Has your organisation amped up its ecommerce activities with the establishment of an online marketplace? For a growing number of Australian organisations, doing so is proving to be an extremely smart move. They include the likes of Woolworths, whose Everyday Market sells everything from pet equipment to sports and fitness gear, and SurfStitch which has turned itself into a destination site for casual apparel, swimwear and a range of complementary items.

It’s a fair bet we’ll see a string of other retailers follow their lead over the next 12 months, given Australians’ collective love affair with online shopping shows no signs of abating. We spent $56.01 billion on online retail in the 12 months to July 2022, according to the NAB Online Retail Sales Index: July 2022. A sizeable proportion of those dollars flow through online marketplaces.  Indeed, Forrester Research’s 2021 Online Marketplace Tracker, Global report found that two-thirds of global B2C e-commerce sales were captured by marketplaces in 2020.  Getting in on the action, as a marketplace owner or seller, is now on the agenda for retail leaders with an eye for the bottom line.

Reaping the rewards

Research shows organisations which establish an online marketplace can expect to increase their revenue by between 30 and 50 per cent in the first year. That’s far from pocket change. Furthermore, it’s growth that doesn’t call for a capital intensive increase in inventory or an expanded real estate footprint, given it’s third party sellers and not the online marketplace operator that own, store and ship the stock.

But reaping those sorts of returns isn’t guaranteed and certainly not in the long term. In my experience, businesses whose online marketplace sales remain consistently healthy are those which place a high value on innovation. They’re dedicated to identifying new ways to keep delivering for the customer – figuratively and literally! – and they’re laser focused on putting those innovations into practice.

Here are five ways to keep your online marketplace fresh, once it’s up and running.

Growing the product range

Adding new lines is a great way to retain customer interest and gain incremental sales. Unless you’re intending to sell anything and everything on your site, it makes sense to focus on complementary products; seasonal and add-on items that will enhance your regular range and help your brand become known as a category killer. Barbeques Galore, for example, recently added Halloween costumes and fresh meat to its offering. Both lines are unexpected but appropriate additions to the company’s traditional outdoor furniture and equipment offering.

Optimising processes

Your product range isn’t the only thing that should be re-evaluated regularly. Even if things are humming along smoothly enough, there will always be opportunities to improve your policies and processes. Returns, for example, can be a thorny issue for many customers. Make it as simple and convenient as possible for them to send back faulty and unwanted products and you’ll up the odds of them ordering from your site again. Shipping costs can be another deal maker or breaker for customers, and tweaking your policy could be the key to a higher conversion rate.

Maximising the marketing opportunity

Targeted marketing helps drive web site traffic and sales and it makes sense to team up with your sellers to develop a continuous cadence of co-funded campaigns and exclusive deals. If your online marketplace is well established and enjoys a high volume of traffic, you may also be able to earn additional revenue by selling feature spots on your home page, or in your customer EDM.

Keeping abreast of technology developments

Evolution in the high-tech world has long occurred at a blistering pace. Just ask Intel co-founder Gordon Moore whose eponymous ‘law’, first described in 1965, stated that the speed of computers would double every two years, while the cost would halve. Fast forward almost six decades and ICT vendors remain as focused as ever on optimising their offerings, at speed. That’s why it makes sense to review your technology stack regularly. In doing so, you may discover manual processes that can be automated or integrated, via APIs, or new capabilities you can add to improve the efficiency of your online marketplace and the customer experience it delivers to shoppers.

Supporting sellers

A thriving eco-system of sellers will help your online marketplace go from strength to strength but it’s unlikely you’ll foster one by accident. Setting measurable and achievable service levels, seeking and offering regular feedback, and sharing data driven insights to help sellers up their earn are some of the ways you can turn your supplier network into a collaborative community of high calibre partners.

Innovate and prosper

An online marketplace offers an unparalleled opportunity to grow your range and revenue, provided you don’t regard it as a ‘set and forget’ asset. Commit to continuous innovation and improvement and you’ll stand a better chance of seeing your sales continue to grow apace.

Kate Packman is vice president of global partnerships program at Marketplacer.