How to build a custom marketplace
After experiencing several years of the global pandemic, demand for online shopping has grown significantly. Those of us who hadn’t used online shopping that much, learned the advantages very fast: no more wandering between store shelves looking for one thing, waiting in lines, and being persuaded to purchase unnecessary stuff. It’s hard to start offline shopping again once you’ve tried to search for a category you need, order anything you like from the comfort of your home, and return it if you don’t. Of course, after the lockdown was over, there was a slight decrease in the demand, but the industry is still developing and will never go back to the pre-pandemic times.
For sure, there are big players in the market hard to compete with, who’ve been in the industry for years. As of April 2023, Amazon stood out as the leader of the marketplaces, with annual revenue exceeding $1B. It was ahead of its competitors, such as eBay, Rakuten, Aliexpress, Etsy, and Walmart.
However, retail e-commerce sales are only expected to grow over the next five years, so there’s room for anyone; it remains only to find the best way to build a platform. Let’s have a look at how to create a robust custom marketplace.
What is a marketplace?
An online marketplace is a platform bringing together many vendors placing their products in the catalog and their customers. It serves as an intermediary between sellers and buyers, who use the platform to compare what is available and order the goods or services they need.
There are two types of marketplaces: some are used for online shopping and can include a wide range of products such as books, electronics, toys, apparel, and many other items, while others include services like home-sharing, travel bookings, taxi-hailing, grocery shopping, and other specific niches. But before we take a closer look at two types of marketplaces, let’s explain why we used the word custom in the title of our article.
What is a custom marketplace?
A custom solution is a tailor-made set of effective and efficient technologies that meet the specific needs of a company. These technologies are typically developed by a team of professionals and can be a complex mix of process, software, data, and design. The goal of customization is to make your product stand out from others and be both recognizable and unique. The main reason to go for customization is to resolve a set of challenges deriving from your target audience’s needs. Below are a few more reasons why you may need it.
Why do you need custom development?
Scalability. Being created with scalability in mind, developers will easily adapt the platforms to your needs once your business grows.
Design. Making a visually attractive platform with a unique style will help you stand out from competitors. Offering a great user experience will play well for your brand identity and marketing profits.
Integrations. Custom solutions can be designed to easily integrate with existing systems and other third-party services such as payment processors or analytic tools.
Increased security. You are the one in control of the security of your own platform, making sure your customers and their data are protected against potential cyber threats.
Data privacy. Custom solutions can ensure customers’ data is stored and managed securely under local and regional regulations and privacy policies.
Flexibility. The platform can be easily enhanced with new features to fit your particular business needs.
If the arguments above were persuasive enough to inspire you to have your own custom marketplace, the following are the necessary things to be aware of when creating it. There are some useful tips, from defining a target audience to discussing a tech stack and deployment process.
How to determine your target audience
So, we’ve discussed that customization is needed to resolve issues of a target audience. But how to define them? These are loyal customers who return to purchase from you and recommend your marketplace to friends. The research of the target market shouldn’t be intuitive. At the same time, the survey doesn’t have to be very complex. The best way to understand what to sell is to create a focus group of 10 people, who are going to be early adopters. The participants should be different, as a target audience might be represented by people you didn’t expect would be the best buyers for your business.
Apart from asking the contributors about their age and occupation, the questions addressed to the interviewees should be about the customer’s purchasing habits, expectations, and disappointments. The followings are some to think over:
|1.||How often do you shop online?|
|2.||How much time do you spend on an online marketplace per session?|
|3.||What type of products do you usually purchase online?|
|4.||What payment methods do you prefer?|
|5.||What types of experiences are you expecting when shopping online?|
|6.||What website do you visit or what apps do you use for online shopping?|
|7.||Describe what you do when choosing a product online step-by-step.|
|8.||What type of devices do you usually use for online shopping?|
|9.||Is there anything else you would like to improve or add when buying online?|
The questionnaire above is an approximate set of questions that might help to get insights into what people are looking for in their experience with marketplaces. It’s not a complete guide, questions can be added depending on your preferences. You can also ask questions about the perception of the design or attitude to promotions, but these might be too extra for the start.
Another thing that might be helpful in defining your platform is whether you want to sell as much as possible or focus on a specific area. There are two types of marketplaces in terms of covered market segments to keep in mind: horizontal and vertical marketplaces.
This type of online retailing covers the whole range of products and services without narrowing them to a particular niche. Good examples of such a type are Amazon, eBay, and Aliexpress C2C platforms. There, customers can purchase clothes, electronics, housekeeping tools, and pretty much anything.
Sellers on horizontal marketplaces often use the economy of scales, providing users with lower prices that cause high demand. The model works both for the profit of companies represented on the platform and the platform itself, driving more and more attention to the source. Horizontal marketplaces can build a vast network of partners and vendors, enabling continued supply chain efficiency.
Another type of marketplace concentrates on a particular industry. Representative examples of these are Etsy, selling handmade and vintage items together with craft tools, an Airbnb platform, offering short-term homestays, or Upwork, a freelance marketplace. At the same time, these shouldn’t be confused with online stores because these still offer customers a wide range of sellers and service providers.
