One option to Amazon’s marketplace: Building your own to drive building brand engagement, enthusiasm and loyalty.
There’s certainly no competing with Amazon when it comes to breadth of products or convenience. Even the most die hard “shop local” advocates would be hard pressed to say they didn’t occasionally take advantage of both of those attributes. But still, retailers and brands are increasingly looking for avenues to diversify away from Amazon, connect directly with customers, and build a community around their brand.
Ironically, one of best ways to do this may be to copy Amazon to an extent by creating your own marketplace model. Marketplace technology, beyond being a means to offer a more diverse product selection without carrying inventory, can also be a powerful tool for building brand engagement, enthusiasm, and loyalty when done right.
Especially for smaller brands, or those just starting out, It’s increasingly difficult to compete with the big guys when it comes to marketing spend. But a marketplace model as part of commerce strategy can be used to build community, win new customers and bring them back again and again, and stand apart from the competition.
Shoppers come for the products, stay for the experience
For brands and retailers, extending product range is a chance to boost revenue, but it’s also a chance to show your customers you’re listening and build brand loyalty. Offering an expanded, curated product range, but not a limitless selection, through an owned marketplace is a great way to recognize your customer’s needs as well as collect critical data. When curated to their lifestyles, the right selection makes shoppers feel like you’ve built the product assortment with them in mind.
Take the BBQ Guys for instance. They had built a popular selection of the best BBQ gear in a range of prices and were doing well. But when they thought about their customers’ needs they identified a number of related product categories that would complement their selection and offer a complete BBQ experience. This meant thinking about additional items shoppers would want that might go elsewhere to find. By offering a complete experience, they retained shopper interest and dollars.
Merging content, community, and commerce
Investing resources that dispense trusted guidance and advice — as a complement to the products in your category — is a great way to build community, raise your brand’s profile and keep customers coming back, again and again.
Patagonia’s activism and stories sections of their website complement their traditional ecommerce site and well as their used merchandise marketplace. They know their customers well and know they care about sustainability among other environmental issues so they’ve built a place for their customers
Ongoing customer interactions with blogs, videos, tips, volunteer opportunities and more generally translate into more frequent, ‘stickier’ sales, particularly if you stock the virtual shelves with repeat purchase items that regularly find their way onto the family shopping list.
If you’re prepared to invest in resources like moderated forums where your customers can share feedback and experiences, you’ll help transform your site into a hub of a customer community, a destination in its own right.
Fishbrain is another business that figured out how to harness a community passion into a desirable commerce experience. Started as a social network for anglers, Fishbrain has grown into a global community of 13 million who share stories, tips, and questions. The natural product recommendations between community members sowed the seeds for connecting them with brands and products they need in a marketplace model. Fishbrain’s marketplace currently offers over 80,000 products from more than 350 brands with those brands handling the fulfillment and sharing in access and engagement with the community. It’s a win, win, win.
Leveraging marketing power of social stars to build community
There’s a boom in D2C brands who got their start on social media. Many of these brands have tremendous marketing savvy, but they are also eager to embrace new channels that bring a highly engaged and vertically targeted audience outside the confines of TikTok and Instagram.
As such, retailers and brands have an incredible opportunity in front of them to curate enticing product extension segments, all without the traditional risk of carrying inventory. With the example of partnering with popular D2C brands, a retail or brand-owned marketplace brings about a merging of communities, with each entity (retailer and seller) benefiting from a symbiotic exchange.
Building on the example of the Fishbrain marketplace mentioned above, you have the other side of the coin, the third-party fulfillment by merchant partners, such as Favorite Fishing USA. They got their start through social channels and have strategically expanded to select box retailers and then added a marketplace commerce strategy.
While not (yet) a traditional tool in a marketer’s arsenal, marketplaces can be used to great effect to reach new audiences, build enthusiasm around a brand and drive significant revenue. Retailers would be wise to investigate if the marketplace model is a good fit for existing business lines and working with their e-commerce platforms to integrate the offering, often via API, into their overall commerce tech stack.