marketplace elements for growth | PIM

What is it?

A good marketplace thrives on consistency. Allowing individual sellers to create their own content in the Merchant’s Panel can lead to problems with content quality and consistency. PIM (Product Information Management) systems allow marketplace owners to take more control of these issues and build a more unified marketplace. PIM systems should cover specific marketplace issues:

  • Collecting product data from many sources such as both the Merchants Panel and the marketplace owners own ERP. This is made easier if the PIM has a ready-build connector to the Merchant’s Panel, such as the link between Mirakl and Akeneo
  • Merging several instances of the same product offered by different merchants into offer that is displayed on the frontend, thus simplifying both content creation for PIM users and end user experiences
  • Taking care of product content consistency 
  • Checking product quality and correcting if necessary
  • Offering distribution to multiple channels as the PIM has to have the opportunity to integrate with the marketplace frontend (eCommerce). A ready to use module is an additional advantage 

What do we recommend?

It depends on how fast you want to get started and what you want to achieve but, for us, there are two clear leaders when looking at PIM systems for your marketplace:

Read the in-depth comparison of Akeneo and Pimcore from Bartłomiej Czesak

Akeneo vs Pimcore: Which should you choose?

Marketplace elements for growth | Search

The bigger the inventory gets, the more important it is to make products easy to find. The search bar is the sales assistant for browsing shoppers and should allow them to find anything in the product range within seconds. In a marketplace, the search should:

  • Give customers the ability to find products from many merchants
  • Clearly highlight which products are sold by which merchant to give end customers transparent information
  • Show the best offers on similar products offered by multiple merchants
  • Offer the ability to filter by merchants
  • Allow for the filtering of products by advanced issues such as merchant rating and delivery time

What do we recommend?

Your search has only one core functionality but it is one of the most critical user experience elements of your marketplace. Modern customers expect to find products lightning fast, so choose carefully. We recommend:

  • A marketplace frontend search based on a native Elasticsearch engine, when your eCommerce part allows for that and you would like to customize the search feature to your needs.
  • SaaS solutions for search, navigation, merchandising, and personalization such as Algolia, Constructor, and FACT-finder, all of which are good when you are looking for proven, ready-to-use solutions.

Marketplace elements for growth | Personal contact

What is it?

End users often don’t feel the reality of marketplaces; in fact, at times they don’t even know that they are on a marketplace website. If they do know, it can feel impersonal in comparison to a normal eCommerce site. Marketplaces need to find ways to create personalized experiences across touchpoints:

  • Finding products (per specific seller, price, promotion)
  • Making an order
  • Updating an order (adding or removing products, changing shipping address, etc.)
  • Informing about order status 
  • Dealing with returns
  • Acting as an intermediary in issues between sellers and clients

What do we recommend?

Transparency and reachability are essential. Make sure that customers have easy ways to contact both the main marketplace owner and individual merchants through:

  • A dedicated call center
  • Live chat on the website, using tools like LiveChat or Freshchat 
  • A Sales Meeting Hub. Especially in B2B marketplaces, the role of Sales Reps is still key but we need solutions to allow for remote sales straight from the catalog

Nice-to-have marketplace elements | Product feeds

What is it?

A Product Feed generator gives you the possibility to take the reach of your marketplace even further by sharing it on external sites such as Amazon, Google Shop, and Facebook. It should let you share your own products, as the marketplace owner, and also those of the third-party vendors, and should be able to choose and display the best from a group of competing, similar products.

What do we recommend?

You can use a dedicated SaaS solution or a native module if the marketplace frontend has that option available:

Nice-to-have marketplace elements | Headless CMS

A headless CMS is a non-essential feature but one that can improve the consistency of your marketplace and the customer experience by allowing you to dynamically take care of CMS pages, FAQs, help pages, banners, product sliders, and so on. Headless CMS is especially important for separated frontend architecture and for architecture where you would like to maintain consistent CMS across multiple sales channels (e.g. for a separate Mobile App)

What do we recommend? 

Some of the more robust platforms, such as a Magento, have their own modules to handle CMS. However, we can also recommend some really strong headless solutions:

Nice-to-have marketplace elements | Marketing

What is it?

Although you have people browsing your marketplace, you can still use marketing activities such as notifications to improve conversion rates and promote special offers. Once you have customers on board, your task is to turn them into repeat buyers who are loyal to your platform. This can be done, for example, through direct messaging via SMS or email.

What do we recommend?

Marketing software is a useful tool to increase the volume and frequency of purchases. Among some great SaaS solutions on the market, we recommend the following software:

How to get started

We’ve broken this checklist up into the essentials, elements for growth, and nice-to-have features. Start at the top and research the best Merchant’s Panel, eCommerce, and PSP for your marketplace, then move down the list. If you want to consult with our team of marketplace builders, reach out to us and we’ll help you make the right choices for your business and discuss how you can get started. 

Published June 29, 2020