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The Ecommerce to Marketplace Pivot : What More Should Flipkart et al Do

All the e-commerce stores are now marketplaces. Snapdeal, Yebhi, Flipkart have all pivoted over the last year.

Which means they don’t own inventory, don’t store it, and don’t deliver it themselves, at least not like they used to when they were direct sellers themselves. And that means less consistent user experiences in terms of product quality, deliveries and returns.

The effect is already very visible on social media and online fora where one’s started hearing of many more less than happy voices about even those such as Flipkart, which had an unblemished history of perfect service and delivery. Perhaps Flipkart has suffered the most in terms of image owing to the very high standards it set in its inventory model avatar and the very high expectations that have come to be part of the consumer’s mental image of the brand.

To be fair, most of these marketplaces make a fairly serious effort to offer, for any product, multiple seller options to the user, with ratings and scores, stock availability and estimated dispatch and delivery times. However, one hears of cancelled orders, changed prices and delivery delays every now and then, and even the odd instance of the wrong – or in extreme cases, no – product delivered inside the packaging!

Almost inevitably, the marketplace bears the brunt of the consumer’s ire. After all, it is their brand and often inducement that draws a buyer in and ensures a purchase happens.

So given this new reality of the marketplace, what else can the e-commerce players do so that they both continue to be seen as preferred destinations, yet do not bear the complete burden of their vendors’ actions?

Be a Mall. Not a Store

Malls are marketplaces!

Be a better version of this!
Be a better version of this!

They manage infrastructure and common services, manage the variety of choices for consumers at the level of the brands and types of stores, attract and track footfalls, enable vouchers and coupons, even participate in revenue in some cases. But the retailers run their own show, manage their own inventory, customer experience, display, etc.

An online marketplace is essentially the same.

They need to focus on getting folks on to the site, ensure a wide variety of attractive  charge real estate and providing common services and infrastructure that help selling. Essentially – be a very valuable pipe and support system to sellers. Provide analytics.

Drive shopping festivals. But let the selling be led and driven by the retailers – very visibly. Right now the landing pages make the brand seem responsible for the selection and display of the products without any reference to the actual “store”. This obviously buttresses the image that the site/brand is responsible, and not just a conduit.

There might be more than one design solution that fixes it – and it’ll surely help set the expectation right upfront.

Offer Convenience. Variety. Safeguards. Transparency. Conflict Resolution. Not Price

As part of the baggage from their earlier avatars, and owing to the unsustainable price wars as e-commerce sites proliferated, “deals” have become the primary selling point and customer acquisition mechanism online.

Online shopping e commerce saleBut marketplaces need to worry about more than that! They’re not segmented enough – how site-1 differs from site-2 in terms of it’s positioning is not very clear. In the real world, some marketplaces are about value, some about a wide variety, yet others about premium offerings and some offer a good relaxed time with shopping as a by-product. Indeed, window shopping is a major activity, and a very key part of a shopper’s pre-purchase behaviour. By and large, these nuances do not exist in the online world.

Online marketplaces can build their brands around convenience – pick a particular set of user needs, personalize experiences and offer browsability options that let the user peek into various stores and options. Provide tools to stores to keep the consumer engaged over visits. Ensure transparency of vendor quality, reliability and reputation both for the products as well as for logistics very visibly and obviously. And manage disputes and conflicts as those arise. Collect feedback about various stores in terms of product quality and shopping experiences, and act on the feedback very visibly.

These might help consumers see the marketplace as a curator and enabler of good stores and services rather than a peddler of goods themselves.

Messaging. Marketing. Be Seen To Be On the Consumers’ Side!!

Snapdeal and Flipkart have been spending a fair bit of cash on advertising. Most of the messaging do nothing to change the belief in consumers that these sites sell directly to users rather than manage a bunch of sellers.

A lot more clear messaging about the marketplaceness of the sites will go a long way in helping dispel this notion. And if you’re essentially the infrastructure guys that help users pick a good product from the vendor who can provide the most reliable buying experience and also pick as an appropriate, dependable logistics option, you’re already seen to be batting for the consumer.

It’s not an easy change to alter one’s design and operational DNA, and even more challenging to ensure consistent quality and reliability from a large, assorted set of vendors. But over time, these e-commerce players will hopefully learn to improve not only theirs, but vendor-end processes much better and fix a lot of these growth pains.

What they right away do need is to understand very clearly is their role as a marketplace.

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