How to Build an Online Marketplace:
The ongoing digital transformation of our daily lives, the COVID-19 pandemic, transition to cashless payments — these and other factors make more and more people prefer shopping online instead of visiting brick-and-mortar stores. In 2021, top online marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay, and Taobao, sold $3.23 trillion worth of goods, and the figure is forecasted to reach $27.15 trillion by 2027. Even in the face of fierce competition, such market size opens tremendous opportunities for new marketplace platforms to fill a niche and build a loyal customer base.
If you wonder how to build a marketplace website, bear in mind that its usability, design, and scalability would largely determine its future success. With over 20 years of experience in creating UX, web & product design solutions, Digital Outpost has extensive cross-industrial expertise in the spheres ofeCommerce , real estate, hospitality, and fintech. In the article, we’ll review the main steps of developing an online marketplace, its essential features and share tips on picking the right solution for your concept.
Why build an online marketplace platform
Online marketplaces can be grouped into two primary categories: horizontal ones, such as Amazon or Alibaba, that offer a wide range of goods from multiple vendors, and vertical ones, such as Airbnb or Etsy, focused on specific products or services. The concept of an online marketplace — connecting customers with various sellers — is surely beneficial for buyers who can pick the best offer, and sellers who increase the exposure of their goods and attract new buyers, but it also can be very profitable for the platform’ s owner.
No need to store your own stock
The marketplace owner needs to monitor content, work on attracting users, make sure the platform runs smoothly and that products meet quality requirements, but they don’ t have to do inventory management, rent warehouses, and hire couriers (unless it is a hybrid marketplace). All of this greatly reduces financial risks and improves business flexibility.
Various monetization models
There are plenty of revenue streams that can be tapped into by a marketplace owner. Just to name a few, there can be a fixed commission on every sold item, subscription fees, various advertising services, premium features for regular buyers, access to advanced analytics, or extensive customization of product cards for sellers. By combining several of these monetization models, a marketplace owner can effectively increase the platform’s revenue and achieve their business goals.
Marketplace app development process
In general, the building of every marketplace consists of four main stages: research and business analysis; choosing suitable technologies; designing UI and prototypes; development itself; post-release maintenance. Let’ s take a close look at each of them.
Research & ideation
First of all, every business idea requires validation. This step involves business analysts and a product manager who thoroughly research the current market situation and competitors, define their product’ s value proposition, and establish target audience and use case scenarios. As a result of this preliminary stage, your team should be able to clearly identify the future marketplace’ s purpose, the size of the potential market, and the audience.
For example, when we at Digital Outpost took up developing Follow.Art marketplace, the client’ s concept was clear: create a platform for direct interaction between the buyer and the seller. The goal of Follow.Art was to give freedom to artists by becoming a digital intermediary that attracts potential buyers, artists, and galleries for direct business — when the platform receives a payment, the funds are transferred directly to the artist's or gallery’ s account.
Choosing the right tech stack
When the business research confirms the potential of the marketplace’ s concept, the next task is picking suitable technologies for its implementation. The tech stack for marketplace website development consists of the client-side part, which is what users see when interacting with the platform, and the server-side part, which includes the logic the marketplace operates on and a database to store data and users’ content.
Today, there are plenty of technologies to choose from for building an online marketplace. It is always a good practice to base your choice of technologies on several factors, including:
A relatively small marketplace catering to the needs of niche customers can successfully work on basic technologies like Magento, while a platform aimed for future scaling on a global level should be built with more advanced technologies and custom solutions right from the start.
Whether the customers would be able to shop your marketplace via a browser, a mobile app, or both defines what technologies should be used for its development. While a website and mobile apps can be built using different frameworks, it is also possible to use a cross-platform approach with such technologies as Flutter to create a marketplace for several platforms from a single codebase.
By using open-source software you get the ability to modify and enhance every aspect of the marketplace architecture, logic, and appearance. However, such freedom comes at the cost of a lengthier and pricier development process, so if a paid ready-made solution satisfies your business goals it can be an optimal choice.
With the ever-increasing level of cybercrime, the security of a marketplace that processes plenty of users’ private and financial data should not be taken lightly. Make sure that chosen stack implements and follows up-to-date recommendations in web application security such as OWASP guidelines. For example, Symfony, one of the popular PHP frameworks, and most of its bundles have been designed to prevent some of the risks listed in OWASP Top Ten application security risks.
The more complex the technology, the more skilled developers are required for operating it. This is true not only about the phase of active development but also post-release maintenance, so consider such technological solutions, expenses on which can be covered effectively in the long run.
To make the right decision regarding technologies, it always helps to consult skilled and experienced developers. For example, the client behind Follow.Art marketplace initially planned to build the platform using Magento eCommerce platform, a popular but not really flexible or performant solution. Our team suggested using a Symfony PHP framework and built a fully-customized platform that was launched in under 9 months — the end result completely satisfied the client and showed great performance.
Designing UX/UI and creating prototype
The user experience of a marketplace platform plays a decisive role in whether users will have a hard time making a purchase or listing an item, or they will enjoy a simple intuitive process and become your long-term customers. Unique and quality design solutions also help build a brand’s identity and image. This is why an attempt to save budget by using pre-existing templates or hiring inexperienced UX/UI designers can misfire and hurt a project at the launch stage, just when a strong first impression about the product is so important for acquiring initial customers.
