Marketplace website features: The complete guide
If you want to build a successful marketplace business, you need to make sure your website has all the core marketplace features. This guide explores every feature you need to deliver memorable user experiences and create a winning business.
Table of Contents
- What are marketplace website features?
- Marketplace features you need from day 1
- Features for specific types of marketplace
- Ways to develop online marketplace features
- Start building your marketplace today
What are marketplace website features?
And why marketplaces can't be built with traditional website builders.
So, you’ve decided to start a marketplace business. Congratulations! You’re about to set off on a truly exciting journey.
At this stage, it can feel like you have a million decisions to make. One of the most important? Deciding on a list of features for the first version of your website.
You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll share a complete list of marketplace website features, from customer search to secure checkout.
Marketplaces vs. other websites: What’s the difference?
There are many different types of websites, from advanced eCommerce stores to simple blogs. A marketplace website is different from all of them.
As a marketplace, you exist to connect two key groups of people: sellers and buyers. Marketplace websites are multi-vendor websites that connect buyers with thousands of unique sellers. Every seller brings their own product or service inventory to the platform and fulfills customer orders.
These sellers need to be able to run their business on your marketplace: create listings of their products or services, manage availability, and handle online payments. Customers, on the other hand, need to be able to browse and sort through listings, evaluate different sellers, and make secure payments.
And the marketplace owner – that’s you – needs to be able to take a commission on each transaction.
A marketplace is more complex than most other types of websites.
To make all this possible, your website needs a set of specific marketplace features. Most businesses, including traditional eCommerce stores, only have to deal with one side of this equation. Very often, the list of features needed is shorter and simpler than for a marketplace. That’s why attempts to build a marketplace using generic website or eCommerce builders often fail.
Understanding exactly what features marketplace apps need – and how you can build them as affordably as possible – is key to your success. After all, without these features, you don’t have a marketplace, and without a marketplace, you don’t have a business.
Start by building a Minimum Viable Platform
Online marketplaces are complex websites. And because the marketplace business model is becoming increasingly popular, there’s bound to be competition. You need to offer your users a great experience from day one.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean you need to offer every single feature and functionality of an advanced marketplace from day one. You just need to offer the right ones.
As you set out to build your marketplace, start by identifying the features that are essential to your Minimum Viable Platform (MVP). Your MVP is the first version of your marketplace. It should have all the key features you need to solve a problem for your users better than any other existing solutions. Nothing more, nothing less.
But what exactly are those features? Let’s take a closer look. Or, if you prefer to learn by doing, start building your marketplace with our fully-featured marketplace builders.
Marketplace features you need from day 1
When you're just getting started, speed up time to market by focusing on nailing the basics first.
If you’re just starting to build your marketplace, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You probably have a lot of ideas for features but no time to build them. Not to mention that building a marketplace app from scratch is challenging and very expensive.
Focus on nailing the basics first to speed up time to market. Build your business, not your tech. Here are ten key marketplace feature groups:
- Accounts and user profiles
- Search and discovery
- Checkout with secure online payments
- On-platform communication
- Bookings and availability
- Reliable, SEO-optimized website structure
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Accounts and user profiles
Every user on your marketplace – sellers and buyers both – needs their own account.
While setting up accounts sounds simple, there are a lot of moving parts to consider. New users must be able to sign up for an account, verify their email address, create a password, and more. Once a user has an account, they must be able to log in, change their details, and create a profile with their name, photo, and other information.
All of this needs to be done in a way that both keeps user data secure and is compliant with any legal requirements (like GDPR).
Depending on your marketplace type, buyers and sellers may need slightly different account features. For example, if your supply side consists of businesses, they may want a profile page that makes their business stand out.
As a marketplace owner, you also need the ability to manage user accounts: verify, ban, and delete accounts (more on marketplace admin features later).
The more complete a listing is, the more likely buyers are to convert.
Your marketplace listing pages are your inventory. They’re essentially pages on your marketplace for sellers to display their products and buyers to browse the different options.
