Finally! You found a great idea for your ecommerce startup! What’s next? Now you have to build your multi-vendor store. There are plenty of solutions and services that will help you. But this will be a mistake to put a platform capabilities on the first place. Start with your needs. Find an example of design and functionality on the net and ask development companies if it is possible to realise your idea by means of their platform. Maybe they won’t be able to match your entire expectations, but probably they have alternatives for you. There are some key points for you to take into consideration.
SaaS vs Software
The first thing you will bump into while searching a right platform for your marketplace is the variety of platforms. There are cloud solutions (Saas) and downloadable software. The SaaS type is much more popular among ecommerce businesses for a bunch of weighty reasons:
- Fast to implement. You can build an online marketplace with minimum effort within a couple of days.
- Less expensive. Usually the basic version is less than $100 a month. But add-ons can significantly increase it.
- Hosting included. You don’t have to take care of server management, instead, you focus on building your business.
- Security included. It is up to your provider to care about your online business security.
- Regular automatic updates. As long as you pay your monthly fees, you have all your existing features up to date and more new ones implemented automatically.
- Strong community. If you have a question or experience any difficulties, you don’t really need to seek assistance of technical support. Each popular platform solution has a community to help you out and share experience.
At the first sight, it seems that a SaaS platform is a perfect solution. But what if you need to modify a feature to perform something the way you need? Like a payout system for international vendors or shipping methods for different locations. You just can’t. To have more flexibility and customisation options, business owners turn towards downloadable software. But they pay more money for that and dedicate more time to change code, moderate and take care of servers and security.
- Customization. A freedom of choice for your design, layout, features and the way all it interacts.
- Control. You have everything in your hands all the time. You can choose servers and influence your marketplace performance speed. You have open access to code, which means you have the world in your hands.
- Independence. You are not limited with features offered by third-parties—you can develop those you especifically need and use them without monthly fees. Moreover, if you develop features for your marketplace, you can be sure they will be compatible with your platform and modifications already implemented on your platform.
- You own it. Downloadable online multi-vendor software will cost you much, but it’s a one-time investment. Forget about a couple of hundred bucks. The price starts from over a thousand and can go up over the clouds depending on your preferences. Development skills can save you some money but only with time. But you pay for the licence only once. There’s no monthly fees. It is yours forever. Your investments will return in a while. Moreover, all settings and presets will stay with you if you decide to close a marketplace and start another one—just change your domain.
The admin panel of your marketplace should be user-friendly for admins and vendors. No matter how powerful or affordable your platform is, if you lose yourself in settings in the admin panel, it is a waste of time. Yes, you will have to study it for a while, but not a year. Think for vendors, they don’t want to explore the admin panel either. For both sides it is vital to start selling right away from the grand opening.
An online marketplace is all about money processing and private information storage. If you can’t keep it safe, you may lose everything. So make sure your platform is a stronghold with all security certificates, policies, passwords, authentications and encryptions.
Your marketplace business must stay up 99,99% of time. Otherwise your customers will start to abandon your ship and flee for another. And the vendors will follow them in angry feelings. Admin settings, server, backup and the code itself—everything matters for this point. If it falls once, people will understand. Fall twice and they will start searching for another place to buy. And they will find it.
Always up, has lots of useful features but looks ugly? You’ve got a problem. You don’t want your vendors and customers to cry blood tears browsing your marketplace. But design does not also mean lots of colors and abstract forms distracting customers from the products. The best selling design is sleek with beautiful simplicity, helping customers see what they need to see, define what they see and find where the “Buy” button is.
Your future platform should have a capability to perform some actions automatically. As your marketplace grows, you will need to spend more time on more important things, rather than on routine. Authorization of merchants and their product list, sorting products by categories, promotions schedule, pictures cropping, payouts to vendors – these and some other things can be a good example of routine work that can be painlessly automated.
Payment gateways variety
Think of what kind of vendors will you have? From one country, from several, from all over the world? Choosing a payment method is easy if you are going to play local. But if you are going to cover several countries you need to consider your vendors and customers needs. PayPal is a good option but for everyone. The more payment gateway integrations the platform has – the better.