During the UX/UI design phase, the development team creates the platform’ s prototype, which ranges from a low-fidelity static one to a hi-fidelity clickable prototype (as Digital Outpost’s team did for Follow.Art by designing and programming every interface element in its prototype). The final and most elaborate stage of the initial product ideation phase, an MVP (minimally viable product — a working platform with only essential functions), can be used to conduct research with focus groups and refine the marketplace concept and logic before commencing the full-scale development.
Developing key features
When every aspect of the future marketplace is clearly defined and established, it is time to implement them, beginning with front-end and back-end development. Let’ s take a look at the essential features any online marketplace should have.
Sign up & log in
Both sellers and buyers should be able to easily register and begin using the marketplace. For this, consider integration sign-on options via Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social networks, which will not only speed up the onboarding process but will also allow users to quickly share items from the marketplace with their friends and subscribers.
This is the key element of any marketplace, where customers can view items and their specifications, learn about available payment and delivery options. What functionality it supports depends on the products or services: there can be hi-res photos, detailed specifications, or even an AR integration that allows buyers to try on new sunglasses using a webcam. In the case of Follow.Art, we decided to avoid extensive descriptions and redundant text on the artwork pages, allowing users to be completely immersed in the art itself.
Extensive search and filtering options, especially when it comes to big marketplaces with huge product variety, help customers find the particular item they’ re looking for. For example, a clothing marketplace can provide not only price, size, and brand filtering options but also allow users to search items by occasion (wedding, office meeting), materials, or even by simply uploading a photo of a similar garment.
The implementation of this feature differs significantly for sellers and buyers: while the former ones should be able to manage their inventory, analyze performance and choose how they want to receive income from sold merchandise, the latter ones require convenient options to view their order history, track recent purchases, as well as manage shipping addresses and payment methods.
The integration of such payment options as Apple Pay, Android Pay, WeChat Pay, and others along with traditional debit and credit cards provides a convenient shopping experience, attracting more customers to the platform. To integrate these payment options, consider using secure payment gateway APIs, such as Stripe or Braintree.
Since some vendors are likely to want to promote their services and products, promotional tools can be both very useful for sellers and increase the project's revenue. In the long run, it pays off to provide multiple advertising options for various budgets. For example, Follow.Art platform has several types of promotional campaigns, such as Featured Artworks, Featured Artists, Featured Galleries, and Featured Fairs, so that any artist or gallery can have their moment of fame.
When the marketplace finally goes live, the scale of development works decreases, but they do not cease entirely. There are always bugs to fix, while the analysis of customers’ behavior should be used to define future improvements and prioritize their development. It is a common practice to take a project in-house for post-release maintenance since it requires fewer developers and can be done effectively without outsourcing specialists. Prior to the development, agree with your development partner to document every aspect of the platform’ s architecture and features — later on, it will make the project transfer process much easier.
How Much Does It Cost To Build A Marketplace Website
The cost of a marketplace development is influenced by numerous aspects. The ballpark figure for creating such a platform lies in the range of $100,000 — 350,000. First of all, the price is influenced by the platform’s complexity and the technologies used to build it. At first glance, using ready-made solutions can be very beneficial in terms of decreasing development costs, but let’ s make sure that nothing is left out of the picture.
Custom marketplace development vs out-of-the-box solution
Both using a ready-made platform, and going with a custom solution tailored to the project’s requirements have their advantages and downsides. Obviously, out-of-the-box solutions offer a competitive price point and can be launched in a matter of months. However, a custom solution comes with numerous benefits that can play a decisive role in the marketplace's success.
Functionality and customization
Most ready-made solutions have all the essential features but do not provide the flexibility necessary to provide a truly unique user experience. On the other hand, with a custom design, you can control the platform entirely and be able to customize any interface element or part of the underlying architecture.
For example, when Digital Outpost worked on Follow.Art marketplace we encountered a problem that an initially chosen Magento-based solution didn’t support using one email across several types of accounts: artist, buyer, gallery. Also, it was impossible to change the UX design to implement product cards, the calendar of events, and other features as the client desired. All of these obstacles were effectively overcome by transferring the project to a custom technological platform.
Since the platform's scalability is directly tied to its technological capabilities, an out-of-the-box solution may limit growth options just when the project is in the phase of rapid expansion. Custom solutions allow any type of integration with cloud-based technologies and other modules that can be used to accommodate a sharp increase in the number of users. For example, Follow.Art’s platform uses numerous Amazon Web Services such as Elastic Compute Cloud servers, S3 file storage service, Relational Database Service, and CloudFront, which distribute data between servers around the world. The solution implemented by Digital Outpost allows achieving short loading time and top performance for visitors from any part of the world.
As you see, there are plenty of aspects that should be taken into consideration when choosing between custom and out-of-the-box solutions. By making the right choice from the start, you can save the trouble of transferring the marketplace to another technological platform later on.
Summing things up
Digital marketplaces can be safely called the future of retail. From groceries and apartments to art and unique experiences, the digital transformation puts a convenient ability to shop for any product or service right in the palm of a shopper’s hand. While there is a tight competition in many segments and those who want to make their marketplace stand out have to do their best effort, there are still plenty of undiscovered opportunities in the eCommerce market.
How successful an online marketplace becomes is largely determined by the convenience of its UX/UI, technologies used, and other aspects of the development. By partnering with a reliable company that provides custom marketplace development services you can ensure your product meets the latest demands of the fast-paced digital market. With decades of experience creating unique UX, web & product design solutions for various businesses, we at Digital Outpost are here to bring your most innovative concepts to life. Kindly, fill in the form and we’ll contact you to estimate your project and discuss the details.
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