Exactly what your listings look like will depend on your platform.
On Airbnb, every property has a listing containing pictures, information, house rules, pricing, and more. Customers search for these listings by location and availability. On Etsy, listing information often includes facts like materials, size, color options, and delivery options. Customers may search by these attributes, but commonly not by location. On both platforms, reviews from past customers are a crucial part of building trust in the supplier and the marketplace.
The more complete a listing is, the more likely buyers are to convert, so it’s important you make sure your listings feature is comprehensive. Give sellers the ability to add and edit titles, pictures, descriptions, prices, and save their listings as drafts.
Again, as a marketplace admin, you'll also want the ability to monitor, change, approve, close, and delete listings if necessary.
Search and discovery
Search and discovery tools help buyers find what they’re looking for on your marketplace. As a marketplace entrepreneur, it’s your job to make that process as easy as possible. There are two main ways to do this: search and discovery.
Let’s look at marketplace search first. When a user comes to your marketplace, the first thing they’ll do is likely to start a keyword search for what they’re looking for.
Here’s how this works in practice. WheelPrice is an online marketplace for car enthusiasts to buy and sell wheels. If a user needs a new set of wheels they might search for “Honda 18in wheels”. The marketplace then shows all listings for wheels that match these criteria.
Search isn’t always this simple. For rental marketplaces, users often search by location. Swimmy, an online marketplace that lets users rent private pools, works this way, helping users find nearby pools they can rent. Users likely also want to search by availability – there’s no point showing them pools nearby that are already fully booked.
Discovery is the second main way buyers discover products. These tools allow buyers to find products in different categories, giving structure to your marketplace. As you gain more users, you can add sub-categories. At first, it’s best to keep things simple and start with just a few broad categories.
Checkout with secure online payments
As a marketplace entrepreneur, your goal is to make money: both for yourself and your sellers. To do that, you need a secure checkout process that allows buyers to pay online.
Marketplace payments must comply with a range of payment regulations that make building a checkout very complicated.
Here’s one example. On marketplaces, you need to be able to send payouts to all your sellers. But these payouts are subject to all kinds of regulation, anti-money-laundering legislation, and fraud-prevention measures. Global payouts are especially challenging.
To make things even more complicated, most marketplaces also need to split every payment from a customer. One part of that payment goes to the seller as a payout, and another to the marketplace as the service fee. The seller's payout can't be routed through your marketplace – otherwise, regulators might consider you to be acting as a bank.
Marketplaces also need all of the standard online payment features, such as multiple payment options, 3-D secure authentication, and cancellations and refunds.
Building payment processing infrastructure from scratch can be a nightmare for marketplace entrepreneurs. And most website and eCommerce builders don’t offer sufficient payment features for marketplaces out of the box.
Fortunately, there are third-party marketplace payment providers that can handle payments for you, although building the integration can be tricky. A better solution is using marketplace software that has pre-built payment features.
Marketplace payments are complicated and subject to all kinds of regulation.
Buyers and sellers must be able to communicate with each other. Buyers might have questions about items before placing an order. Sellers need a way to share updates with buyers after their purchase.
On-platform communication is typically achieved through a messaging tool; a common marketplace feature that allows buyers and sellers to communicate quickly and easily.
Your messaging feature could block users from sharing information like their phone number or email address which encourages off-platform transactions. This is called “marketplace leakage” and can be a major revenue drainer for marketplace businesses. However, usually the best way to prevent marketplace leakage is providing value, not adding features to limit communciation.
In addition to on-platform communication, you should consider how you communicate with your users. For example, do you send automatic notifications when a user receives a new message, booking, or review on your platform?
As a new marketplace, one of your hardest tasks is building trust between buyers and sellers. One simple way to boost trust is a reviews feature. When sellers have more reviews, they’re much more likely to be successful.
