Want to Run your Own Marketplace on Shopify? It’s not going to be easy

Essential features on your Online Marketplace
Essential features on your Online Marketplace

Frequenting an Online marketplace has become quite the ‘go-to’ resort for online shoppers. You can even relate to it on a personal level. If you need to purchase anything online, marketplaces like Amazon are the first place you’d probably think about shopping.

People have witnessed the success of platforms like Amazon, Etsy and Walmart first hand. While it has made lives easier it has also demonstrated that the online marketplace model is a very scalable model.

The model has inspired a whole generation of entrepreneurs across industry verticals. It has some key benefits that you just can’t overlook such as-

  • From a business perspective, abilities like managing little to no inventory, rich product choice for buyers, simplified logistics have contributed to its popularity.
  • It’s also a very scalable business model and requires less financial risk.
  • Marketplace owners can choose their own revenue stream that best fits their niche.

Now is the Time !!!

In recent years, we’ve seen significant developments in the field of building and running marketplaces. It will continue to be the trend for the coming year too.

Even though the time seems right and the technology is sophisticated enough, establishing a thriving marketplace is still not a minor task.

You already know that there are no shortcuts for starting an online marketplace and making it popular. Having a reliable tactic and knowing best practices is crucial, but it is not enough to do the trick. You should know that a lot of hard work is required to develop your brand and make it grow.

A lot of work is involved in developing a thriving marketplace. Devising an idea and launching a website is merely ‘step zero’. You don’t need your inventory, but you need to solve the proverbial ‘chicken and egg’ problem. For starters,

  • How to persuade other sellers to bring their stock to your marketplace when there are no buyers yet?
  • How would you attract clients when you don’t have any inventory?

But merely addressing relevant questions won’t cut it, your idea will also likely require a large-scale change in mindset. You need to keep your mind open to all kinds of ideas, opportunities and obligations.

You need to decide first, whether you want to-

  • Start an online marketplace right from scratch with your own development team.
  • Or look for turnkey solutions provider which can help you get started with your endeavours.

Option 2 is the better choice if you are just starting. It will involve lesser manpower, expenses and infrastructure. Developing your own online marketplace and maintaining it can get too tedious, stressful and expensive.

Choosing the right ecommerce platform might also be time-consuming and might need a lot of research before you finalise one. So if you choose a major player like Shopify Plus, you need to know what comes with it.

Firstly, the following are the important elements involved in running a multi-vendor online marketplace.

  • Data & Insights — Helps you to make informed decisions on your particular platform with relevant data and findings
  • Seller Payouts — This lets you automatically pay the sellers their dues, securely and accurately
  • Payment Gateways — Multiple gateways make it easier for buyers to complete the transaction
  • Email Marketing — This is necessary for your online marketplace to grow and attract more business
  • IntegrationsPlatform should let you integrate necessary ERP/CRM tools to help you run your marketplace more efficiently.
  • Marketing Services — Not only email marketing but other aspects of marketing should also be accommodated to create targeted and strategic marketing campaigns to reach out to more buyers.
  • Tax Rules — Different sellers on your marketplace would have negotiated different taxes and commissions to use your platform. So a good tax engine would be critical to handle multiple partners on your platform.
  • Accounting — Financial operations should be streamlined using accounting tools to keep track of your business accounts.
  • Ratings and Reviews — This is another important feature you need for running a successful marketplace. Ratings and reviews can help cultivate a level of transparency among the consumers for the marketplace.

Now you know what kind of structure a successful marketplace has, the question remains, Can Shopify or Shopify Plus deliver on it? The answer is Yes. But there is a small catch. You need plugins to add features to your store. Plus is faster and is designed to process high volume transactions quickly but it still needs plugins to run a multi-vendor marketplace. There are apps in the Shopify app store to tackle these needs but Shopify apps alone won’t suffice.

Using plugins for running a large scale operation like a marketplace can be too complicated and wasteful. Your store could run into all kinds of troubles. Now just assume you use apps and plugins to enable major functionalities discussed in above points. It doesn’t mean you can’t overlook the side-effects that may follow.

You already know what functionalities are required in a platform for running a multi-vendor marketplace. Each functionality requires a separate app. If you want to make your Shopify Plus store to boast all the necessary features of a multi-seller marketplace, you need those apps. That’s why there is not a simple workaround for this issue.

Therefore, you need to install all the plugins that are necessary for a particular feature. And that can easily make your online store load slower than it should at the user’s end. Even if the browsers are able to handle these plugins simultaneously, you still have to bear with the delay for your Shopify/Shopify Plus powered store to load completely. This can be frustrating for buyers and there’s a good chance that they might just go to another website.

