In the last decade, the rise of e-commerce has laid the foundation for the growth of online marketplaces.
In 2019, the top online marketplaces sold $2.03 trillion of merchandise globally. Sales on platforms like Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, and others, accounted for 57% of total global e-commerce sales, according to Digital Commerce 360. These figures can only be projected to grow, especially as the pandemic this year has forced most businesses to seek online resources.
What are online marketplaces and how do they provide value?
Marketplaces are essentially online platforms where several designers, brand owners, boutique managers, and other retailers can collaborate together, listing their merchandise and gaining access to a vast array of consumer and vendor networks. The operator of the marketplace has the option to sell their own private label merchandise, but essentially, the goal of a marketplace is to be a common point of purchase for various brands. Think of it as a modern day department store but with more features, services, and daily traffic.
Some of the biggest advantages of selling your products on a marketplace are:
They are high traffic channels and can potentially generate millions of new customers or leads worldwide. Because marketplaces already have an established platform, they can help you convert their site visitors into your new consumers every minute, or simply expose your brand further to raise awareness.
They provide a great platform to network. Because marketplaces can act as both a B2C and a B2B platform, retailers have opportunities to discover and network with designers, wholesalers, other vendors, and vice versa. This will be especially helpful now since most 2020 fashion trade shows were cancelled or postponed and industry experts are looking for new ways to connect.
They give retailers valuable insights on their competitors. Since multiple fashion brands are all conducting business in the same place, it’s easy to conduct a SWOT analysis and consistently monitor what successful competitors do differently. The insights also expand to consumers as retailers can take advantage of the marketplaces’ databases and collect information about their target audience's buying habits.
The problem with traditional marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and others
Sites like Ebay and Amazon want to feature mainly products, not the brands or designers behind them, which limits your ability to engage with customers, build brand loyalty, and communicate your values. These resources drive customer focus to the products, not the sellers. Their searches serve a more utilitarian purpose than the design exploration that benefits higher end brands, since marketplace's ultimate goal is to help the customers more so than the retailers.
Also, such marketplaces can easily analyze their databases and shopping activity, see what kinds of merchandise perform the best and then create their own private label versions of those products and sell them at a lower price, all while avoiding the high marketplace vendor fees.
What’s a possible solution? Invest in niche alternatives.
Shopify has a large array of online store plugins that allow apparel vendors to create more customized storefronts, and even plug those storefronts into their website to create a smoother branded experience. The best thing about Shopify is the vast amount of features and services it provides, making it easy for even a new entrepreneur to launch their business. It includes guidance on social media and email marketing, business operations and management, branding, store setup, and point of sale, among many other topics.
Instead of competing with Amazon, the marketplace Wonderful Things (WT) works with them. When someone is ready to purchase their WT cart, all the products automatically get added to their Amazon cart and they can check out easily with one click. WT uses Amazon’s access to millions of customers and exposes them to a highly curated, one-stop-shop for ethically sourced products. Most consumers who are trying to shop more consciously don’t know how to start the research to discover ethical brands. WT does that job for them.
The Asos marketplace primarily focuses on apparel and fashion and is home to young designers and vintage clothing traders who follow trends and the demands of their key demographic. Its products generally have a low price range and a whole page dedicated to sustainable options for conscious shoppers. Right now, Asos hosts close to 1,000 boutiques from more than 45 countries, and generated an average of 1 million monthly site visitors over the last 6 months.
Mamoq was created “out of a frustration of being unable to easily find high quality, stylish sustainable brands that could be trusted," CEO Madeline Petrow told Forbes. Unlike WT, Mamoq only focuses on apparel and fashion accessories, but their goal remains the same - creating a platform that helps both brand owners and conscious shoppers easily find each other. Mamoq recognizes the lack of universal standards for ethical fashion and therefore only hosts brands that meet all of their sustainability criteria. They follow a direct-to-consumer sales model and allow customers to use a filter tool to search and discover brands that align with their personal ethical values.
The most resourceful brands already make a habit of diversifying their sales strategy to include online marketplaces. It is clear that in the future it will be impossible for successful fashion brands to avoid this tactic as well. The question your retail partnership team needs to ask itself is, as with any traditional brick and mortar partnership, which marketplace best fits your brand and clearly reflects what you stand for.
Every online marketplace has unique features that provide different sets of advantages to your company and customers. While adding your storefront to an online platform, it’s important “to realize it’s not just about the technology but a complete service experience to customers” (Medium). Each customer has a different buyer persona and it’s your responsibility to recognize and serve that through any platform you choose to represent and distribute your collection.
Marketing Intern @MakersValley. Tashfia is a recent graduate with a degree in Business Administration. She loves working in fashion and learning about marketing and the global supply chain, which makes MakersValley a perfect fit for her. Her favorite hobbies include traveling, bar hopping and spending a day at the arcade.