On many marketplaces, also providers need the ability to review the customers. For example, Airbnb hosts want to be confident that their guests are reliable. Two-sided reviews are particularly important for rental and service marketplaces.
After buyers receive their purchase or their booking is completed, both providers and customers should be asked to leave a review that includes at least a rating, possibly a couple of short sentences and pictures or video. A “blind review” feature makes reviews even more reliable. This means that both parties can only see how they’ve been reviewed after they have submitted their review.
Marketplace software helps you manage this entire process automatically for every transaction on your platform.
Bookings and availability
Your sellers need tools that allow them to manage their business. Especially for rental and service marketplaces, a booking and availability feature is a fundamental component of that.
Consider the example of Airbnb again. Buyers need to select the dates they want to stay at a property. Meanwhile, sellers need to block off dates when they want to use the property themselves. And they of course want the dates they’ve already sold to be blocked out automatically – otherwise, they'd have a big double-bookings issue on their hands.
A product marketplace like Etsy doesn’t need calendar availability, but they do need a feature for suppliers to manage their stock. Service marketplaces might need an availability calendar and a “seats” feature that specifies how many people can book any given time slot.
These marketplace features are vital to manage availability and avoid disappointed customers. Powerful booking management is also a core selling point for the supply side.
As a marketplace admin, you need the ability to monitor and manage your marketplace.
So far, we’ve only talked about features for buyers and sellers on your marketplace. But there’s a third stakeholder to consider: you, the operator of the marketplace.
First of all, you need the ability to control what goes on in your marketplace. You need access to user profiles, listings, and messages. You need to be able to move customers forward in their transaction process manually in case of glitches. You send notifications and emails to your users. And sometimes, unfortunately, you need to ban users or delete listings that violate your terms of service.
Second, you want insights into how users behave on your platform. Your marketplace is your business and your admin features should help you learn how to run it better. User analytics are important, as is the ability to monitor the entire transaction process from the first point of contact between a buyer and seller to the last. Use these insights to learn more about your buyers and sellers. Then, make changes to your marketplace features that make the platform a better place for everyone.
The best way to grow your marketplace depends on your business idea and audience. At the very least, you probably want a way to send your users email and notifications. You probably also want an integration to some traffic analytics tools. Possibly, you also want to create additional content pages that communicate your story to your users. You might want to integrate a blog to your marketplace and create marketing content such as customer stories or company blog pots.
As your business grows, you may also need the ability to integrate your platform to third-party tools, such as marketing automation tools, CRMs, specific analytics tools, and so on. While you shouldn’t worry about all of them for your first version, making sure that such integrations are possible at some point can be a good idea.
Reliable, SEO-optimized website structure
As a marketplace entrepreneur, you’re not just responsible for your own business. You’re also responsible for all the sellers who run a business through your platform. Part of that obligation is providing a reliable platform.
There are several components to this:
Monitoring, hosting, and maintenance
Your marketplace should stay online 24/7. That means building all of your marketplace features on a solid hosting platform and taking a proactive approach to managing performance issues.
It’s also important your marketplace platform can handle scale. Growth can happen fast, and having the right technologies in place to handle a spike or traffic can make or break your success.
It's important your marketplace platform can handle scale. Growth can happen fast.
Secure data storage
Your marketplace hosts a lot of valuable data: from buyer’s personal and payment information to the tax details of sellers and all the images your users upload. That makes it crucial for your marketplace to store that data not only scalably but in a GDPR-compliant way and have a strong security system in place.
These days, well over half of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices, and that number is only continuing to grow. All of your marketplace app features should be compatible with mobile browsers.
Features for specific types of marketplace
Essentials for product, service, and rental marketplaces.
By now, you might have picked up on the fact that different types of marketplaces need different types of features. Let’s take a look at the unique features three of the most popular types of marketplace need to be successful.
Product marketplaces connect sellers of physical goods with buyers. These types of marketplaces usually start with one category and expand to complementary products.
