Multi-vendor eCommerce marketplaces are one-stop shops that allow users to sign into a single account, then shop for products from multiple vendors. They occur in a few different formats:
- Vertical marketplaces: sell products that all fall into the same product niche.
- Horizontal marketplaces: industry-specific, but sell products in multiple categories.
- Global marketplaces: serve B2B and B2C customers in almost every product category on the market.
Vertical B2B eCommerce marketplaces
The marketplace owner, the vendors, and the customers — three entities that are involved in business relationships within marketplaces, which is different from typical single vendor eCommerce stores. The main reason for a store owner to open a multi-vendor marketplace is an ability to diversify their offering and leave the hassle of inventory to the vendors, both of which minimize financial risk. The business model is often referred to as the "zero inventory model" for this reason.
Multi-vendor marketplace structure
Another key difference between multi-vendor marketplaces and typical eCommerce stores is technical capability. Enabling multiple vendors to sell products from different categories (sometimes even different industries) cohesively on the same platform requires additional functionality that your average online store lacks.
The full process of selling on a multi-vendor marketplace can be described this way:
- Vendors register with the marketplace and gain access to a dashboard where they can list and manage product listings.
- When sales occur, the marketplace processes the payment and sometimes helps the vendor through the process of shipping the products. Multi-vendor marketplaces often provide packaging to maintain a cohesive brand identity (think Amazon boxes).
- Marketplace owners keep a commission from the sale and the rest goes to the vendor’s account.
- Marketplace owners prioritize growing their vendor and product catalogs.
- Vendors focus on increasing sales.
Many vendors choose to sell through this model to avoid investing money in creating their own eCommerce store while growing their customer base. Selling on a multi-vendor marketplace also facilitates faster growth for small vendors.
The platforms entice customers through diverse product catalogs, online support, competitive pricing, and customer reviews that simplify purchase decisions.
Benefits of multi-vendor websites
All three multiple-vendor store entities stand to have beneficial effects. Here’s how:
Multi-vendor marketplaces open the door for vendors to find new industries and companies they might not reach through direct marketing.
In addition to sourcing new customers, multiple vendor marketplaces often provide vendors with payment processing. Credit card payments don’t always work for B2B transactions. Marketplaces facilitate payment processes by providing invoices, payment terms, and credit risk and assessment for vendors. They also allow vendors to outsource administrative tasks dealing with returns and mediating disputes.
Multiple vendor marketplaces give buyers space to source what they need to fill their supply chain needs, all in one place. The marketplace sites act as a sourcing tool, allowing procurement managers and other relevant parties to find what they need from pre-approved vendors without the need to vet each vendor before making a purchase. Payment processes are simplified for the buyer as well, enabling them to pay multiple vendors’ invoices with one payment.
For marketplace operators
Marketplace operators benefit from selling the service they provide for a fee by way of commissions, subscription fees, or listing fees. Some marketplaces also charge fees for payment processing and administrative services.
How to develop a multi-vendor website
Creating a multiple-vendor marketplace starts like any other business plan. You have to define what you are creating, who it’s for, and how it will make you money. Follow these steps to get started:
Specify the purpose of your multi-vendor store
Each marketplace should start with a goal. Some start as a way for a brand’s ecosystem to share complementary services and products. In other cases, the marketplace itself is the business model. The purpose of the marketplace must fill a need in a growing market and will ultimately dictate how the business interacts with vendors and buyers.
Determine your multiple-vendor website niche and participants
Starting with a specific marketplace niche is a good way to propagate success. Amazon began as an online bookstore. Choose a specific niche and cultivate personas for buyers and vendors within that niche. Understand the customer journey that both parties must undergo to utilize your marketplace.
Research your target users, where they currently purchase and sell, and what pain points they face. Build your marketplace around a potential solution for your key personas.
Choose a monetization method
Picking a monetization method is tricky. There are loads of options out there, including commission, lead fees, selling fees, listing fees, premium listings, subscription fees, and advertising fees.
Requiring users to pay a fee to get started ensures you’re only letting in serious vendors. A subscription model is sometimes hard to start, however, as getting enough vendors on board from the get-go requires convincing new vendors to join based on your marketplace vision and then generating enough business to keep them on board.
You’ll need to define a fee structure that works for your customers if you plan on charging for administrative functions and listing fees. This could mean vendors pay a flat fee for a certain number of listings, a percentage, or a flat rate per sale.
