Many early e-commerce merchants (and you may be among them) start out on a marketplace platform. We mentioned Ebay, Etsy, and Depop in our most recent chat about international e-commerce, but there are others—even Amazon, the veritable Goliath of all things e-commerce, is, in large part, a platform for small independent vendors (this was one of Amazon’s original distinguishing features, back when its Marketplace was called « zShops» at its launch in 1999).
Marketplaces give you few opportunities for propagating your personal brand, and aren’t ideal for developing a close relationship with your customers—these are the principal cons of such platforms when compared to an independent store site, which you, the store and site-owner, autonomously manage and can tailor to your own goals and ideas.
But marketplaces also provide some pretty significant advantages, particularly in the domains of traffic acquisition and notoriety among consumer communities.
It’s all in the algorithmsI
Since a marketplace essentially acts as a dedicated search engine for products, yours will be more likely to appear on the searches of sincerely interested customers than they will on general search engines, where your store content will a) be competing with other types of content—not only other stores, but also blogs and other media that might be talking about your sector—and b) probably get lost among a sea of less-relevant products from better-indexed sites.
These are especially problematic circumstances for small vendors, who may have products perfectly adapted to a web-surfer’s search, but whose sites are less-frequented—and therefore lower-indexed than bigger sellers, even if the latter’s products aren’t as pertinent as the former’s.
Indexation plays a similar role on marketplaces, but the algorithms behind it are generally quite different than those behind general search engines—and this can potentially work in favor of smaller vendors, as long as they have a high conversion rate.
That’s because, unlike Google’s patented search algorithm, where website clicks are essentially the defining factor of placement, Amazon’s relies more on visitor conversion—in other words, getting more Amazon-searchers to click on your page won’t necessarily get you ranked higher, but getting a higher percentage of clickers to actually buy your products will. This algorithm design is fairly logical, since, in the end, Google and Amazon weren’t necessarily created to accomplish the same task.
The lesson to be learned here is simple: don’t count out marketplaces, even if you already have an independent store.
In fact, e-commerce experts and app developers (i.e. the people whose job it is to determine—and constantly watch—how these platforms work) tend to recommend maintaining both a marketplace presence and an individual storefront site. This approach allows you to gain exposure on highly-frequented marketplaces, eventually familiarizing customers with your brand and directing them over to your actual site.
Even if it takes a little while for traffic to pick up on your marketplace listing, you can fairly surely bet it will take even longer to gain traction on an independent without such a listing. Over time, your marketplace conversions will start turning into loyal site-visitors, as long as you continue producing what they like.
New markets, new marketplace(s)
“Not so fast!” is perhaps not the most appropriate warning to use in the context of launching a marketplace storefront. You do, indeed, want to be super-responsive to your customers, and that means engaging in every interaction as quickly as you can.
This “Yes, okay, fast” logic applies to your “home” marketplace environment—when you’re selling on a platform to people who live in the same country/region as you, speak or understand the same language, and have (at least some of) the same cultural references as you do.
But here’s the thing: even if your “home” marketplace—i.e., the buying-and-selling platform that’s most used in your country or region—is a megalith like Amazon, it’s important to remember that other countries have other megaliths. Despite being the world’s largest retailer overall, Amazon still hasn’t necessarily captured the top marketplace spot worldwide.
Whatever new international markets you decide to infiltrate, you’ll want to stick with the 2-storefront logic—making your individual store operational in the local currency and language, while also maintaining a presence on the most popular local marketplace site or sites. We’ll get to the first part in a second—right now, let’s focus on the latter, a surefire way to generate traffic, if you approach it the right way.
The map below documents the most-visited marketplace platforms by country, with data collected from Amazon’s Alexa (yup, Amazon again) by Website Builder Expert. Amazon’s orange definitely lights up some of the world’s most densely-populated regions—including Western Europe, the US, and India—but it still hasn’t penetrated China, Russia, a large portion of Africa, Scandinavia, nor Brazil and the rest of Latin America.
Brazil and China, for starters, are two of the world’s most populous countries; and, alongside Russia and Australia—two more places where Amazon hasn’t hit #1—they rank in the world’s top 10 largest e-commerce markets. China’s (unsurprisingly, given its population density) is first on the list at a total volume of $720 billion, according to Shopify’s recently-published Global E-Commerce Playbook.