One of the best-known product marketplaces is Etsy, which started as a marketplace for amateur furniture makers to sell their creations online. Today, there are over 60 million products available on Etsy.
Successful product marketplaces have several marketplace website features other types of marketplaces don’t need. These include:
Sellers usually only have a certain amount of stock. Once it’s gone, they don’t have any more to sell. Providing sellers stock management tools ensures you avoid disappointed buyers who aren’t able to get the product they thought they purchased.
Consider carefully before you build elaborate shipping or shopping cart functionality.
Shipping & returns
On many marketplaces, the policy is that the shipping of products is at the seller’s responsibility. This means that you need features for the customer to choose between shipping and pickup and provide their delivery address, and for the seller to include a shipping fee in their pricing and mark the item as shipped. Choosing a shipping method is at the provider’s discretion. Often, this is more than enough for early-stage marketplaces.
When sellers ship a product, buyers should receive a notification. The ability to track their delivery builds additional trust and confidence. Your marketplace should also give sellers the ability to set their own return policies. When a buyer returns an item, they should be able to view these policies, get instructions for returning the item, and receive a refund.
At some point, product marketplaces may consider an integration with a full-fledged shipping service provider to make the shipping and returns process even smoother, but this often isn’t necessary if you’re just starting out.
Consider adding a shopping cart to your marketplace if you expect a big part of your customers to purchase multiple items in one go. This is the case on big marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay, but rarely needed for smaller niche marketplaces.
If buyers often purchase several items from different sellers, they should be able to view all their items in one shopping cart, remove items as needed, and pay in a single transaction. A multi-vendor shopping cart is very complicated to build, so think carefully about whether you truly need one – most marketplaces don’t.
Rental marketplaces connect buyers with sellers who have items to rent. Probably the best-known rental marketplace is Airbnb, a global platform that allows users to rent other people’s homes. Rental marketplaces can cover anything from adventure equipment (Quipmo) to swimming pools (Swimmy) to cars (DriveLah). Regardless of offering, there are several standard rental marketplace features most platforms need:
When buyers are exploring their options, they should be able to see the location of the item they’re renting on a map. They should also be able to search listings based on geolocation.
There are often two levels to location features. Pre-purchase, marketplace platforms typically display an approximate location so as to not give away the seller’s location. Post-purchase, the exact address buyers need to go to check in or collect their rental is often shared.
Increased trust mechanisms
On rental marketplaces, sellers are often renting extremely valuable items to buyers, such as their homes and vehicles. That makes trust between buyer and seller extremely important. To build this trust, marketplaces should add additional features.
For example, you might require both buyers and sellers to verify their identity before they can participate in a rental on the platform. Or perhaps you add reviews not just for sellers, but for buyers too. That gives sellers some reassurance that the buyer will take care of their property when it’s rented to them.
As you consider which online marketplace features you need to maximize marketplace trust, listen to your users. Building trust is important, but you don’t want to alienate buyers and sellers with overly strict trust mechanisms.
Trust between buyers and sellers is extremely important on marketplaces.
A service marketplace allows buyers to purchase services from a community of sellers. These services can be extremely varied and could represent anything from hiring a website developer halfway around the world to finding a local service professional or a peer-to-peer dog walker.
There are many examples of successful service marketplaces including platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and Thumbtack. Service marketplaces require many of the same marketplace platform features as rental marketplaces, with a few notable tweaks.
Many people may only want to browse for services close to their location. Need an electrician? You’re not going to hire someone from across the country: you need someone within a few miles of your home.
For other professional services, such as content writers or graphic designers, buyers might have less requirements for location. However, they may want to hire someone in a certain timezone to allow for overlap in working hours. Building these marketplace features helps users better use the platform to find the professionals they need.
Particularly in services, if your marketplace operates in a specific niche, it’s often worth considering developing niche-specific features.
For example, a marketplace that allows businesses to hire high-end business consultants might consider adding features that support large enterprise users. These might include payments with Purchase Orders (POs), personalized customer support, or the ability to set onboarding tasks for sellers to complete before beginning a project.