Listing fees are a good way to secure success from the start.
Monetization strategies with successful examples
Define the features of your MVP
Your marketplace features are what draw vendors and buyers onto your multi-vendor marketplace platform. Defining them is a crucial step to establishing a successful multi-vendor marketplace website, as the features you highlight will set you apart from competing platforms.
The best way to get started is by creating a minimum viable product (MVP) that will jumpstart your marketplace and give newcomers a taste of what’s to come without obliterating your wallet with ridiculously high upfront costs. Your MVP is made of all the basic features that make your multi-vendor marketplace your multi-vendor marketplace. Instead of creating a product filled with all the features you plan to include in their infancy, focus on providing a few key features that are well-rounded in their design and functionality.
Purposes of MVP
Establishing your MVP will help you straighten out technical aspects like the monetization method and user interfaces. It will also help you identify what features you do and don’t need as you grow your marketplace.
Speaking of growth, this is how that process will look– you’ll develop your MVP, test it, deploy it, and then start over with revisions based on user feedback.
Here are the basic features necessary to building a successful multi-vendor marketplace MVP:
- Admin panel to manage the marketplace and onboard users
- Online store interface that allows vendors to register, build a profile, add products, and track sales
- Account creation workflow for buyers
- Order history/buyer dashboard features
- Payment portal
- Search tools
- Multimedia product information support
- Account permissions for corporate users
- Digitized request for quote (RFQ) process
Core multi-vendor features for B2B users
As you grow beyond your MVP, consider adding these core features to support users with a well-rounded b2b marketplace solution:
Features for B2B transactions
B2B transactions require a lot more than just an "add to cart" and "purchase" button. B2B marketplace platform buyers operate within a corporate hierarchy with multiple users and tiered user-based permissions. Vendors who require internal approvals may also require tiered permissions.
Adding a digitized RFQ helps buyers check price and sale terms for multiple vendors. Vendors also need a pricing engine.
Features to support B2B buyers
B2B buyers need features like a buyer dashboard that provides a transparent view of order history, a guest checkout option for those who do not wish to register, and a one-page checkout to make the buying process quick and easy.
Advanced search tools help buyers locate the products they require. It’s best to include search tools that accommodate keywords from the product description, categories, UPC code searches, and SKU code searches.
To capitalize on the benefits of a multi-vendor marketplace, make sure your buyers can purchase from multiple vendors in one cart. The cart should automatically split payments between the vendors involved in the transaction. Quick re-order forms are also helpful for B2B buyers, especially when they can be made by uploading CSV files and EDI support.
Features to support B2B vendors
B2B vendors desire a marketplace that facilitates a personal relationship between the buyer and the vendor by way of personalized promotions, coupons, catalogues, and price lists. The vendors should be recognized as individual businesses, not just a product listed on the marketplace. To satisfy this need, ensure vendors are able to create branded storefronts.
Adding a CRM to the vendor dashboard will help vendors track, quality, and nurture leads. Integrations are also key here, as they allow vendors to connect the marketplace with the rest of their sales strategy.
Lastly, B2B vendors require support for multiple warehouses and shipping options, as well as the ability to manage returns online.
How to start a multi-vendor website
You can go about creating your own multi-vendor marketplace in one of two ways: starting from scratch or using marketplace software.
The first option will require custom multi-vendor eCommerce development. That means hiring a team equipped with developers, analysts, and designers at a minimum. Taking this route is costly and time-consuming.
Option number two uses marketplace software to jumpstart the development process. This route will save you time and money while ensuring your marketplace is up to your standards through professional guidance and support.
The best part about option two – you can use nopCommerce to build your multi-vendor website for free. Take advantage of the most popular ASP.NET Core multi-vendor shopping cart in the world to build your very own enterprise-level multi-vendor marketplace with easy integrations and limitless customization opportunities.
And when you’re ready to go global, we’ve got you covered. nopCommerce has a flexible global system that supports multi-currencies, multi-languages, support for regional taxes and laws, and so much more. Start building your multi-vendor marketplace today.
Martha Kendall is a freelance B2B SaaS writer who loves creating strategic blog posts that drive traffic and convert. When she’s not writing about marketing, you can find her petting fluffy cats and reading good books. Read all her latest work here.