Chief Marketing Officer of Ideamotive. Travel addict and remote work advocate.
Since the early days of the internet, one of the most important ideas that people wanted to bring to life was making shopping easily accessible wherever you might be. In fact, online shopping was happening already before the creation of the Internet, before the WWWs, before the first browser.
The invention of online shopping is associated with Michael Aldrich. In 1979, using a videotex, a system allowing to exchange information online between two users, he demonstrated the first online shopping transaction done in real-time. That’s how the craze began.
Although 40 years have passed since this invention, online shop is still one of the most common ideas of a website that people come up with. New e-stores and marketplace platforms emerge every day, only a very small share of them ending up successful.
Today, we would like to focus on this small share of marketplace platforms. However, we don’t want to mention only the biggest players who everyone knows. We want to present stories of marketplaces that found their niches, that revolutionised shopping in specific countries, that changed how we think about buying and selling various items and services.
And this is not simply a piece in which we will praise the successful companies. This is a piece that is supposed to inspire and teach the best ways to make your e-commerce marketplace platform join this small share of winners.
Every story in here comes with a lesson. It’s up to you to decide which of them will you incorporate in your marketplace development plan.
In October 2014, Fortune run an article titled Meet OLX, the biggest Web company you’ve never heard of. Although a few years has passed since then, this title is still quite relevant.
When the OLX’s founders came up with the idea for their new service, they were thinking of a Craiglist’s alternative for countries other than the United States or anywhere in the Western Europe. They still apply this principle to their business, investing on the markets that are sometimes forgotten by the big players. You will find people selling and buying every type of product on OLX (or any other website owned by the OLX Group) in countries such as India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Nigeria, or Brazil. The company operates in over 40 markets at the moment, regularly acquiring new websites and expanding their presence around the world.
There are some great developers working at OLX, making use of many different technologies, including both Angular and React frameworks. More on the tech side of OLX can be found on the official Medium blog of the company’s dev team, Tech.OLX.com
A popular marketplace for freelancers around the world. Whether you are looking to hire a copywriter, a translator, or a web designer, you will find plenty of candidates on Upwork.
What makes the service unique is its focus on the quality of freelancers listing themselves on the platform. The team at Upwork carefully reviews every profile and publishes only those that match their needs. Only freelancers who possess unique skills are allowed to join. Simply calling yourself a copywriter won’t be enough. You need to clearly present your areas of specialisation and prove your experience, in order to have your services listed on Upwork.
Among the major technological solutions the platform uses, one can find Angular.JS and Bootstrap.
An interesting niche-focused website, aimed to connect people who want to sell and buy small tech devices, from smartphones and tablets, to voice assistants and automatic vacuum cleaners. Swappa promises its users only well-kept devices (the “No Junk” rule), payment protection (via PayPal) and no commission taken from the seller (sometimes additional fee is added to the price and paid by the buyer).
In 2018, products worth altogether around $92 million were swapped through the website.
An online marketplace focusing on the most unusual spaces to stay at during travelling. The creators behind BookaRentals believe that where you sleep during your trip may be as important as the destination of this trip itself.
The platform operates under a few different online addresses, each focused on a specific type of accommodation. BookaHouseBoat allows users travelling to Amsterdam to find a stay at a houseboat, making their trip to the Netherlands’ capital more unique than any other, and BookanIceHotel makes it possible to sleep in one of the igloo-like spaces across the Nordics. There are also separate sites for lighthouse, glamping, treehouse, and even haunted house rentals!
A double-niche job marketplace platform. As the name suggests, the platform focuses on providing a catalogue of start-up jobs, mostly for developers. However, the website is currently focused on the Nordics region, including especially Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.
This makes Startupmatcher not necessarily a strict competitor of more global tech job platforms, such as AngelList, but rather a leader in its own market, connecting start-ups and developers looking to relocate to the Nordics. The platform is frequently visited by angel investors from the region.
A dynamic British start-up, currently expanding to the Australian and Singaporean market. Tagveue focuses on providing their customers with a steadily growing number of various venues available for short term hire (e.g. for birthdays, conferences, charity events).
Unlike some other platforms, Tagvenue doesn’t take any membership fees and allows all the interested venues to join their catalogue with just a few clicks. The start-up earns money by taking a 10% commission on all successful hires (after the event has taken place).
Fashion online marketplaces are booming and one of the most popular ones among them is Poshmark. Responding to the needs of modern internet users, Poshmark has been specifically designed to be browsed on smartphones. Using a dedicated app, the sellers can easily (within 60 seconds, as the company claims) create an ad for the product they want to sell and reach out millions of potential customers in no time.
No matter if you are trying to get rid of your rarely used Nikes or buy a Louis Vuitton bag, Poshmark is the place (or rather an app) to go.
The developers behind the platform make extensive use of the programming language Ruby, and its most popular framework, Ruby on Rails.
Another interesting marketplace niche is the one related to the gaming industry. There are, of course, tons of websites selling digital editions of games, but the market for physical copies is still relevant as well.
To answer its customers’ needs, GAME, a UK-wide network of video games shops, created their own GAME Marketplace — a part of their online website that allows customers to easily log in and start selling their used games, gadgets, consoles, and more. GAME earns money by setting a commission on each sale.
A leading Swedish marketplace focusing on three main elements of nearly everyone’s life: getting a job, getting a house, and getting a car. Besides these, Blocket collects also travel and university offers.
The interesting part of Blocket’s homepage is the map that allows user to quickly choose in which region they are based, making sure the ads presented are tailored to the customer’s location. When it comes to offering things like apartments or cars, this kind of map widget may be especially useful for a marketplace platform.
