We all know a good ecommerce customer experience is good for business. But are we equally aware of what turns a good experience bad? Nearly 80% of online customers abandon their purchase because of small issues with big impact, namely poor website navigation, irrelevant search results, and unclear product information.
It’s in your best interest to create a positive customer experience. So, where should you start? Let’s explore how you can optimize your marketplace for customer satisfaction — and increased sales.
What you’ll learn:
In a recent study Nautical commissioned with Forrester Consulting, improving the buyer experience was a top outcome expected from launching a marketplace. 92% of respondents agreed that improving the buyer experience was important or very important.
Marketplaces are inherently customer-forward. They create a desirable (and more lucrative) online shopping experience than traditional ecommerce sites because they offer:
Convenience: As marketplaces grow, they become one-stop-shops for their industry and, in doing so, monopolize more of their customer’s buying power.
Availability: Once matured, marketplaces boast assortment and efficient delivery, making them an attractive choice for customers who’ve been conditioned to value instant gratification by the likes of Amazon Prime.
Abundance: Buyers can explore numerous related products or services from one location. Marketplaces can boost sales volume because of their product depth and breadth — they’re not constrained by inventory risk like traditional ecommerce stores.
The hallmark of a positive ecommerce customer experience is that it’s unremarkable. The product is found. The purchase is made. The shipment is delivered.
Marketplaces that achieve this by focusing on two primary objectives:
Building trust on your multi-vendor marketplace is more difficult to establish than for traditional ecommerce because marketplace operators relinquish critical parts of the customer experience to sellers.
To put buyers at ease, establishing trust must underpin every interaction, big and small. Buyers must trust your marketplace to deliver what is advertised, as well as your data handling, pricing, quality, reviews, and search results. Trust is what keeps customers coming back: 95% of customers say that trusting a company increases their loyalty.
To remove friction is to eliminate obstacles between the buyer and their purchase. At the most basic level, this means an effective search function, accurate product data, easy payments (think one-click mobile purchasing), and fast load times. This can also manifest through more advanced strategies like using customer data to anticipate a customer’s next purchase.
Marketplaces are prone to more friction than traditional ecommerce sites for two reasons. 1. because multiple vendors can be involved in each purchase and 2. because of the volume of products available.
Now that we’ve identified the goal, let’s explore the building blocks of an ecommerce customer experience and how these best practices can be applied to the marketplace model.
According to McKinsey, 64% of consumers will return items due to a mismatch in product information. Reliable, consistent product information is critical to a positive buying experience.
How to do it better: Marketplaces are tasked with standardizing tens, hundreds, or thousands of products, product categories, and vendors. Doing this requires a central source of information and uniform parameters, like a product information system (PIM). PIMs standardize, centralize, and democratize product information via rules to consistently define products — by criteria like size, color, ingredients, or dimensions — across all sellers. PIMs ensure that buyers see consistent and accurate information across the entire catalog.
Marketplaces are known for product volume, so sorting products by relevance and similar attributes is critical to efficiently connect buyers to what they want. Product categories make browsing easier and reduce friction as buyers explore.
How to do it better: Consider the granularity your customers require when determining your product categories. Loose categorization might be enough if you run a model similar to Facebook Marketplace or eBay. I.e. Books, movies, music. But if your customers require precise information, like the thread size of a screw, you’ll want to offer categorization by finer attributes.
Search is incredibly important to the buyer experience: 43% of customers on retail websites go directly to the search bar. Buyers expect a search bar to deliver relevant, in-stock products to them, but since marketplaces are home to so many products, standard keyword search bars may show results that miss the mark.
How to do it better: A generative AI-powered search bar uses machine learning and large language models (LLMs) to understand the intent of customer queries and the context of product listings. For marketplaces, intelligent search bars are advantageous because they can cherry-pick relevant results from massive catalogs, forgive typos, and even auto-complete queries for the buyer.
Several sellers can participate in a single transaction on a multi-vendor marketplace. Imagine the friction if a buyer had to check out for every seller in their order.
How to do it better: Multi-vendor orders should behave like a duck: calm on the surface and paddling efficiently underneath. The buyer should experience checking out as a seamless and simple click of a button, while under the waterline, the marketplace should orchestrate the fintech and logistical components, quietly communicating order fulfillment information to all sellers involved, paying out the appropriate commissions, and keeping the books tidy for taxes.
