How to Turn Your Virtual Ecommerce Marketplace Platform into a Community

McKinsey report says that "word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all buying decisions." Thus, an active community of dedicated users is fundamental for online multi vendor shopping centers in gaining potential customers.

Besides, a community is often an integral part of online marketplace users' lives. It's one of the reasons why productive sellers are leaving popular online shopping malls in favor of those that offer a more professional and benevolent community.

Virtual multi vendor marketplace websites are approaching community creation differently.

Etsy built up its shopping multi vendor platform on the basis of an active and large artisans community that already existed.

BlaBlaCar educated the targeted audience about its former brand-new car-sharing service, to form a dedicated community from scratch.

Whether you are developing an existing community or growing it from scratch, there are sets of factors that influence its initial success and further viral growth.

Community concept preparation

Know your typical community members

One of the main advice of Paul Graham, an early Airbnb investor, was "go and get to know your users."

The member of travelers' community, flea market forum or artisans' online marketplace shopping platform, will be a person with a different set of interests, habits, and needs. That set of characteristics is something that forms the community and creates a picture of it for new members.

To create a community that matches those characteristics, build up a picture of your community typical user:
virtual ecommerce marketplace platform
Udemy, a marketplace for online education, has its ideal supplier (online courses instructor) profile:
online multi vendor shopping center
Once the core batch of members joined, the community starts growing on its own, and it's hard to change its voice later on.

Thus, instead of growing the community by attracting as many random members as possible, focus on those that share its ideas and values to set an example for future members.
Define your community idea and mission
A clear idea and mission help potential members to identify with your multi-seller marketplace and allows you to find the people who relate to it.

To identify your community mission, answer the following questions:

  • what is the purpose of our community;
  • why it exists.
Udemy community mission:
virtual multi vendor marketplace website
Together with a typical user profile considered earlier, a clear vision helps the ecommerce marketplace center to identify the most suitable community members and grow it in an organized manner on a long term.

Also, it helps to establish the tone of communication within your community, and maintain unity among the users.

Robert Kalin, the Etsy founder, expressed the following idea of the multi-seller marketplace community: "we believe that the world cannot keep consuming the way it does now and that buying handmade is part of the solution."

Etsy's core mission is to help crafters make a living from what they make and to connect creative entrepreneurs with buyers in search of unique goods.

An actionable idea and mission that resonates with Etsy users helped the online marketplace shopping platform to grow its members' number to 1.9 millions of sellers and 33.4 millions of buyers in 2017.

The idea Airbnb is building its community around is a world where "Anyone Can Belong Anywhere."

Airbnb Belong Anywhere campaign:
shopping multi vendor platform
This vision is put into reality through the shopping multi vendor platform hosts. They enable strangers to feel like locals by welcoming them and make them feel belonged.

To create the idea that resonates with the existing community, the virtual multi vendor marketplace website team surveyed 485 hosts, guests, and employees.

It fits the main value of the targeted audience—travelers: your home is where you lay your hat.

Thus, your online multi vendor shopping center idea and mission should be a topic tangential to the virtual ecommerce marketplace platform itself, but something that your targeted audience is passionate about.

If a virtual multi vendor marketplace website is selling clothes, an idea can be created around fashion.
Choose the side to focus on
Some ecommerce marketplace centers build a community around both buyers and sellers.

BlaBlaCar highlights the stories of both drivers and passengers on the same page:
online marketplace shopping platform
Airbnb, as the opposite, is centering its community around suppliers (hosts).

There can be a large overlap between buyers and sellers: Airbnb hosts stay with other hosts during their own travels, and Etsy sellers purchase each other's products actively. In this case, a united community is an option.

When there is no such overlap on an online marketplace shopping platform, it's best to start with the side that brings more transactions over a given time period and thus enables liquidity.
Community building
Udemy sets up two main pillars of community building:

  • commitment;
  • collaboration.
Airbnb puts collaboration as the cornerstone of a successful community as well.

To enable collaboration, provide all technical tools and a welcoming environment that fosters the growth of friendly and close relationships between the community members.

To build commitment, support the users' interests, solve the problems that are connected with their growth and engage them through useful events and educational content.
Engage users with a step-by-step approach
Online communities usually work by 90-9-1 Rule:

  • 1 percent of active members: they post and initiate a discussion;
  • 9 percent of users contribute a little;
  • 90 percent of members are not active.
Douglas Atkin, Global Head of Community for Airbnb, is advising to use The Commitment Curve to turn inactive members into highly-involved community users.