What does Facebook prove? That if a website has a community, the idea of an online marketplace will emerge there by its own. Before Facebook introduced their official Marketplace functions, its users has already been selling and buying through the platform. On groups, pages, private profiles — wherever you went, you could find someone offering or looking for some products or services.
Although it took some time for Facebook to fully appreciate this, they finally started introducing aforementioned Marketplace functions, allowing users to find what they are looking for even faster.
A unique US-focused online marketplace platform where you don’t buy products, but rather experiences. IfOnly can help you make your day unique and unforgettable, no matter if you choose to spend it in your home city or planning to travel around to make it happen.
Among the experiences offered at IfOnly, one can find training session with a world-renowned boxer, shopping trip with a celebrity stylist, and VIP entrance to a concert of a famous pop star. Cheaper solutions are also available, allowing everyone to make their day special.
A marketplace that started another niche phenomena. Etsy has been established to serve those who want to sell or buy hand-made and vintage products. It ended up being the most important go-to place for artists who are making their own goodies, such as personalised books, dolls, home decorations, and more.
Based in the US, Etsy is a now a global brand, with multiple language versions available. Interestingly, in 2016 the company acquired Blackbird Technologies, a start-up researching the use of artificial intelligence in online shopping. This will surely contribute to further marketplace development of Etsy.
This American marketplace proves that one of the most important aspect of the business can be the technology it uses. What makes Jet unique is their dynamic, real-time pricing algorithm. In other words, the customer can get some specific products cheaper depending on various elements.
Need an example? If a customer already has something in their cart, they will be offered a discount on products available in the same distribution center as the thing they have already chosen. This helps Jet cuts the delivery costs, and therefore makes the whole order cheaper.
A San Francisco-based online marketplace platform known for two things. Firstly, incredibly low prices, hardly available anywhere else. Secondly, and that’s the most interesting part, Wish is known to host the most ridiculous products you can find on the internet.
The company has even become a subject of memes, mostly due to its personalised Facebook ads, promoting the weirdest things that often are too hard to explain with words. But this is exactly what brings people’s attention to Wish.
Most people access only typical B2C marketplaces. However, it is important to note also the success of online B2B shopping. Unsurprisingly, most of the B2B marketplaces are based in the countries with the highest number of manufactures who are able to provide cheap products in high quantities. This applies to China, India, Pakistan, and others.
At first, many users interested in finding the best online B2B marketplace turn to Alibaba, the most famous of all. However, there are also other, similar platforms worth considering.
One of them is Global Sources, a Hong Kong-based online marketplace with around 1.5 million of users. Despite being similar to other B2B platforms, there are also a few things that make GS unique, such as the fact that they check every supplier/manufacturer to make sure it meets their standards, and the regularly held real-life Global Sources trade shows, usually focused on specific category of products (e.g. fashion, electronics).
Shopify is not actually a marketplace itself. Instead, it is a software on which thousands of online marketplaces are based. Sometimes those are online stores of new fashion brands and sometimes Amazon-like multi-vendor marketplace platforms.
It is worth mentioning that Shopify is based on Ruby on Rails, one of the most interesting frameworks used to create websites.
There has already been tons of books written about Amazon and there is no surprise at all about this. But what makes Amazon unique among their competitors, is that it managed to become successful not just in selling typical products, but also revolutionising various industries.
One of them is web technology. Amazon Web Services changed the whole industry providing complex cloud services for businesses from all over the world.
AWS and standard Amazon principles finally got merged together into AWS Marketplace — one of the most successful SaaS marketplaces around. A great number of companies now offer their SaaS and API solutions using this platform. Whenever people are looking for new Microsoft Server system, optimisation software, AI scripts, and more, AWS Marketplace is their SaaS marketplace of choice.
Another great use of a trend and important niche. 3D Hubs is a network of 3D printing companies all over the world. The online platform allows to connect these companies with clients looking to have their parts 3D-printed.
Currently, the network supports manufacturers in the EU, UK, US, Canada and Australia. Considering the growing need for 3D-printed parts, the fruitful growth of 3D Hubs seems to be sealed.
Docplanner is the world’s best marketplace platform when it comes to healthcare industry. The company operates under different aliases across approximately 20 countries, including the UK, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and more.
Docplanner’s goal is to make the contact between medical professionals and patients easier for both of these groups. This healthcare marketplace allows users to find a doctor with just a few clicks and later quickly schedule a visit. The MDs can also promote their services and make themselves recognizable by answering questions the patients regularly ask via the website’s Q&A system.
Among the many tech solutions Docplanner makes a use of, one can find Angular.JS, Node.Js, and nginx.
An example of how to turn your hobby into a marketplace idea. GOAT is an online marketplace for sneaker enthusiasts (or sneakerheads, as they are often called). Sellers can list their limited editions and other unique shoes on the website, selling them sometimes for a price a few times higher than retail.
When it comes to rare sneakers and other high-value merchandise, it is important to always make sure that the product bought is authentic, not a cheap fake. GOAT takes very special care about this aspect of their business — after the product is bought, it must be sent first to one of the company’s facilities where experts make sure that the sneakers are indeed authentic. Afterwards, the product finally ends up being sent to the buyer.
Although for some time GOAT was US-focused, they have recently opened a new facility in Hong Kong, allowing them to operate easier on the Asia-Pacific market.
Michał is a digital marketing veteran with a growth hacking mindset and 10+ years of experience. His goal is building high-quality technological content, with particular emphasis on React and Ruby on Rails. Traveler, climber, remote work advocate.View all author posts
Digital Marketplace Development Guide
How To Start Online Marketplace Business?
Dawid Karczewski 6 min read
Dawid Karczewski 12 min read
Patrycja Mach 19 min read
Michał Rejman 9 min read
Robert Krajewski 11 min read
Work with top tech experts from Ideamotive's talent network.