Here’s the catch: since shoppers in these zones are more likely to browse marketplaces other than Amazon to make their online purchases—in China, it’s Alibaba, while in Brazil and most of the rest of Latin America, it’s Mercado Libre—you need to adapt your marketplace-placement strategy accordingly if you want to make it in these markets. This means doing your homework and setting up stores on the marketplaces that will bring you traffic.
Conversion rate is king
You may have noticed we mentioned the importance of conversion rate when we went over the main differences between traditional search engine and marketplace search algorithms. It makes sense that marketplace rankings take into account the viability of the seller, and conversion rate is a pretty fair way to measure this.
We can think of the conversion rate as a seller’s capacity to actually make a profit off of its targeted consumer segment. Since marketplaces have such a high volume and variety of items on sale, comparing all sellers’ total sales volumes is somewhat useless; it’s better to stick to a metric that takes into account the seller in comparison to other sellers who might attract the same type of customers, via their correspondence to the search terms that customers are using to indicate what they’re looking for.
If a seller can get someone searching for, say, a “blue umbrella” to buy from them as opposed to from another seller of blue umbrellas present on the same marketplace, the former seller is probably doing something right.
They may be providing clearer information about their product, placing their ads more accurately, or simply proposing a better product; this last part might also work to gain them more (and better) reviews from satisfied customers, which constitutes yet another metric the marketplace search engine is likely to take into account.
How do you convert your visitors? That’s going to depend on the marketplace platform you’re using, and the demographics of its principal users.
There are, without a doubt, some general principles that apply pretty universally to e-commerce conversion rate strategy—whether you’re running an independent storefront site, a marketplace store, or both.
Local- and we cannot stress this enough- ize
Most international marketplaces have separate sites for each country that they serve; this often has to do with differing regulations and standards between countries. This means, in many cases, duplicating your product pages for each local marketplace.
In order to optimize your marketplace presence without creating unnecessary work for yourself, let’s circle back to one of the principles we covered earlier: choosing your marketplaces wisely.
Logically, tips and tricks that will increase your sales, reputation, and/or conversion rate on one marketplace won’t necessarily work on others: selling on MercadoLibre, for example, requires a different approach than selling on Alibaba. The latter, for example, makes it a bit easier to duplicate pages in different languages.
Recap: market(place) ups and downs
A marketplace presence is a great way to supplement your individual e-commerce storefront. Managing a dedicated e-commerce site is a battle unto itself (but fear not—we’ve got some tips for boosting your strategy), and adding on a marketplace presence to your portfolio might seem like a potential source of stress. It will require some extra work, but the results are likely to be more than worth it.
All in all, you should expect to have to put a bit of effort into…
- Being present on the right marketplace sites for your target countries/regions; if you already have your own online store, you can use Google Analytics, or the analytics tool of your choice, to track where most of your sales are coming from. These are the regions where you’ll want to identify the most robust marketplace platform and set up shop there.
- Focusing on your marketplace-specific conversion rate; you probably already spent a fair amount of time and energy optimizing your storewide conversion rate if you have an e-commerce business, but adding a layer—i.e., a marketplace store—means watching this metric especially closely, since it will start to play an integral role in your indexation on marketplace websites.
- Adapting your product descriptions and images to each marketplace: since even international marketplace platforms, like Amazon, generally require sellers to maintain separate pages—i.e., “shops”—for each country (primarily due to shipping and selling regulations), you’ll need to be sure that you localize your content accordingly.
But most importantly, keep your e-commerce multi-platform
The real takeaway here should be that maintaining a marketplace presence is secondary to having a top-notch independent store.
With the right translation software (like Weglot), your storefront will be the most logical place to consolidate your content for all the markets you plan on targeting. Translating your site with Weglot allows you to create a dedicated subdomain or subdirectory for each language—so, ultimately, all of your content remains on your site, under your domain name. And it’s all just as searchable/SEO-optimized in every language—without you having to duplicate any of your pages.
Putting yourself out there on international marketplace sites is, in any case, one of the best ways to generate interest around your brand as a seller: since you’ll be able to reach a broader potential client base, you’ll be expanding your opportunities to turn browsers into loyal buyers.
And, once you’ve established yourself as a loyalty-worthy merchant, your buyers will be happy to buy directly from your independent site, no longer passing through the intermediary marketplace platform.
If you’ve already got an independent store—on Shopify, Squarespace, WooCommerce, or another e-commerce platform—you’re already off to a good start. The next step is to optimize your overall e-commerce strategy; and being present on marketplaces is a surefire way to push this process forward.