Offering multiple payment options can increase revenue by up to 30%. It’s in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for buyers to give you their money. It’s standard practice that ecommerce stores take payment via credit card and debit. With B2B marketplace payments, even wire and ACH have become commonplace. Mobile payments, like ApplePay and Google Pay, and online checkout services, like Shop Pay, add another layer of ease because buyers don’t need a physical card to make a purchase.
How to do it better: There are over 200 alternative payment methods, from automated invoicing to POs, bank drafts, incremental payments, pay later, and financing. The best ecommerce experiences don’t force buyers into the marketplace’s preferred payment method. They cater to the buyer. If your industry has always used credit limits as its go-to payment method, your system should uphold that standard.
Marketplace operators don’t fulfill or own their products, but many marketplaces are still responsible for customer service inquiries. As a result, marketplaces must open communication channels with sellers to resolve customer issues. Marketplaces that offload some or all customer service onto sellers must have mechanisms to connect buyers with sellers for resolution via their infrastructure. Regardless of the approach, buyers will correlate their customer experience with the marketplace, not the seller, so alignment with quality vendors is critical.
How to do it better: Omnichannel support creates a consistent customer service experience across all devices, which is essential considering that 98% of Americans switch devices daily. Mobile, web, social, call, email — a Contact Us form is no longer enough to satisfy customer service needs. Not only do customers expect to shop on multiple channels, but they expect you to support them there, too.
66% of customers want companies to understand their needs and expectations, and 59% say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business. It’s important to remember your marketplace isn’t complete just because it's launched.
How to do it better: Rate, review, and “tell us how we did” email campaigns can indicate if sellers deliver on their promises. Monitoring marketplace metrics will illuminate where customers spend their time and how they engage with sellers, search functions, categories, promotions, brands, and more. Once you’ve made sense of the results, you can continue to tailor the customer experience based on common behavior.
On a marketplace, the buyer experience hinges on the sellers’ performance. Once a buyer makes a purchase, marketplace operators have little control over fulfillment. In the event of an underperforming vendor, you can dismiss them, but the damage will already be done.
How to do it better: There will always be elements of the customer experience that are out of the marketplace operators’ control. Mitigate these by starting with a strong foundation. By following vendor management best practices, you can ensure you’re building a roster of sellers dedicated to upholding service levels.
Customers don’t always announce the quality of their experience. They return to fill their cart another day — or they don’t. Focus on these marketplace metrics to understand if your customer experience is succeeding:
Customer retention rate is the number of customers a company retains over a given period. It tells you how many customers have stuck with you, indicating loyalty and satisfaction.
Customer retention rate = Total customers – new customers)/ Number of customers at start X 100
Net promotor score asks customers, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our marketplace to another person?” Those who answer 9 and 10 are known as “promoters” and will help your marketplace attract new customers. 7-8 are satisfied but not devoted and will switch to a competitor if their offer is better. And 0-6 are “detractors” who are unhappy and could negatively impact your reputation.
Net promoter score = % promoters - % detractors
Customer resolution time (or average resolution time) indicates how efficiently customer interactions are resolved. Generally speaking, fast resolution indicates an intuitive user experience and effective customer service.
Customer resolution time = Total time of all customer service tickets / Total resolved cases.
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that leave without taking any action, like scrolling or clicking. A high bounce rate indicates that the customer wasn’t directed to what they’re looking for, which could be due to poor product categorization or inadequate search results.
Optimal bounce rate = under 40%.
Poor bounce rate = over 70%. (This could indicate that something is wrong with your user experience.)
Conversion rate indicates how many visitors are becoming customers. You can drill into the conversation rate for specific pages to test the success of different web pages, web functionality, campaigns, and products.
Conversion rate = Total sales / Total visitors
Remember: You don’t need to implement all of these practices into your customer experience tomorrow. Instead, take a phased approach. Start by taking stock of the current experience you provide and prioritize the strategies with the most impact.
One thing is for sure: You need to ensure your marketplace infrastructure is set up to scale as needed. You might want to add in an intelligent search bar, integrate vendors on your PIM, and add payment methods, but if your marketplace infrastructure can’t support these functions, you’ll have to open a Pandora’s box of coding, costs, patches, and development. By hosting your marketplace on a purpose-built multi-vendor platform, you can be confident you’re creating a positive experience that can change as customer preferences do.
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