A guide to building an online marketplace.

With local marketplaces like Jiji and Autocheck, and global marketplaces like amazon, sellers can find a great diversity of products and or the most competitive quality and price proposition for products. Whether you are looking to create a marketplace where businesses sell to businesses, businesses sell to customers or customers sell to customers, building a marketplace requires intricate planning! Marketplace building can be broken down into three main parts.

  • Idea validation. (Preparation)
  • Marketplace features specification
  • Marketplace building. (Actual Building)

Idea Validation

Make sure your marketplace idea meets the following requirements list:

  • Solve a customer need.Start out by solving a customer need. Before you do anything else, make sure your marketplace idea solves for a real customer problem. Also make sure that the problem you are solving for affects a large pool of individuals in the market. 
  • Start narrow, scale wide.Make sure your marketplace idea is centered to a particular industry rather than starting wide. This gives you a chance to knowing your buyers and sellers in a deeper way, which will help you in terms of crafting the right experiences for them. Even Amazon started out selling books before they moved to selling everything!
  • Gather customer insight.Learn about your customers pain-points, user goals and anything else that might matter to you through questionnaires, polls, interviews and focus groups. Make sure to have a big enough sample size, roughly around 40 – 80 individuals for interviews and focus groups and more than 300 questionnaire and polls participants.
  • Do your due diligence.Know more about your competitors and what they are offering to the market.Do your competitor and market analysis, and do it extensively.

Marketplace feature specification.

Laying down the features, discussing them with the team designing/building the marketplace and even with customers is very essential to the success of your marketplace. It sets your expectations/deliverables on how you want the finished product to look and behave. Marketplaces are made up of 3 or sometimes even more parties: customers, sellers and admins. Let’s start out with what customers care about :

  • Variety. Features that enhance variety are: simple sorting and filters for products, onboarding enough merchants for each category, subcategory.
  • Quality: Features that enhance quality are: Continuous merchant verification by admin, adding a verified badge will help customers trust the merchant.
  • Cost: Allowing customers to chat and even make counter offers on the marketplace is essential. 
  • Ease of use: Smooth and swift logging in to the website, allowing products checkout without necessarily signing up, enabling profile creation and editing, feedback and rating features.

For vendors, the features are:

  • Smooth and swift uploading of products to the marketplace.
  • Hassle free login.
  • Push notifications: This goes for everyone associated with the platform, the customers, admins, and the vendors. As soon as an order is placed, each of the participants must receive notifications on their respective platforms about the same. Not only this, they shall also get notified when the products are packed, shipped, and delivered.
  • In-app-chat with customers.

For the person who manages the multi vendor site:

  • Management tools: add the marketplace with modern-day management tools and functions. This will help you monitor, track, and optimise the platform plus the operations to make it more intuitive and friendly.
  • CRM tools: For you, as the operational head of the platform, integrate your platform with a CRM or Customer Relationship Manager to take care of the customer profiling, information, and data. Not only this helps keep a track record but also assists with customer retargeting.

Depending on how you want to customize your marketplace, your feature specifications document should describe the marketplace intricately and visually. 


Actual Building

After preparation, it’s time to start building our marketplace. There’s two ways to approach building:

  • Code your marketplace from scratch.
  • Use ready-made solutions to build your own multi-vendor marketplace.

Your choice might depend on your objectives and parameters like time and budget

Code your marketplace from scratch:

Coding from scratch means that you will develop the multi-vendor site using a software development kit of your choice. Depending on the mobile platform you choose to run your application on, you need to choose the development frameworks best suited for it. For instance, iOS apps are written in Objective-C, whereas Android ones are coded in Kotlin. You can kill both two birds/platforms with one stone and develop your app with Flutter. Flutter is an open-source framework by Google for building beautiful, natively compiled, multi-platform applications from a single codebase. I have written about how it can revolutionalize your product building here.

There are three approaches when it comes to coding your app from scratch. You can:

  1. Hire an in-house developer.
  2. Outsource your application development from companies/freelancers.
  3. Have both. An in-house designer to do UI/UX design and an outsourced team to do development.

Having in-house developers gives you control. You can monitor real-time, have brainstorming sessions, test and do a whole lot more efficiently. This leads to a quality build. Outsourcing makes you not worry about everything that comes with having in-house developers, but that sometimes might cause issues. Which reduces the quality. Having both an in-house team and outsourcing is very expensive, but it helps you fine-tune better.

Using ready-made multivendor marketplace solutions.:

There are open-source platforms like CS cart,  WooCommerce, Magento, and others that allow you to buy and set up a marketplace with little customization.

All you have to do is pay a fee, set up the marketplace, add the elements you want, and start selling. Everything that you will otherwise do, like vendor onboarding, product listing, payment receiving, delivery, inventory, and so on, can be taken care of from these ready-made online multi-vendor marketplaces.

However, such solutions don’t give you the granular control you need to build online marketplaces that stand out. There are perfect for companies that want to move to the market as fast as possible.

I hope this article helps you to understand the different moving parts needed to build an online marketplace. Online marketplaces are just starting out, especially here in Africa. There is a lot of potential for online marketplaces in different industries like fast fashion, perishables, electronics, medicine etc. At Hai Interactive, we provide solutions to build online marketplaces. Start a conversation with us if building a great online marketplace is what you want to do.

VJ Mabonga
VJ Mabonga

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