When you launch your marketplace app, you don’t just want it to make an impact on the sector, you want it to become the default place your potential customers go to find what they need. To do this it needs to arrive before the competition, be easy for everyone to access, and instantly appear alive with a wide range of products and vendors.

Making this happen starts way before you're ready to launch – and it can be scuppered if you don’t make the right decisions in the development process. Here are some common mistakes app teams make.

Trying to build everything from scratch – or building nothing at all

When it comes to building a marketplace app, we often see people taking one of two routes. First there are development teams who don’t want to take any off-the-shelf software or components, and try to build the entire marketplace from scratch. Then there are people who do the complete opposite, trying to make their app work entirely within off-the-shelf solutions.

They’re both extreme approaches, and like any extreme they don’t work that well in practice. Building everything yourself might give your development team more control over your core functionality, but you’ll need serious VC money to back up that ambition. It’ll also take forever, meaning you’re more likely to miss the window to properly dominate your market.

But if you use someone else’s software for everything, all you gain in speed and cost saving is offset by never really having the right tools at your disposal. 

Because an online store solution like Shopify doesn’t have the right infrastructure to run a marketplace platform, your development team will end up jerry-rigging the data in the background to make it work. It gets very messy very fast, and it’s impossible to properly scale a system held together by digital duct tape.

There’s middle ground, and it’s the path we take. When we work on marketplace projects we use a couple of solutions called Jamstack and Swell, which means we buy in a backend platform and plug a custom frontend into it.

That way we’re not holding up the development process writing checkout and login code that already exists, but you’ve still got control to manipulate those core features and interact with them at the API level. With this approach we can get a bespoke, elegant marketplace solution up and running in a matter of months, and built in a way that’s scaleable for the future.

Leaving potential customers out in the cold

If your online marketplace is going to dominate your sector, it needs two things: speed and exposure.

Exposure isn’t just something for marketing to sort out. It’s a question for your development team too, so you can release your marketplace on as many platforms as possible. If your marketplace launches on Android but not iOS and web, that’s leaving a huge number of prospective users on the table because they simply don’t have exposure to the app.

In the past there was a good reason for focusing on one operating system at the start. Developing for Android and iOS used to mean building two separate apps simultaneously, with all the time and cost that came with it.

But with React Native and Expo, there’s no need to pick and choose – you can build an app that’s ready to roll on iOS, Android and web all with a single codebase. Taking the cross-platform approach means you can get your marketplace out onto as many phones as possible, and far quicker than building two separate, fully native apps.

It might be tempting to start with just a web presence and then build a mobile application once you’ve got the ball rolling. But this approach sacrifices social elements like push notifications, which are a big part of what makes marketplace apps so compelling. 

When a buyer messages a vendor asking for details about an item, they don’t want to be checking their emails for a reply. They want a push notification the instant that reply comes – and that’s something that can only come by building for Android and iOS. It’s also part of the reason why apps rake in more e-commerce revenue than websites

Forgetting that user experience includes vendors too

No marketplace can survive without a wide range of vendors. If you get a flood of potential new buyers onto your app but they can’t find enough to spend their money on, they’ll think it’s dead. It’s like having a grand opening for a new shop without filling up the shelves – any customer who comes through the door will walk straight back out of it.

It’s easy to focus development effort into the customer experience because that's where most of your users are. But you can’t neglect your vendors just because there are fewer of them. 

You need to give them a reason to move their listings from eBay or Gumtree to your marketplace, and one-click imports can work wonders here. Then to keep them on your side of the fence, you need enough intelligent features to make it effortless – intuitive image loading and don’t-have-to-think-about-it payment handling for instance. You want to remove complexity and friction at every level.

Reverb app

One great example is Reverb, a marketplace for selling used guitars and other music gear. 

Guitars are tricky to sell online. They’re fragile, they’re expensive, and vendors need support if they get damaged in shipping. On top of that, just listing one is hassle enough with all the model numbers, manufacture years and other details to keep track of. It becomes a minefield for sellers just trying to clear out some cupboard space. 

But Reverb gives them tools to navigate that. There’s an exhaustive database of instrument models, so vendors can select the exact one they’re selling and get the technical side of their product listing filled out in one click. And if something goes wrong with a payment or shipping, the platform takes care of it on the vendor’s behalf so they’re not dealing directly with angry buyers.

Talk to your early adopting vendors about what would make their life easier. Maybe it’s a simpler onboarding process, or some inventory management tools to prevent them selling the same item twice. Whatever it is, make sure your future product development is about making your vendors as happy as your buyers.

If you’re looking to get your app project off the ground, see how we get your marketplace MVP live before the competition or speak to us to see how we can help.

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