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If you were wise enough to setup an online marketplace in the early days of the internet and also had great business chops, you might have been a very rich person by now.
Some of the world’s biggest ecommerce companies are those that don’t actually sell any of their own products, or rely to a large extent on third-party sellers.
Amazon is the most obvious example, while eBay has also taken great pains to rebrand as a marketplace rather than an auction site (try saying that eBay is an auction site in a blog post and see how long it takes for the PRs to knock on your door).
Similarly, in the UK Play.com shifted from being an ecommerce site to an “online trading platform” after being bought out by Rakuten, a Japanese tech company that is best known for its Rakuten Ichiba marketplace.
Rakuten’s revenue from Ichiba and its travel business totalled 172bn yen in 2013.
Staying in APAC, Alibaba owns more than five marketplaces that each caters to a slightly different audience.
Taobao is a C2C site that has become China’s biggest online shopping destination. C2C ecommerce is worth $199bn annually in China, of which Taobao accounts for roughly 90%. In B2C ecommerce, Alibaba’s Tmall accounts for around 50% of the country's $107bn annual sales.
Typically, Google has also got in on the act to an extent through Google Shopping and product listing ads.
Online marketplaces are certainly an area of ecommerce that warrants further inspection, and one that I’ll delve into for future posts.
But today here’s a look at how some major brands are making use of third-party marketplaces...
Some of the UK’s best known brands have setup stores on eBay, though it takes some investigating in order to find them.
As far as I can tell there is no way to locate the brand stores from the homepage. They are housed with a ‘Retail directory’ subdomain, which I was only able to access by Googling ‘eBay stores’.
This then directs you to a page that lists stores from the likes of Tesco, Cloggs, Dyson, BT, House of Fraser, Schuh and Vodafone. A good array of high quality brands that eBay should be pleased with.
However the stores themselves are generally quite poor and glitchy.
Take the Vodafone shop for example. The homepage has a banner followed by a whole load of white space, which isn’t a great start.
But worse is that none of the links actually leads to anything. The phone categories on the left-hand side lead to a blank screen, while the ‘Vodafone VIP’ service advertised on the right-hand side has apparently been discontinued.
I don’t think it’s actually possible to buy anything from this eBay store.
Vodafone's eBay store
La Redoute’s eBay store is equally poor. None of the links work and there’s an empty ‘Deal of the week’ promo.
Although there is some text at the top of the page to inform shoppers that, “This shop seller is currently away.”
La Redoute's eBay store
It would be wrong to tar all of eBay’s retail partners with the same brush, though, as some maintain decent storefronts.
Dyson’s outlet store shares the same overall look and feel as its own ecommerce site, making it very simple to find and purchase items.
Dyson's eBay outlet store
Similarly Tesco and Schuh have created eBay stores that are very much on-brand, with the obvious exception of the product pages.
Some of Tesco’s refurbished products include the option to ‘Make an offer’ rather than paying the listed price, meaning that shoppers can haggle with one of the world’s biggest retailers.
Tesco's product page on eBay
Amazon offers brand pages as one of its marketing services, but as with eBay they are well hidden.
The below example is from ‘Pinzon by Amazon.com’, which I think is the e-tailer’s own brand of home furnishings.
It includes a big hero image with various product categories and individual items lower down the page.
However the only way of finding it was to Google ‘Amazon Pinzon’.
The only other examples of Amazon brand pages I could find were from Lego and De’Longhi, and to be honest I’m not even sure if they are official brand pages.
Both include a header image and only link to further products from those brands, but they don’t share the same layout and visuals as the Pinzon page.
Lego brand page on Amazon
De'Longhi brandpage on Amazon
Either way, if Amazon does offer brand pages it has done an excellent job of hiding them.
Argos is not an online marketplace, but it does use branded shop fronts on its ecommerce site.
These are accessible from the top nav menu and look a lot like online storefronts one might find on a marketplace.
Each is tailored to fit with that brand’s visual aesthetic, including fonts, content and imagery. So it suggests that Argos is working closely with third-party marketers and products teams when creating these pages.
For instance, compare these three Argos storefronts for Brita water filters, Samsung and Lego. Each has a very different design.
These examples are far more accessible and user-friendly than the brand pages operated by Amazon and eBay.
EDIT 12/08/14: In the original article I stated that the Cloggs eBay store had been shut down, however the issue actually lay with a broken link from the eBay Retail Directory. Cloggs operates an excellent eBay store, which can be found here.