In the days before electronic commerce (or electronics, for that matter), the most progressive and powerful cities of the world had one common quality: a burgeoning marketplace where many merchants from different origins came to trade vast amounts of goods and services. Most of these prolific places had access to the sea, as ships were the fastest way to bring large amounts of goods back then.
Now, in our current information age, the marketplaces have evolved to become virtual places online, accessible to anyone in the world, provided they have a connection to the internet. The big names like eBay, Taobao, Rakuten, and Amazon quickly come to mind; just about anything you can buy in a regular brick-and-mortar business, you can find on these and many more online marketplaces.
For every victor, there are many, many failures, some as big and as hyped as Boo.com (it went under when the dotcom bubble popped), and most others lost to obscurity.
For those who have come out on top, how did they do it? What elements were present that led them to the popularity and success they are presently enjoying? For us, the smaller entrepreneurs, we shall attempt to identify the pieces of this puzzle, and hopefully apply these lessons to our own ventures, present and future.
Having the name of a marketplace roll smoothly over your tongue may seem trivial, but with all the distractions of modern life, a catchy and memorable name is the initial hook that gets people to visit your site. If we look at the leading sites right now, most of them don’t really sport a name that tells you immediately what they’re all about.
Before they became popular, one would have to have a weirdly-wired brain to associate Amazon with books and shopping (a name starting with an “a” also meant it would top an alphabetical list like Yahoo’s listings, once upon a time). That being said, I do wonder why nobody bothered to register aardvark.com or aaa.com in the earier days of the internet to use as a shopping site…
Navigation and Searching
As you know, internet time runs way faster, and this reflects in the inherent impatience of people who browse for just about anything. Frustrate or bewilder the prospective customer for just a few minutes and you’ll see them popping open a new search window to find another website.
You, the “shopkeeper,” must do what you can to make all your wares and services accessible to the prospective customer. Looking at sites like eBay, there is indeed a lot of data presented on-screen, but if you already have a product in mind, all you need to do is type it into the search box and you’ll immediately get a list of products that match your search.
Before these so-called social media “gurus” have been spouting about the (glaringly obvious) benefits of having a Facebook and a Twitter account, believe it or not, people have already been networking and sharing information over the internet. Word of mouth reaches more people and convinces them more effectively to partake of a product or service, it is known.
Publicity for your online marketplace, even potentially damning ones (with the exception of issues relating to account security and the safety of money transactions, of course!), can give a shopping site that additional oomph and attract more customers. An example of this would be eBay allowing certain weird items to be auctioned, and people going “nuts” over the oddity and raving about it all over the intarwebs.
Reliability and Security
An online marketplace with all the bells and whistles is worth nothing if it’s not online. As mentioned above, internet time is fast, people on the internet are impatient, and they are especially irritated when the website they wish to browse is not available.
Being online 24/7 is just half of it. Everything has to work, especially since the site will be handling transactions involving money, credit cards, and personal information. The last reputation you’ll want as a store is that customer money and data are unsafe in your hands.
Reliability also involves the idea that the products and services they purchase from your site are actually received, they work as advertised, and they get to the customers in a reasonable amount of time. Yeah, it’s a tall order, but you want to site to be one of the best, right?
With these qualities in mind, building a popular and successful e-commerce site will be an attainable goal just within the horizon. Do not be daunted that the major players are already established; there’s always room at the top. If you’re not aiming to wrestling with the big boys, there’s always the route of specialization, Etsy being a prime example.
Keep at it, brave and innovative entrepreneurs!