The Different Types of Digital Marketplaces

In a previous article, we looked at the different business models that startups can adopt. This time, we would like to concentrate on Different Types of Digital Marketplaces.

One of the options available to you is a marketplace.

The definition of a marketplace business model: A marketplace business model allows buyers to connect with sellers (and vice versa), charging a fee for doing so.

Did you know that marketplace-based companies are the largest companies in the world? For example, Chinese marketplace Taobao sold a staggering $538 billion of merchandise in 2019!

If you want to go down the marketplace route for your new startup, there are a lot of different options to consider.

In this article, we will look at the different types of marketplaces and how they work.

Puppets

The three different types of digital marketplaces

There are three key types of the marketplace  – B2C, B2B, and C2C.

While some of the existing marketplaces neatly fit into one of the three definitions, others aren’t so clear.

For example, you could argue that eBay technically falls into all three categories!

Business-to-customer (B2C) marketplace

A B2C marketplace allows businesses to sell their products to customers.

This is one of the most popular marketplace models, with Amazon and Alibaba examples of the most well-known. Websites like Booking.com and apps like Google Play are also B2C types of marketplaces too!

Business-to-Business (B2B) marketplace

A B2B marketplace allows businesses to sell their products to other businesses, usually in bulk or at wholesale rates.

Many B2C digital marketplaces also fall into the B2B category.

A B2B marketplace can be of benefit to smaller businesses that may not have their own eCommerce website. Alternatively, they may want to use a B2B marketplace to sell to companies that may have not otherwise heard of them.

Customer-to-customer (C2C) marketplace

Sometimes known as a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace, a C2C marketplace connects private individuals together so they can share services and products.

Freelancer platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are good examples of C2C types of digital marketplaces, where people promote services that other people can buy. Airbnb, Depop, and Uber are also examples of current C2C types of marketplaces.

C2C marketplaces are becoming more and more popular, especially with the rise of the gig economy. In China, 41% of all online retail sales are now carried out through C2C marketplaces.

The interesting thing about C2C marketplaces is that the role of people who use them switch. For example on Fiverr, someone may sell their services as a graphic designer, but then buy services from a copywriter or web developer.

How to build marketplace startup. different types of marketplaces. card in hand

Vertical vs horizontal marketplaces

As well as being classified as B2C, B2B or C2C, marketplaces can be identified as ‘vertical’ or ‘horizontal’.

Vertical marketplaces

Vertical marketplaces focus on a particular niche and sell specific products. For example, the most known vertical marketplace for us is Etsy, as it focuses on selling handmade goods.

Horizontal marketplaces

Horizontal marketplaces sell a more comprehensive range of products. For example, if you shop using a marketplace like Amazon, you can buy clothes, office supplies, and food in one transaction.

Horizontal marketplaces have a more extensive customer base, while vertical marketplaces have a smaller but arguably more loyal customer base.

How to build marketplace startup. building startup
different types of marketplaces

Managed vs unmanaged marketplaces

Another way you can define a marketplace is how tightly managed it is.

Fully managed marketplaces

With fully managed marketplaces, the marketplace carries out the transaction from beginning to end. This ensures high-quality service and an easy sale for the business making the transaction.

For example, a real estate marketplace would generally be regarded as a fully managed marketplace.

Lightly managed marketplaces

In these marketplaces, there are some background checks made on sellers. This ensures that buyers can trust sellers and that sellers are who they say they are.

For example, Uber carries out a background check on drivers to make sure they do not have any criminal convictions and that they have a valid driving license.

Unmanaged marketplaces

Unmanaged marketplaces are when the marketplace owners take more of a step back from managing the site.

Rather than user verification checks, trust is generated through reviews and ratings.  A lot of C2C marketplaces are run this way.

As a rule of thumb, the more managed the marketplace, the higher the fees charged.
There’s a growing number of marketplaces that focus on matching supply and demand instead of allowing the user to browse all supplies. It’s not quite a fully managed marketplace though like Upwork, Toptal, Gigster, Growth Collective, etc.

Outdoor sale in the shop

How do marketplaces make money?

Regardless of whether they are B2C, B2B, or C2C, marketplaces can make money in a variety of ways, including:

  • Taking a commission for every transaction
  • Charging the seller a monthly or annual fee for using the marketplace (some marketplaces may charge the buyer too)
  • Startup can charge a listing fee for each product
  • Charging for premium listings (for example, paying for better visibility in searches or sponsored profiles)
Per to per payment. types of marketplaces
digital marketplaces

Challenges for new marketplaces

Did you know that the averaged failed marketplace only has a lifespan of five years?

Building a new marketplace can be challenging, especially because there are so many large competitors out there. However, with a bit of planning, any size marketplace can be a successful one.

Here are some of our top tips.

  • Know your target audience and the challenges they have. This will help you build a marketplace that they will want to use
  • Have safety at the heart of your marketplace. Buyers want to know they are purchasing from someone reliable, and sellers want to know that they will get paid. Putting measures in place to build trust at both ends will encourage people to sign up
  • Don’t be too broad to start off with. By starting small, you can test the waters and scale up later

In conclusion

Creating a marketplace startup that people will want to use is challenging. 

However, if you get it right and create something that solves people’s problems, buyers and sellers alike will be clamoring to use your service.

If you want to find out more about creating the perfect marketplace, we love The Lean Marketplace by Juho Makkonen.

Wasn’t this enough for you to read about different types of digital marketplaces? in this case, check 24 cool tactics used by big marketplaces.

If you need more advice determining the right marketplace for you, You Are Launched can help. 

We have been working with a range of lean startups since 2014, helping them to grow, develop and generate high levels of profit. 

Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you launch the perfect marketplace.

Scroll to Top