Solution: The most obvious solution would be to install as few plugins as you possibly can. But you might have to settle and sacrifice a few features that you want for your online marketplace. That is an undesirable constraint, so the simple solution here is to use app bundles that provide services of several apps in one. There are many such bundles in the Shopify app store which you can look up. There are also other ecommerce platforms can endow your marketplace with a lot of integrated features without any add-ons.

Shopify apps offer a lot of features that your marketplace can use. But website’s longer load time isn’t the only issue you have to deal with, it’s also conflict with other apps. There have been compatibility issues in the past reported by many Shopify store owners.

Incompatible apps can create conflict and lead to the crashing of the website. If your website crashes while the buyer is on it shopping, then that could cause loss of business. Not only that, but your website’s security can also be compromised.

Solution: Try to use fewer plugins. Look for the apps which provide added services packaged in one. You should also spend time in checking the plugins by trying the demo. The trial should give you a good idea about its compatibility with other apps working with your online marketplace.

There are a lot of free Shopify apps in the Shopify app store but the bulk of the beneficial ones are paid. Each app has its own pricing structure and is not included in Shopify subscription. Assume you use 9–10 addons to enhance your marketplace, each accounting for an additional feature such as Multilingual, multicurrency, multi-vendor etc. Then consider the price range of $20-$500 per extension. Huge! Right?

Solution: There is no way out of this. The best alternative would be to use fewer apps. You can also look out for ecommerce platforms which provide a lot of features integrated included in the subscription.

Don’t be surprised. There are some Shopify apps which can cause problems with your Shopify themes. The incompatibility issue caused is because of different sets of codes that are struggling with each other.

Support for the same also can be cumbersome as they are developed by different teams. Because of the complexities involved, most theme and app developers are reluctant to touch the code that wasn’t developed by them.

Solution: These issues are complex because they mostly arise due to compatibility issues with HTML, CSS or JavaScript code. The optimum way to get it fixed is to connect with the theme developer so that he can develop a fix for the problem.

Support is a key factor in the current scenario to retain customers and not lose them. For tackling several technical issues, users have to connect with respective support teams. Since Shopify doesn’t provide support for Shopify apps, you need to contact the app developers for the same.

The quality of support may vary, it’s availability, working hours, location, etc. Some apps might not give good support while others may operate from different continents and time-zones.

Solution: You can always check the customer reviews for each app. There are reviews which often mention and discuss support responsiveness and quality.

Many apps come with a free trial but adding them just to check if it will work is inadvisable. Repeatedly adding and removing apps can cause more problems. Take the time to do your homework first.

Not all Shopify apps are perfect. A good percentage of user reviews in the Shopify app store tell the same story. Some common issues being issues with service, inaccurate multilingual operations and many other issues.

Having multiple plugins, just makes it more difficult to locate the exact issue and troubleshoot it. Such issues can also impact your sales in a negative way.

Solution: Finding the right set of Shopify apps can be tricky but the right research can help to a great extent. If you are testing out apps or removing them, always make a record of what you have been doing. This aids in resetting files easily in case you have to recover your store if it crashes.

Look out for user reviews and ratings too.

You already know that you just don’t buy the first thing you see when you enter a shop. The same goes for adding a plugin to your Shopify or Shopify Plus powered store. You need to find the right plugin that won’t give you a lot of trouble. And yes, it does take a lot of time to find one.

Finding the right app that would help increase your sales must be done patiently. You need to perform meticulous research and explore trial versions of several add-ons. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. So patience is the key.

Solution: Weigh the features and cost of the apps. An app you use might not be effective immediately or over the first few months, so have a contingency ready.

Installing the app is a critical step. It can be a little risky and can create compatibility conflicts. Themes might also cause your website to crash. Try installing multiple plugins at once, your Shopify/Shopify Plus powered store may slow down a great deal.

Solution: You can make a backup of the existing code and save a copy of it. You can use it to easily restore your website in case something goes wrong. If you’re going to install multiple apps for your Shopify Plus store, do it in phases. Don’t just install all of them at once. This will buy you some time to take care of installation-related issues.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you might now have a clear idea of what is required of you to run a successful online marketplace if you use Shopify/Shopify Plus as a platform. No need to worry in case you are already using either of them. You just have to be smart, thoughtful and resourceful.

While a simple marketplace setup is cumbersome with so many apps taking it to another level can be even tougher. Suppose you want to create multiple location based sub stores, like amazon has for various countries, your complexity will be exponentially higher. Add to it the problem of adding country wise currencies. Shopify totally leaves you at your wits end as you have to find the apps, sync them and fine tune so the flow doesn’t break.

So keep your mind open if your marketplace plans doesn’t pan out as you thought. There are other ecommerce platforms which can give you multi-seller marketplace features integrated. Sign up for their trial demo and find out the difference for yourself.

He is an ecommerce expert with 7+ years of experience.With hands-on experience of handling B2B and B2C ecommerce projects