Mind the knowledge gap in marketplace business

In a growing market, a detailed understanding of marketplace business is still rare. Here’s how to arm yourself with marketplace knowledge for success

During the first half of 2020, Zalando onboarded 180 new partners onto their marketplace. At the same time the GMV of their partner program increased 100% compared to the previous year.

The demand of brands in terms of selling their products via marketplace business grew significantly this year due to the shift from offline to online sales.

As the “Marktplatzstudie Deutschland” study released at the end of 2019 shows, 67% of brands are already offering their products via online marketplaces. Commercially, marketplaces already have a big relevance, accounting for 28.2% of total e-commerce. However, the same study also shows 17% of marketplace sellers are not able to quantify their marketplace turnover at all. This market is and will become even more relevant in the future. But since it is still a relatively new way of doing sales online, it suffers from a huge knowledge gap on how to properly manage it.

According to the study, among Retailers and Brands in Germany, knowledge on how to work successfully with some of the country’s key marketplaces is limited. With the exception of Amazon and eBay, only 5 to 10% of managers stated they have a “good” marketplace knowledge. And this includes very well-known and large ones like Otto or Zalando.

Source: Marktplatzstudie Deutschland (2019) Internetworld Business and ecom consulting

Key reasons for not doing more on digital channels and marketplaces include required investments in additional personnel (45.6%) as well as its dedicated (tech) know-how (25.0%). Since most digital distribution channels require knowledge that is not available internally, it’s an even more daunting task.

Source: Marktplatzstudie Deutschland (2019) Internetworld Business and ecom consulting

Since consumer behaviour seems to know only one direction and that is “more digital shopping”, how do we unlock these personnel and knowledge issues? So far the answer has often been a rather costly trial and error approach. In my opinion this is not sustainable, particularly given the large commercial relevance of marketplaces in many industries.

The marketplace knowledge gap is huge

In my work in the marketplace industry, I often realise that there are still so many brands who have a very limited knowledge about it. Sometimes they even don’t know that this opportunity exists. At the same time, there are so many brands who know about the potential of marketplace business and want to start, but don’t know how. The main reason is the lack of knowledge. And it’s not surprising, considering it’s still a relatively new sales channel. It’s changing and growing permanently. Most of the time your only option is learning by doing. Which means also that you need even more time and money to start your marketplace business. So how can you get marketplace knowledge and devise the best strategy for your brand?


Resources to bridge your marketplace business gap

Source: McKinsey’s State of Fashion report, 2018

The internet is full of different resources and offers to widen and deepen your marketplace knowledge. In order to be successful in the marketplace business, operational and strategic knowledge is key. Information from specialist consultancies like ecom Consulting or research by known names like McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group are a good place to start.  The State of Fashion Report by McKinsey, released in 2018, and “Die Marktplatzwelt 2020”, released in 2020 by ecom Consulting and gominga, are particularly useful. You can also get an overview about facts and figures in online studies and trend indicators in newsletters. Internet World is a daily newsletter on all things e-commerce, including specialty newsletters on Amazon and the so-called “Commerce Shots” for decision makers. Etailment is the E-Commerce magazine focusing on national and international aspects of ecommerce. Internet Retail offers International E-Commerce News. And OMR‘s daily newsletter focuses on Online-Marketing , including marketplaces.

Specialised Books

There are a few books about platform and marketplace business. The challenge is that “platform” and “marketplaces” mean so many different things, not just with the focus of the online marketplaces we are talking about. So the selection of online sales marketplace books is rather small. There are many books specialised on selling on Amazon, offering a deep dive in this marketplace. These are also up to date – the marketplace business is a fast-changing world. Therefore, books who are already one year old or even older are already almost obsolete. As marketplace business has doubled in the last five years,  books need to be newly published in order to be an up to date resource. Relevant books with a focus on Amazon include “Amazon für Entscheider” from Christian Stummeyer and Benno Köber published (in German) in March 2020, and “Amazon Marketplace: Das Handbuch für Hersteller und Händler” from Trutz Fries and Stephan Bruns, last updated (in German) in October 2018.

Events & Conferences on Marketplace Business

ECD is the most focused conference on marketplace topics in Germany. Then there are other conferences which touch on marketplace topics relevant for the fashion and sports industry, like ISPO Digitize or K5. Those formats are great to get an overview about new developments, trends and to extend your network with others in the marketplace or online sales business.

Seminars & Trainings

Starting to research training for marketplace business and education to become a marketplace manager quickly leads you to offers that are 90% related to Amazon seller business. These 1-2 day seminars are good to if you’d like to focus on Amazon. Alternatively, my program – the Marketplace Uni, a four-month training about marketplaces in the fashion, sports and lifestyle industry – offers training for all the relevant marketplaces of your business. The marketplaces (Amazon, Otto, Zalando, About you, etc.) all seem similar but upon closer inspection they’re different. To start and expand your business, it could make sense to choose a training where you get a deep knowledge about the various marketplaces for you.

Knowledge exchange with other brands and experts

Source: Shuttershock

Another common option is knowledge sharing within your network. I do this myself a lot: exchange knowledge with others who are either in the same situation as I am or more advanced. We exchange best practices to prevent us from making the same errors. You can support each other, because you often do have the same questions and challenges while building and running the marketplace business. You can also seek this knowledge on LinkedIn by following and connecting with experts.

Mind the marketplace knowledge gap and start to bridge it

While the information overload about online sales continues, dedicated knowledge about marketplace business, especially within your product category, is hard to find. If you do want to get a deeper knowledge about marketplaces, when it comes to strategic and operational know-how, resources are thin. It can be time consuming and challenging to do everything learning by doing. At the same time, you have to be up to date to know what trends and developments are rising in the marketplace business.

To avoid failure, it’s important to have a strategy before starting out. There are still just a few possibilities to learn, because this business is still new and evolving a lot. My recommendation is still to exchange with others, ask questions and support each other. I would have spared myself some mistakes if I had people around me with marketplace business hacks, tips and tricks. I hope you found some in this article.


About the Author:
Valerie Dichtl is a marketplace expert, responsible for fashion buying and selling via marketplaces and online wholesale. Combining her experience from a brand perspective, she supports brands to define and implement their online sales strategy. Her newest project is the Marketplace University, the training academy for future Marketplace Managers. Read more of here work here or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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