For certain types of products and services, buyers are turning more and more to online marketplaces. A buyer might head to Etsy® for a new scarf, or to Elance® for a new web developer, or to Amazon® for a whole shopping list of items. But while it's often very easy to add your product or service to an existing marketplace — perhaps just a matter of minutes in some cases — such marketplaces do have their downsides when they're the sole location you use to sell your products or services.
In order to ensure that your business will grow in the long term, you have to have an online store of your own. On your own website, you make the final call about pricing, as well as how to frame those numbers for prospective buyers. You're also the person who decides how many or how few products or services you can sell, whether or not you'll offer an affiliate program, and even when you can access the money you've earned from sales. But while you need an outpost of your own online to really leverage the full products and services you're selling, marketplaces can come in handy — they're surprisingly effective marketing tools.
Why marketplaces are useful for marketing
When your product or service is listed within a marketplace, you aren't the only person promoting it. Because any company running a marketplace has a financial interest in selling more of the items listed in it (usually because they get some sort of payout), that company is going to invest time and money into promoting the marketplace as a whole.
Depending on the company's marketing strategy, it may also highlight particular sellers or items. Taking advantage of someone else's willingness to promote your products or services is good business; it means that your own marketing budget will go much further.
True, that level of marketing won't likely be targeted directly at promoting your individual product or service — but that's okay. You will, of course, go out of your way to offer items on the marketplace that are top notch, so that you'll have more than the average number of positive reviews and so that you can catch the eyes of users who are browsing the site for options.
You might also consider what secondary benefits you can get from listing items for sale in certain marketplaces. Depending on how well known the marketplace in question is, a listing can make you more trustworthy to prospective buyers, effectively letting you piggyback off of an established brand. Some marketplaces even require sellers to meet certain criteria before allowing them to add listings; such sites can help you showcase the quality of what you're offering to buyers before they even have a chance to read a product description.
Tapping into the marketplace's promotion efforts may also be an option. Many marketplaces have their own blogs, for instance, and give particularly valuable sellers the opportunity to guest post on those blogs. There are even some external blogs that cover some marketplaces, such as Etsy®, that are happy to profile and promote sellers. You can go beyond the obvious promotions, as well: don't be afraid to contact a marketplace's organizers about any partnership or promotion ideas you may have. When they have a vested interest in seeing you sell more, they usually are open to any marketing opportunities.
Getting buyers from a marketplace to your own site
For many companies, just having an additional outlet for what you're selling is beneficial. But the real benefit comes when you can bring buyers from the marketplace back to your own site. Exactly how you do this can vary, depending on your business model, but the key is to use marketplaces to make introductory-level offerings available — not the higher-level products or services you offer. For the really valuable (and higher-priced) options you offer, you want buyers to purchase through your own site. Part of the purpose of moving buyers to a place you control is to ensure you get a bigger portion of the price you're charging, but you'll also have more control over the entire buying experience associated with your business.
One of the simplest options for making sure that buyers know your site exists is to add a component to the product or service you're selling that can only be accessed on your site. Whether it's a tutorial for a specific product, a support page for handling questions, or even a run down of how you handle specific projects, just a link back to your site can be valuable. Test out different options to see what makes sense for your specific offers:
- Can you add multiple links while maintaining a cohesive experience in what you're offering through the marketplace?
- Can you offer media that the marketplace doesn't support (i.e. a Kindle ebook can't include video, but can link to a video on your site)?
- Can you connect a buyer's first stop on your website to other pages?
- Can you get a buyer to subscribe to more information?
While not all marketplaces will provide you with the contact information of those individuals who have purchased your product or service through the site, many will offer you an email address. Take advantage of that information — that email address is incredibly valuable because it lets you reach out directly to someone who already has a proven interest in your work. Depending on your margins, contacting each buyer individually may be a valuable move. Otherwise, you can set up some automated responses that will still be useful to new buyers. Be wary of just automatically adding a buyer to an email list, however. That's bad business newsletter etiquette and will like get many of your emails marked as spam.
Make it easy for a buyer to follow up his marketplace purchase with a purchase through your site. Offer a clear next step (or, rather, a clear next purchase), whether that's an upsell, a matching item, or an add-on. You can also encourage buyers to transition in other ways: if you have an email address for each person who has bought from you through a marketplace, you can send out a coupon only usable through your site. The possibilities are endless, once you've proven the value of your product or service with that initial marketplace sale.