Multi-vendor Ecommerce Platforms: The Ultimate Guide
Multi-vendor Ecommerce stores or marketplaces provide passive or hands-free income to the marketplace owner when done right. But for entrepreneurs who can conceive and execute their own secret sauce, choosing a scalable and a reliable multi-vendor Ecommerce platform is a headache and a time consuming process and may burn your fingers!
The opportunities for building the next million dollar Multi-vendor Ecommerce store is unlimited where everything is moving online, and brick and mortar businesses are in the deathbed.
Ultimate Disclaimer: Use your wisdom and seek the help of an eCommerce expert when building a multi-vendor eCommerce platform. Also I haven’t sprinkled any affiliate links in this article, so don’t fire any missiles against me! (I’m a peace lover and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi)
So lets dive more into Multi-vendor Ecommerce Platforms a.k.a Marketplaces in detail and let’s find out which is the best multi vendor shopping cart software or if something like that really exists!
Keep your reading glasses handy…
From giants like eBay and Amazon to niche players like Etsy, marketplaces are everywhere and is not limited to US alone. Ecommerce marketplaces swallow 90% of the total eCommerce traffic all over the world whether its in China(Taobao/Aliexpress) or in India(Flipkart/Amazon/Snapdeal)
Marketplaces will be having more advanced and specialized functionalities than a normal eCommerce store in terms of :
But architecting and developing a multi-vendor platform is not a child’s play and its not going to be a 100% success even if you are having the world’s most experienced eCommerce developer in your team!
It all boils down to three items namely,
Mobile now accounts for two-thirds of the time people access digital media in the U.S. This is the same phenomenon all over the globe.
And mobile is still booming: Media time spent on phones is up nearly 80 percent in the last two years.
Also, mobile-friendliness is a strong ranking signal in the eyes of Google.
A highly flexible and easy-to-modify front-end is a necessity for conversion rate optimization (CRO) and to enhance user experience (UX). The front-end should never stand in the way of a designer or developer. Enough said!
The SEO of most Ecommerce sites SUCKS to the core. The sad fact is that the Search Engine Optimization for e-commerce websites is much harder than it is for blogs or simple 5 page company websites.
And eCommerce SEO is not limited to product pages alone, but the whole process applies to:
Product Suggestions is a form of upselling and comes in two avatars, one in the product page which provides suggestions of similar products for the customer. It can also be used to highlight the best selling and the recommended products.
The second one is in the form of ‘customers who bought this item also bought’ which showcases the frequently bought together products. This is a very easy strategy for boosting marketplace revenue.
Do you know that people perform more product research on Amazon than on Google? You can read more about it here and here.
One of the reasons for the early success of Amazon was its blazingly fast instant search suggestions. Instant Search allows visitors to select and continue shopping without extensive research.
Online customers are always impatient and may got to another store if they couldn’t find what they are looking for and its very easy to open a new browser tab than driving your car to the next store! Other issues is that they may commit typos when searching and instant search fixes both the issues for the marketplace owner.
Allowing a customer to shop by a brand under any category is one of the most important features for a marketplace. Also the customer should be able to filter the brand listings.
Another noteworthy feature employed by eBay is a dedicated store with a permanent URL for every vendor so that the customer can browse the entire range.
These are all marketing strategies employed by online retailers to increase loyalty and stickiness among the brand conscious customers.
eCommerce customers are shopping online in the first place due to convenience, control and flexibility and they want the same control and flexibility when making orders. They expect quick delivery, fulfillment options that meet their needs and the ability to make returns in the most convenient way.
The return merchandise authorization (RMA) system should be perfect so as to take care of the returns since the complexity is multi-fold in a marketplace simple because multiple vendors are involved.
eCommerce Marketing & Analytics won’t fit into this 2000 word guide if I start writing, so I will abridge some important points without making your grey hairs stand up!
Some of the basic features include:
Shipping orders and managing the inventory can be painful, there are many steps between receiving an order and the customer receiving their products.
In a marketplace, the order shipping consists of mainly three ways, namely:
Here is a visual example from Snapdeal where the marketplace itself fulfills the orders
Here is a different example from notonthehighstreet.com where the specified vendor(s) does all the hard work!
Payment processors/gateways is an indispensable part of every online businesses that takes money. But they come in different sizes and shapes!
Integrating the right payment processor to the marketplace using the payment API is a necessary evil!
You may also need to take care of different payment API’s for different payment methods like Credit Card, Paypal, Debit Card, Net Banking, Cash on Delivery, EMI options, Gift Voucher etc.
Amazon once reported that one second of load delay cost them over $1 billion in annual sales. Speed is a killer and decreasing page load time can drastically improve conversions.
And the need for performance should be kept in mind right from the start of architectural design till the day when the site is made live and this applies to both the front-end design and development phases.
eCommerce performance optimization is a never ending, continuous process. But most of the inexperienced folks jump into performance optimization after the marketplace is made live!
Finally we can divide the Multi-vendor eCommerce software platforms into two main categories, namely
While there are dozens of hosted(SaaS) shopping cart systems available online, the market is dominated by the three big guys, Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce
Shopify by default does not provide any way to create Etsy-like multi-vendor marketplace.
A mini or a basic marketplace can be created with the help of apps
Not recommended for a marketplace due to lack of customization and flexibility that commonly plagues hosted shopping platforms.
Can marketplace functionality be added:
Yes, through apps. But in my humble opinion, its very limited. Ex: https://apps.shopify.com/multi-vendor-marketplace
None for a ecommerce owner who wants to build a marketplace
Can marketplace functionality be added: Nope
Although its a little bit better than Volusion in the context of an Enterprise Ecommerce Solution, BigCommerce also ails like other the two when it comes to multiple vendor functionality.
None for a ecommerce owner who wants to build a marketplace
Can marketplace functionality be added: Couldn’t find any reliable ones.
There is a general perception that running a a marketplace using open source multi vendor cart software is easy as making a few clicks here and there and the work is over if they know how to download and install it!
But the reality is very far from that when it comes to free multi vendor shopping cart software and customization is more complex than that. It requires tech-know how and expertise even to launch the beta version of your store!
Marketplace Extensions(not in any specified order)
As of late 2015, one in four websites on the internet is powered by WordPress. And WooCommerce powers approximately 8-20% of eCommerce stores and is a fairly popular kid in the eCommerce neighborhood and with mom and pop shops.
Nothing for a multi-vendor eCommerce system
Fairly decent level of features
hybris is omni-channel at its core and it integrates all digital and physical customer touchpoints onto a single platform – including online, mobile, point-of-sale, call center, social media and print.
It doesn’t matter whether you build the maketplace using any programming language like PHP, Ruby or C# or the old dying warhorse, Java. What it matters is that whether it suits your needs and will it will scale for the future.
There are lots of other standalone marketplace scripts that trades for less than $500 in marketplaces like CodeCanyon or Binpress.
The same is the situation for extensions/apps for other eCommerce platforms like Prestashop, Opencart or for CMS’es like Drupal eCommerce/Joomla etc.
Most of these kiddies provides just bare basic functionality and may prove to be costlier in the longer run as far as long term maintenance or security is concerned. So better be safe than sorry!
There is no one-size fits all answer to this question. No matter which path you take, marketplace or multi-vendor functionality will require development expertise to implement without any fails unless you are an omniscient guy!
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