Trust mechanisms are often critical, too, especially for services like baby-sitting and other services where customers invite strangers to their home.
Ways to develop online marketplace features
How you build your marketplace features depends on your technical skills, time, and budget.
Once you’ve decided on a marketplace features list, it’s time to think about how to build your platform. There are a few options, each with benefits and drawbacks.
Here is a brief overview of the main ways to build a marketplace platform. Find out more about each of them in our article on ways to develop a marketplace.
Custom-coding a marketplace from scratch will likely cost you north of $50,000.
Custom code a marketplace from scratch
If you’re an experienced software developer, it’s possible to code a marketplace from scratch. Don’t have the skills for that? Another option is hiring a software developer to work for you. Here's our guide to developing a marketplace app from the ground up.
Pros: you can make every single feature unique and build your marketplace exactly the way you want it.
Cons: this is an expensive, time-consuming process that will likely cost north of $50,000 and take months to complete.
Use open-source marketplace software or scripts
Open-source marketplace software and scripts often come with the basic foundations of a functioning marketplace. You can then add your own features, branding, and more. Here's our guide to open-source marketplace solutions, and this article discusses building a marketplace with PHP scripts.
Pros: having the basics already built for you saves time and money, freeing you up to focus on customizing the experience and adding unique marketplace website features.
Cons: development still takes time, and you’ll be responsible for hosting and maintenance. The developer experience is often limited and as your marketplace scales, you might realize you have to rebuild everything from scratch.
Generic website builders with plug-ins
With the right plug-ins, it’s possible to take a generic website builder and turn it into a marketplace website. Platforms like Shopify and WordPress require little technical expertise, meaning you can get your marketplace up and running quickly. Here's more on the benefits and drawbacks of building a marketplace with Wordpress.
Pros: these tools tend to be affordable and work with a wide range of plugins that you can use to create a basic marketplace platform.
Cons: finding the right plugins and tying them all together into a great user experience is extremely difficult. As your marketplace grows, you’ll likely find that you’re unable to add features that are important to your users. In many ways, this approach is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Marketplace software can get you started in just a few hours, often without any coding.
Use marketplace software
For most marketplace businesses, using a marketplace Software as a Service (SaaS) tool is the best option. These platforms have all the marketplace features needed to get your business up and running. You can get started in just a few hours, without any coding.
Pros: easy to set up, reliable, and affordable, marketplace software platforms like Sharetribe Go are the perfect solution for first-time marketplace entrepreneurs. You can choose from a huge selection of pre-built marketplace platform features to create a seamless user experience.
Cons: as your business grows, you might need to upgrade to a more advanced marketplace platform to get the customization you need. Sharetribe users can upgrade from Go to Flex, an API-based marketplace solution when they’re ready to add more advanced features.
If you want to compare marketplace solutions, check out our guide to Sharetribe alternatives.
Start building your marketplace today
Launch your marketplace fast to learn fast – and keep improving your business as you go.
To be a successful marketplace entrepreneur, it’s important to think carefully about the marketplace website features you want your platform to offer. However, there comes a point after which the best way to learn is to start building your business.
While no two marketplaces are the same, many marketplaces share the same set of basic features. Don't waste time reinventing the wheel. Focus on launching your marketplace quickly to validate your idea and start learning how you can solve your user’s biggest problems. Once you gain traction and begin to scale, add unique new features that help you create a marketplace ecosystem loved by buyers and sellers alike.
At Sharetribe, we’ve developed our marketplace building technology with this exact process in mind. With Sharetribe Go, anyone can set up a marketplace in just a few hours: no coding required. Once you’ve validated the core concept of your marketplace with early users, upgrade to Sharetribe Flex, our powerful API-based marketplace builder. With a powerful back-end and the freedom to custom-create any feature, Sharetribe Flex has everything you need to build a marketplace that makes a difference to the lives of millions of your users.
Let's get started!