The benefit of building a vertical marketplace might be that it offers a more personalized shopping experience for customers, which can help build loyalty and drive sales. It is easier for vertical marketplaces to build trust, as customers are more likely to refer their friends and family to a platform that specializes in a particular niche.
All in all, the two types are not worse or better than one another — the choice mostly depends on your business goals and gaps not covered by existing marketplaces.
What features to add to your custom marketplace
Once you’ve made up your mind on the type of marketplace, think of features that might add value to your product. Of course, there are some features that are necessary to implement in an online marketplace MVP such as a homepage, product or service categories, product cards or service providers profiles, a shopping cart, payment methods, shipping methods, support contacts, and refund if it is applicable. But what are the features that might enhance a user experience of a marketplace visitor?
One of the reasons you may want to choose custom development is to provide your users with a personalized experience, by which personalized recommendations are meant. Imagine a visitor is ready to purchase a wool blanket to get cozy for the winter, so, why not recommend warm slippers or homewear, as there is a big chance for them to be purchased, too.
If you let a customer apply settings and filters in a profile to adjust the search to the user’s needs and interests, it will definitely make a positive contribution to the brand image. This feature makes it easier for customers to find items they are interested in and to quickly see what items they have recently purchased.
User rewards system
A reward system aims to encourage customers to shop and make repeat purchases. This can also be used to inspire customers to refer people to the marketplace. You can even start using it in the early stages of product development among the participants of your focus group. It will show respect for their impact and help to retain the first loyal followers.
Real control over the product’s quality will definitely add trustability to your platform. By reading reviews, customers can get a better idea of the quality. Therefore, unreliable or bad-quality products with a lot of bad reviews are likely to become unpopular on the platform, which also contributes to the additional level of trust in the marketplace.
We all want to have control over purchases in which we invest our money. Giving customers the feeling that everything is under control impacts the brand. The platform should allow customers to quickly view their order history and check the status of their orders. It can help to reduce customer inquiries and provide an excellent customer experience.
Read more about marketplace development in the related article How much does it cost to develop an e-commerce app?
How to choose a tech stack
The choice of the technology stack for a custom marketplace is determined by the type of application you plan to build (mobile or web) and the features you plan to implement. Moreover, developing a marketplace implies that you will need more than one application: a client-side platform, an admin panel, and a seller’s app.
But the greatest concern shouldn’t be the choice of tech stack per se, but rather the quality of the work performed by the software company. Clear code that is understandable and commonly used is highly important. Should a client wish to change vendors, another team should be able to work with the existing code with relative ease. What is the stack of technologies that we use?
You can check all tools that we use on Tech radar, but let’s list all technologies we heavily rely on in our product development, and which of them we would implement for building an online marketplace.BACKEND
For creating an administration panel of the marketplace we would use the Laravel Nova framework which allows us to build all necessary functionalities of the admin panel in the shortest possible time. We would also use Laravel for developing the backend of the main website.Laravel
Should you look for developing a web application, then React.js or Next.js would be perfect for building a SEO-supporting marketplace with integrated server-side rendering. We would utilize the same technologies for creating a retailer’s panel with a custom design matching the main website.MOBILE
We would recommend you build a mobile app with the use of React Native framework due to its cost- and time-effectiveness. It suits perfectly for bringing a product to market as fast as possible.
Speaking of prices, the price for developing a custom solution is usually estimated at $30,000–$50,000. You can also check the approximate prices for developing other types of websites.
Paying attention to the design
One of the arguments we’ve come up with for the custom design was about it looking good. But does it really bring profit for the business? A pleasant UI/UX design directly influences the user retention rate and strengthens the customer’s connection to the brand.
The well-crafted design provides the overall impression of the product. A nicely designed user interface can prioritize the most relevant content and reduce the time needed for searching or checkout processes. With logic and simple UX design, users can easily move from one step to the next, or find the product details needed to inform their purchasing decisions.
We believe that good UI/UX design is essential for any online marketplace to create a positive user experience that encourages loyalty and return visits, which has been proved by our clients who come for the redesign of their products or to build a brand identity with our help. You can check our workflow in the illustration above or go to the Design page for more information.
The Lainappi app is a good example of how the design can add value to the product. Their application empowers users to both borrow and lend items, making it easy to do good while also saving money.
The team had a prototype of an app that could be significantly improved to better reflect their values. Together we developed a design and functionality that truly expresses their goals. Now, their application is a better reflection of the value they strive to bring to the world.
Deploying and supporting an infrastructure
For efficient and secure development of marketplaces, we rely solely on Google Cloud. In terms of the infrastructure approach, we stick to the Infrastructure-as-code methodology and useTerraform software tool and Helm package manager. To release applications in app stores, we utilize the Expo tool, eliminating manual work and reducing the time it takes to overcome app store reviews if necessary.
Once your marketplace with the core functionalities is developed and deployed, it’s time for testing it with real customers and starting a new learn-build-measure cycle. Should you choose us as those who will help with the development of your marketplace, you can be sure about the post-release maintenance and support. We remain with our clients throughout the entire process, leaving no customers behind.
Want to develop your marketplace in the shortest possible time?
Contact us for details.