Marketplaces are not created equal, and one of the biggest differences is how they treat sellers on the platform. While technically all marketplaces consist of a list of sellers, different marketplaces approach them differently.
Jet.com uniquely hides the concept of the marketplace from customers. Even though most products are sold by the marketplace, not Jet.com itself, there is no mention of the marketplace anywhere to be seen. The only mention the marketplace gets is after an order is created with a small note which seller sold the product. This is done to hide the complexity of the marketplace, and thus make customers not think about it at all.
When Walmart acquired Jet.com, it started to adopt some of the Jet’s decisions for its own marketplace. Walmart still showcases the marketplace sellers for customers to see, but a few months ago it discontinued seller reviews. We think it might be following the path of Jet.com, making customers not think about the marketplace, thus seller reviews are obsolete.
Amazon, one of the oldest marketplaces, hasn’t decided how much the marketplace should be exposed. Products are clearly listed with sellers offering them, but the buy box is actively trying to make customers forget about it. It does though have seller reviews, and thus sellers are differentiated by how well they’ve done in the past. But the seller storefront page is hardly customizable and the only thing sellers can change is the about page.
eBay doesn’t sell any products themselves, so they make it clear who is selling the product. Outside of some outdated tools to have a custom design for the store, it has social features like following stores - differently from Amazon, it makes it clear that a particular seller is worth paying attention to.
Alibaba’s Tmall.com is one of the largest marketplaces, with over 10 million retailers, which has embraced the marketplace more than the US marketplaces. Every store can have custom design pages, communicate with customers by having a blog, or even use instant messaging. Tmall.com as a website makes it very clear that Tmall.com is not selling anything, but it is those small stores who do.
In Japan, Rakuten does the same thing as Tmall.com. Every store can have their store page custom made, allowing retailers to have a landing page without needing to build their own website.
Marketplaces in the US are - maybe passively - trying to hide the concept of the marketplace from customers. Especially the model of Jet.com makes the sellers take the role of a supplier to Jet.com, as opposed to being a retailer. In Asia, lead by Alibaba’s marketplaces, every retailer gets a chance to establish their own presence on the marketplace.
In the age of private labeling, and retailers merging with manufacturers, one of the key requirements is communicating with customers. US marketplaces make it largely impossible, outside of reviews, while for example Alibaba makes it very easy to highlight particular products, have a blog, integrate social functionality, etc.
Amazon marketplace was created when the point of it was to have multiple sellers offer the same product. In that model a seller is a kind of supplier. But since then the marketplace has grown, yet conceptually the website hasn’t stayed up to date. In the age of social media and branding, sellers are left without much tools, outside of creating their own website, to communicate who they are.
Alibaba calls itself the largest retail economy in the world, and we agree, but Amazon and other marketplaces are retail economies too. So the approach taken by Alibaba to allow every seller create their own presence, just as they would by opening their own unique brick-and-mortar store in the real world economy, is more in line with how it should be done.
We think Alibaba, Rakuten and others are embracing the marketplace model more so than the US counterparts. In a way, Amazon and Jet.com are pretending the marketplace doesn’t exist, by limiting exposure each seller gets. Different cultures have different expectations, but we find the marketplaces embracing sellers to be much more aware of what makes them grow.