The Community Curve is engaging the users by starting with very simple actions, and then moving to more difficult tasks within a community:
multi-seller marketplace
Getting users to gradually become an active member is easier than jumping straight to a community leader or mentor.

Douglas Atkin is pointing out that, even though the process takes time, it's very hard to break a community apart once the majority of users moved through the curve successfully.
Establish an inspiring and useful community agenda
Major networks like Facebook and Twitter offer general content while a community centers around a specific area and provides the content of high value for the targeted audience.

Thus, people are attracted to communities based on the content.

At the shopping multi vendor platform early beginnings, Etsy created The Storque magazine as a hub of engaging content that perfectly fits its targeted audience—artisans:
global multi vendor marketplace
Also, by highlighting the users' personal stories, you humanize your community and connect with new members on a human level.

Uber tells the stories of its drivers from all walks of life: "mothers and fathers, teachers and students, artists and athletes," for each member of the community to find something in common with other users:
ecommerce marketplace center
Besides, turn your community into the main source of the users' professional and personal growth.

Etsy constantly holds educational and professional events: workshops, best practices, and covers other users' main concerns.

Etsy Craft Nights:
global virtual marketplaces
In addition to that, the online multi vendor shopping center had hired a few of the best Etsy sellers to spread their skills to other sellers.

To rally your community members together, build a strong culture and sense of identity with entertaining events:

Lyft's traditional driver meetups:
e-commerce website
Flawless communication between community members
The Etsy community users claim that working from home makes them feel isolated.

That is a typical problem of online marketplace shopping platform vendors.
Belonging to a big community helps to raise one's mood, energy, power, and braveness.

The virtual multi vendor marketplace website created one of the strongest communities by using the tools to connect users.

Etsy forums help to keep you updated about the multi-seller marketplace industry news and stay in touch with other sellers, creating a sense of a global team, that is supporting its members with any issue.

By using convo, a one-on-one conversation tool, users can talk to each other on a friendly basis.

As a result, Etsy sellers are actively supporting each other, which is the core sign of a mature community:
shopping mall management program
Besides, Etsy introduced many artisans from all over the world to enable them to create projects together.
Community organization: the need for a catalyst
The importance of the community catalysts, the ecommerce marketplace center employees or the active community members, is that they foster development by creating interest and motivation for action and communication.

According to The Community Development Handbook, community members often make their first move because of the credibility of the catalyst.

Douglas Atkin is emphasizing that relying on a single community manager creates a single point of failure.

Thus, Airbnb is using the following community building model:
run multi vendor website
The Organizers, the Community Managers in the case of Airbnb, don't manage the community themselves. They enable its autonomous work by finding and training volunteers (NTL, Neighborhood Team Leaders in the picture above) for leadership roles within the community.

By having many decentralized leaders among community members, you can seamlessly scale your community to any size you need.

Etsy Teams is another example of decentralized sub-communities within a whole online marketplace shopping platform community. Those teams are located around the world and are self-organized.

Etsy Brighton team:
launch multivendor ecommerce store
Each team has one or more Leaders called "Captains".

Thanks to such community organization, each team can do both: set up its own agenda that fits local members flawlessly and join the global multi vendor marketplace community events.

It helps to cover the needs of each community member, even if there are millions of users around the world.
Moderation
The users are the most powerful factor in your community.

When Reddit fired its community administrator Victoria Taylor, the community answered with protests.

Thus, you need to announce and implement any changes carefully.

Transparency and clear communication is a must to enable buy-in of any changes. To be on the same page regarding the actions that are welcome and those that are not, set up detailed community rules.

Etsy Community Rules:
build multi vendor website
Besides, establish the mechanism for conflict resolution:

  • identify the problem, not the symptoms;
  • understand who is involved;
  • separate the person from the problem;
  • identify possible options for resolving the problem;
  • pick an option and act upon it.
Additionally, monitor the community mood and gather feedback regularly. That's how you'll be able to catch any issue in its early stage.
Further growth
Once you formed the core part of the community, and existing members are engaged, spread the word to gain new users.

It'll help to grow your clients base, not solely through customer acquisition methods, but by those users who initially joined your community, being attracted by its values and idea, and only later become your marketplace customers.

Use online platforms and social media to promote your community outside of a virtual multi vendor marketplace site.