There are lot of talking if the owner of online marketplace platform should provide its vendors with taxing service. And there is no international regulation to follow. No one likes paying taxes but for some vendors selling online is an official source of income and they have to report their financial manipulations to the tax authorities. Yes, they can do the counting themselves but If your platform has the option to form reports automatically for them it will be an attractive advantage to start selling on your online marketplace. Furthermore as a business owner you will also have to pay taxes. Can your platform do it for you? It is not the most important thing to pay attention to on the start but it will return sooner or later.
Ok, your vendors can easily sell on your marketplace. But how are they going to ship the products? This information is vital not only for the merchants but for customers even more. If you can’t define how and when your purchase will be delivered or how much it will cost, you don’t order. Vendors will appreciate having preset shipping methods on your platform your.
All vendors are individualities with their taste and preferences. No matter they are people or companies everyone wants to stand out with his own style. Will they be able to do it on your platform? As the practice shows, they don’t need much. Just a few options to make their storefront different: logo, background, products layout. What really makes vendors admired your marketplace platform – their own promotion capabilities. If they don’t need to ask marketplace admin to organise a season sale for their products, if they can do it themselves, it’s priceless fro their business. Vendors love being independent when they can just push several buttons and their promotion set and already on the storefront. Easy, fast – means good for business.
Your platform have to be best friends with search engines. You can’t pay to attract customers forever. You need to make it to the top of first page of search results. Your vendors have to be able to add meta tags to all their products, pages, picture. As well as you. The page titles won’t tag themselves! With strong SEO capabilities you and your vendors will stand out together as one.
Right from the start you will have your email swell from incoming messages from vendors and customers asking to change something in the layout, design, fix links, edit text and many more things. There is no doubt you are well prepared for this but what about your platform? Can you amend it within an hour? Your vendors probably don’t need all functionality you have on your marketplace. Or maybe they need it improved? It seems easy to change things online with SaaS solutions. But what if your cloud platform just doesn’t have necessary options? Or you have internet connection failure? Or add-ons started crushing each other? When you do everything yourself so many things can fall out of hands and roll down the hill. It can take long time to make everything work well and the way everybody is happy with. Things are more simple when you buy your software developer support service. It costs much but you have all troubles solved with just single phone call or email. Again we face the “Time or Money” clash. Whatever way you chose, starting an online marketplace ahead you have a long journey of collecting feedback from vendors and customers to develop new functionality and design to improve customers experience and usability to make your marketplace a perfect place for sellers and buyers.
Imagine that you did everything right. You found an excellent and unique idea, chose a platform, made a perfect design, deployed your marketplace on reliable server and vendors rushed to your marketplace like crazy. Very fast. Too fast! And overwhelmed your server and marketplace capacity with millions of images and product lists uploaded at once. I am not telling that it will happen, but sometimes it does. So you better be aware and have some margin of products and vendors capacity and server capabilities for stress tests like this. Even if such contradictory thing won’t happen to your ecommerce business on the early stage, the number of products and vendors will grow and you will come to platform potential issue with time.
Documentation and support
Everyone starting an ecommerce business can get stuck with something in the admin panel. You also will be in these shoes. If you can’t find a manual on how to tune a platform and your platform support keeps you waiting – consider replatforming. Don’t waste your life time on those who took your money and left alone somewhere in the dark room with something in hands indefinitely.
No hypocrisy – starting an online marketplace is about money. It’s business. Don’t get too exited with trying to save the world, keep thinking as a businessman. How much are you going to invest in your marketplace and how much you will have in return? Is it possible to start with no investments at all? Compare prices of the ready-to-launch marketplace on different types of platforms. Using SaaS you will have to buy lots of extensions and will have to pay for them a small fee monthly. Investments in software are way much higher but only once and for all and they have many features included. How long can you keep your marketplace operating without any income at all? What kind of monetization is the best for you? Do you have a secondary income recourse to support your business needs? If you have answers for questions like these you are ready. In a little while you will have only one question left – Mercedes or Ferrari?
Choosing a right platform for your online marketplace is hard. There is plenty of them to select from. You will find out that every platform has its unique features, advantages and disadvantages. It will take time to do a research. But there are several points which you have to keep in mind. Don’t get excited by all the prospects that platform providers try to attract you with, keep your mind steel cold. Think as a prudent businessman and concern your interests and needs first. Choose a balanced solution which includes features you, your vendors and your customers need. It should also meets your budget limit. The best online multi-vendor platform is the one which will likely be returning your investments rather than call for more.