Last month, consumer group Which? Ran a survey to find Britain’s best and worst online shops. We won’t name and shame the ones who came bottom of the list here, but the results were extremely enlightening. The researchers found that the sites which performed the best were distinguished by their quick, efficient service and the ‘personal touch’ they offer your customers.

If you’ve come to this page because you’re thinking about building your own marketplace, or you’ve built one and want to grow it, this survey should be extremely encouraging. Because, as a smaller marketplace, you’ve got the chance to be personal, and responsive, in a way giants like eBay and Amazon don’t. They may have vast resources and an established market presence, but you’ve got the advantage of having a clear specialism, a precise area of focus. If you can maximize this, you can gain an edge on the giants around you.

What does this mean in practice? Well there are a series of practical steps you can take to use your size (or lack of it) to your advantage and cement your reputation as a cosy, close-to-its roots brand that cares about its customers. 

Design an amazing site experience

One thing that emerged loud and clear from the recent British survey was that customers want a clean, crisp marketplace. So it’s important that you build a site with these requirements in mind.

This means offering:

  • Short, sharp product descriptions
  • A neat filter section, using arrows and scroll functions to display the various options in a clean way
  • Reviews that are visible and prominent
  • A clear explanation of terms and conditions
If you need a bit of help designing your site, Marketplaces Inc can design it for you, allowing you to customize key areas of your site, such as the appearance of your ‘storefront’ and your filter options Find out more by clicking here.

Build your story

Right from the start, you need to have your story sorted. You need to show customers you are a caring, compassionate enterprise which they can trust.

This means making the ‘about us’ section of your marketplace as personal as possible, with images of the founders and a detailed, interesting backstory. It means taking care over your social media strategy, thinking about each word in your profile and selecting the images that reflect your chosen message. And it means blogging straightaway: if you can blog about topics that are relevant to your audience (as we’ve tried to do here), you’ll boost your authority and gain trust. Research shows that nearly four in five customers appreciate companies that provide custom content, believing they want to forge lasting relationships.

Don’t just use your various community touchpoints to flog your brand. Use these pages to build your community. Write about issues that matter in your space, publish photos ‘under the hood’ of the business and offer practical tips to help readers improve their shopping experience. And be sure to ask questions: it’s a great way to get to know your audience and turn them into stakeholders.

Know your customers 

While the bigger sites have millions of customers to think about, covering all ages and demographic groups, you’ll probably start with a small customer base, so you can really drill down into it. But this takes plenty of research.

Find out what sort of person buys your product, and why. Do they need your product for work, or pleasure? Will they buying for themselves, or someone else? Sites like Google Analytics will give you great analysis of who’s visiting your site, and Hootsuite is great for understanding your social media traffic.

Tailor your language

When you’re sending correspondence to your customers, don’t settle for bland, generic language. Use your research to craft niche references that will give you extra trustworthiness. If you’re selling to a particular market, you’ll need to adopt the lingo people in that space use (this is particularly true, for example, in health and fitness, which is full of niche activities and tribal language). 

If your market is seasonal or event-driven, build an event calendar to target your promotional activity. If you’re selling academic products, for example, set your messages to go live at various points in the school calendar. That way your promotions feel newsy and relevant, and are less likely to be cast into the blackhole marked ‘spam’.

Take great photos

Photos are the shop window of your site, and, to the outside world, they provide a telling indicator of how much pride you take in your work. Again, companies such as Marketplaces Inc can give you clear guidance regarding image size, but we can’t take the photos for you.

Before even taking a photo, think about the image you want to portray. Some brands will want photos that fizz with color. Others will want black and white, or sepia for a more demure feel. If you don’t have much knowledge in this area, we recommend hiring a professional photographer to take any images you need to supply yourself. It’s a significant expense, but very much worth it.

If, like many marketplaces, you’re relying on vendors to submit photos, ensure they all have clear specifications of the size, and quality, of images they need to supply, as well as any stylistic requirements you have.

Verify your sellers

Of all the areas where (lack of) size counts, quality control is the most obvious. Major marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist, which have to look after legions of vendors, have been criticized for the scams some of their sellers pull. So it’s an area where you, as a small marketplace with a narrower focus, can really capitalize.

Don’t be afraid to pay for background checks on your vendors, and ask them to supply as much information as possible about their background. You can even ask them to get references if you think it’ll help.

As well as doing your diligence, make sure you shout about the rigor of your vetting system on your website. Perhaps you can give a tick or checkmark to show the seller has been vetted, or a bit of background information about them (with their consent of course).

Reward customers

Done properly, reward and loyalty programmes can have a huge impact. Just take a look at Starbucks, a company which leads the field in this area. The coffee giant just announced that rewards customers drive 40% of its U.S. sales. Given it also revealed record revenue figures, we can assume it’s doing something right.

Of course, you won’t have the resources of Starbucks to play with, but you can still build an amazing program - and, as the British survey made clear, sites that care about their customers tend to thrive.

Firstly, you need to think clearly about what sort of behaviour you’re going to reward. Different marketplaces reward all kinds of stuff, including sign-ups, purchases and referrals. As a small marketplace, you could start by rewarding social media activity, as this shows you care about your image and your community - always a good look.

Secondly, you need to work out what sort of rewards to offer. Discounts on products are always great, but think outside the box here. How about tickets to an event that’s relevant to your space (such as, say, a workshop for craft enthusiasts)? How about a subscription to a product or service that benefits your users? How about a simple fun t-shirt bearing the name of your marketplace? The more tailored and thought-out your reward is, the more genuine it’ll seem. You’ll look like you share your customers’ passion and aren’t just trying to buy their affection.

In addition to discounts, you can also look at adding something extra with your shipments, such as a ‘thank you’ note to your customers.

Marketplaces Inc. provides the most flexible ready-to-go marketplace-as-a-service solution. Contact us today to discuss your requirements, and get started.