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How to Avoid Being a Marketplace Miscreant in 2021

Online marketplaces have given businesses unmatched opportunities to reach new audiences. They have a role to play for emerging e-commerce brands and iconic retailers, such as Hamleys, alike. For the former, they’ve become cost-efficient alternatives to buying up expensive shelf space in-store, while they have been another valuable sales channel for more established retail brands during the lockdown.

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However, it’s not all good news: the fast sign-up process to most marketplaces is a double-edged sword enabling less scrupulous sellers – counterfeiters, scammers, scalpers, and the like – also make a beeline for these sites.

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A Question of Trust

Many shoppers trust in the brand managing the platform to protect their interests, that isn’t necessarily guaranteed if the sale isn’t made through an official seller though. Then there’s the issue of provenance. Consumers are hard-wired to opt for the lowest price. But other sellers are obliged to price-match to compete, regardless of whether their competitor has circumvented the official supply chain to source their stock from unofficial channels – even if that’s from the back of a lorry!

Recent research from consumer champion Which? uncovered numerous websites selling glowing reviews for as little as £5. Five-star reviews remain the gold standard for marketplaces like Amazon, a customer is most often going to buy the product with 5,000 five star reviews over the one with one thousand.

Couple this issue with lower-priced copycat products – from sellers that are well versed in gaming the algorithms but less so in customer service and returns – appearing in branded searches. A single brand product search on Amazon can surface dozens of pages of products. While most come from reputable resellers, not all do. Non-branded products wouldn’t necessarily be classified as counterfeit, but not all have necessarily gone through the same rigorous quality assurance checks.

That’s a problem for the brand equity of legitimate retailers. Trust is key, when shoppers have a bad experience all sellers using the platform are tarred by the same brush.

Responsible Actors

Marketplaces are fighting back against the bad actors to ensure both brands and customers are confident using their platforms. For instance, Amazon uses brand gating, a rigorous registration process, to vet third-party sellers before allowing them to list. Its Vine reviews program also confers certified status to verified reviewers and highlights if and how they have been incentivized to write the review.

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While these are welcome moves, responsible sellers would be wise to employ additional strategies to demonstrate they put customers first.

Inspiring consumer confidence means investing the time to engage with shoppers directly. Amazon’s Q&A section allows sellers to offer one-to-one advice to shoppers. Also, responding to feedback in reviews – whether that’s positive or negative – is a way to initiate meaningful dialogue and demonstrably address any issues customers might be having – and crucially within the public sphere.

These types of activities give sellers an opportunity to engage in the customer care process in ways that extend beyond point of sale. They help brands develop stronger relationships with consumers that go from initial exploration to delivery.

However, the Devil really is in the detail when it comes to making customers feel valued and something as simple as a “thank-you note” can help turn a shopper into a brand advocate.

Better content, better brands

It’s understandable customers will choose products that will make less of a dent in their wallets and shoppers on marketplaces have a multitude of search and filtering options to help them find the best price. But there’s a bigger brand story at play, depending on the platform at least. People use sites like eBay to find products they know they want at the right price point, but they go on Amazon to buy brands.

Consequently, Amazon’s Storefront options offer the means for brands to make the most of rich media – imagery and video – alongside in-depth product descriptions. It’s this level of detail that can persuade shoppers to opt for a premium brand over a cheaper equivalent. A more professional-looking listing also confers trust, buyers can be confident they are buying from a reputable seller.

Small businesses operating on a site like Etsy won’t necessarily have the means to use professionally produced audio-visual content. However, some have generated loyal followings through building stories that resonate with shoppers. A lockdown launch or a family operation detailed in the summary section, celebrates the craftsmanship behind the brand to connote authenticity.

In each case, these details speak to the engaged shopper. But there’s only a few seconds to catch a consumer’s eye if they’re idly browsing over their lunch break (for instance). These individuals won’t be trawling through reviews, Q&As or any other promotional copy. Imagery is what makes someone stay on a page so visual curation is all-important.

Etsy allows sellers to choose designs that echo the brand identity, Amazon Storefronts enables sellers to showcase seasonal offerings or best-sellers. Aligning the look and feel of marketplace listings to the official website further boosts authority and inspires confidence.

Policing the bad players on marketplaces is akin to digital whack-a-mole as shutting down an account won’t stop them cropping up under a new alias. However, they won’t take the time to make their listing look professional if it only has a limited lifespan.

Until the e-commerce sector is able to solve the issue of fake reviews, public trust risks being diminished. In the meantime, legitimate sellers should trade on look and feel to demonstrate they are able to take the time to invest in the marketplace. In the longer-term, it’s their engagement with customers on the listing that will demonstrate their credentials.

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