Etsy uses an additional Instagram account, Etsy Success, to spread the community values and gain new users:
create shopping mall
The potential members will join your social media groups first, and once they are sure that your shopping multi vendor platform community idea resonates with their values, they will join the community as active members.

Besides that, tap into existing communities that contain your targeted audience.

That's how Etsy got thousands of users from the onset: a large crafting forum members registered for the multi-seller marketplace, started selling, and joined Etsy community.

Word of mouth is another successful strategy of the ecommerce marketplace center.

Etsy sponsors events, such as New York's Renegade Craft Fair, which fit its targeted audience completely.

Also, the global multi vendor marketplace hosts regional street teams, where members get together to promote their wares and Etsy.

As a result, about 80 percent of Etsy members learned of the site through word of mouth.

Getting off the internet helps many online marketplace shopping platforms to increase their communities.

Etsy had a team attending craft shows across the US almost every weekend.

Airbnb built a team of few people and sent them to talk to locals, attend local events and distribute flyers.

It showed a significant result: the markets where Airbnb had a physical presence kept growing twice as fast as their other markets.
True Experience #1
Tom Fecarotta
the Marketing Manager for Rheaply, an online marketplace for universities/biopharma vendors, and a Techstars company based out of Chicago.
1. What's your experience in building a marketplace community?

Rheaply is addressing the lack of resources in R&D facilities and the rising cost of doing research (the 'resource gap'). We accomplish this with a marketplace that allows researchers around the nation share, collaborate, and optimize their resources and ideas.

One day as a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University in late 2014, our founder Garry Cooper had some research samples and equipment left over. A common practice is to discard them, but Garry had alternative idea — share them with his lab teammates. One of them expressed interest, but also asked what Garry had wanted in return. It was this simple conversation and request that gave Garry the "Aha! Moment". Since that time, we've built up a shared community with four distinct marketplaces: 1. Listings 2. Requests 3.. Rentals and 4. Collaborations

2. What steps can increase a community?

Start with simple exchanges and free items. It sounds so easy, but the only way to build liquidity in the marketplace is to have activity. Once that happens, the rest settles into place.

3. What opportunities does a community give for online marketplace development?

We made it a priority to have a marketplace that's built with the shared economy in mind. Rheaply is sort of like Slack for scientists – those who want help with experiments and connect with others can do that or simply use it as an asset management tool to have better insight into the flow of materials. Rheaply hopes this will lead to more connections, meet and greets or makerspace co-working opportunities, co-authorships on published research, etc. These are interactions the research community could use more of, and we think a community-driven approach to an online marketplace will be a big part in making that a reality.

True Experience #2
Robert Garcia, the marketing director in iPatioUmbrella.com
At first we flirted with the idea of a forum, or chatroom, but the added administrative time needed for those things didn't add up to us. We concentrated on person to person contacts and communication. We where able to connect a lot of our customers with each other over the simple act of introducing them in person on the phone.
Never give up on your phone calls and people reaching out for information. We've created a nice little community of home contractors, designers, business owners who are all available from a quick phone call.


True Experience #3
James Guldan
CEO Vision Tech Team http://visiontechteam.com
I have written several articles on this, and my company has helped clients launch over $100,000,000 in ecommerce sales.

The #1 thing we see as a differentiator from a million dollar ecommerce company revenue and multiples of that is building a community.

A community is built around your niche or the problem that you're solving. It's about getting like-minded people together with the goal of improving everyone's outcome.

There are usually many different communities out there for your niche. However, when YOU create a community, you have massive positioning power.

This makes your company much more stable because you have a community you can share and test ideas with, get product feedback from, and even feel supported by when you need it most.

This also increases the Lifetime Value of customers, reduces churn, creates an informal ascension model, and increases the valuation of your business.

The most important thing that your community can give you is the ability to grow incredibly quickly using the other methods described outlined in this article.

Here's How:Create a community around your info product, either by doing live events or by adding community elements to your product (forum's, groups, mentors, etc.).

TIP: Make sure that you are spending at least 25% of your operating budget on building a community. Best investment you will ever make.


Douglas Atkin, Global Head of Airbnb Community, is claiming that there are two core elements that are crucial for community building:

  • like-minded people;
  • flawless interactions between those individuals
Thus, understand the passion that brings users to your community, provide the ability to communicate seamlessly even for large members' amount, enable users constant growth and engage them with events that reflect your community and its members' mutual culture and values.
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