Products and Services.
You’re prepping your marketplace, building out the functionality and talking to suppliers about what products they can supply you. Then a supplier asks “What file format do you use?” or “Could you let us know your product API details” or “How do I control where products appear on your site?”
How does your marketplace software define what attributes a product should have? How does it enforce that suppliers are sending you valid files and data? How does your marketplace integrate with any existing PIM or CMS you may have in place?
At Marketplace Lab we allow Marketplace Administrators to define products and attribution as well as acceptable values for those attributes – for example, you’ll probably have an attribute called “Title” that you enforce a supplier must give you in their product data but you’ll also have more complex scenarios such as an attribute being optional to supply, but when it is supplied, it should be one of a set of fixed values that is configured in the Marketplace.
You’ll want to define maximum sizes and acceptable data-types. You’ll also want the potential to have different definitions of attribution across many different product types e.g. Shoes and DVD categories commonly have different attribution. Does you marketplace software support this?
Commonly, suppliers will have an easier time if you can take their data in a format they already have and/or for a marketplace they may already be utilising. Our software ingests products from many sources (CSV, XML, JSON etc) and allows the Marketplace user to offer a supplier the ability to send them files they may already have for other marketplaces. The conversation is a lot easier if the supplier doesn’t feel like there’s additional work to list on your marketplace!
Multiple data sources and Product enrichment.
If you’re an existing e-commerce company looking to add marketplace functionality to your site you’ll typically have a way to manage products from a feed of data and/or an established PIM process.
When you add marketplace you might want to supplement your existing processes by utilising supplier data – we call this product enrichment. You may also want to allow suppliers to entirely define new products by supplying the required information you defined in your marketplace.
Your marketplace needs to have some kind of product creation tooling, this might be as simple as an Approval / Refuse process where a PIM operator reviews each product and supplies feedback to the supplier as to if their product data is acceptable or consolidates products together to avoid duplicates. This information needs to be fed back to the supplier in the case of refusal or, in the case, of the product being approved, to continue creating the listings for that supplier against that product.
One of the other challenges is identifying products between disparate catalogues (typically yours and many suppliers). Barcodes and unique identifiers (ISBNs, GTINs etc) are the most common way and are slowly becoming required information for marketplaces. This helps the marketplace software to match a suppliers listings and offerings for sale with your catalogue. That’s how the marketplace knows how many suppliers are offering Product X for sale and for how much
However, what do you do if a supplier wants to use their own identifiers because that’s how their software works? Or how do you deal with unique craft items that don’t have a barcode? Or antiques?
Your marketplace software should handle all of the scenarios. At Marketplace Lab we allow a seller to supply their own SKU data in their product data and we create associations in the marketplace to allow a supplier to then communicate with the marketplace using their own SKUs when sending the marketplace stock and price data.
Ideally the marketplace would also be capable of matching on primary attribution e.g. are the titles similar, variant colours etc
As part of a marketplace implementation you’ll want to consider how it affects your product detail pages and checkout process (we’ll cover this specifically in a later post)
When the marketplace has a single supplier per product your detail pages might include a reference to which supplier, some supplier ratings etcThe marketplace might be a catalogue based marketplace and then you may want to consider a page specific to showing a list of all the possible suppliers for a product, their prices, brief descriptions etc
Either way, there’s some impact to your existing pages.
Entering a new product vertical utilising a marketplace
A common way to enter a new vertical on your existing site is to utilise a marketplace. Typically, you’ll have to stock the new items, take risk on inventory etc. Marketplace allows you to enter that vertical by sourcing suppliers who are already experts in that vertical. They carry the right stock, they know the price points – they also know how to ship the products and handle returns. See Part 1 as to why we believe this is preferable to a drop-ship operation.
Next blog post we’ll cover delivery and checkout options and how to build the requirements for your marketplace.