What is a Marketplace Platform: Definition, Use Cases, and Features

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Imagine life without ownership. You own nothing. You rent everything. You do this because it’s cheaper: you pay pennies or fractions of pennies per day to have a bed to sleep in, or a winter coat to keep you warm.

The Guardian

Picture walking into a bustling market, where dozens of marketplace sellers showcase their products, from fresh fruits to handmade crafts, all under one roof. Now, take that image and transform it into a digital form—that’s essentially what an online marketplace platform is.

It’s an online space where multiple sellers come together to sell products or services to a wide range of buyers. Think of it as a digital bazaar, accessible right from your screen, where you can browse, compare, and purchase almost anything you can think of.

Online marketplace platforms are key players in today’s shared economy, where sharing and accessing resources is more valued than owning them. These platforms make it easy for anyone to tap into a global market and ensures business facilitation, whether you’re looking to sell products like unique jewelry on Etsy or renting out your spare room on Airbnb. They’re not just about shopping. They’re about creating connections between buyers and sellers, empowering small businesses, and fueling innovation in how we buy, sell, and share.

Online marketplace platforms are making commerce more accessible and diverse, for everyone, everywhere. According to the latest business statistics, 28% of the global population will turn to online shopping. They have become immensely popular and contribute significantly to the global shared economy, which is booming thanks to marketplaces.

By 2025, global shared economy expected to hit $335 billion USD, with car-sharing alone reaching $14.8 billion USD. Back in 2015, it was already at $204.41 billion USD. This growth is creating new ways for people to make money and mixing up traditional job categories, combining work with leisure. Revenues in this sector are set to keep rising, with more room to grow across different areas of the world.

shared economy growth predictions
Shared economy growth prediction in Europe. Source.

Table of Contents

What is a marketplace platform?

A marketplace platform is what we call an online marketplace, where various vendors set up their online store on a single e-commerce website or app. This allows buyers from anywhere to shop for a wide selection of products or services, from books and clothing to specialized services like design or cleaning.

Unlike traditional marketplaces, which require you to be there physically, digital marketplaces bring everything online, offering access to countless online marketplaces without leaving your home. This eCommerce platform is open 24/7, making shopping convenient and accessible from anywhere in the world.

Examples of these managed platforms include Amazon, an giant online store with a vast product assortment and thousands of sellers; Etsy, known for its unique handmade and vintage items; and Airbnb, connecting travelers with short-term rentals. Each is overseen by a marketplace operator, dedicated to streamlining the process of bringing buyers and sellers together in an efficient online environment.

ℹ️ A marketplace platform is an e-commerce website where various vendors set up their online stores and offer their product on a common storefront.

amazon marketplace
Amazon marketplace

How an online marketplace differs from a marketplace platform?

When we talk about shopping online, you might have heard the terms “online marketplace” and “marketplace platform” used as if they’re the same thing. But, if we get a bit technical, there’s a subtle difference between them that’s good to know.

An “online marketplace” can be thought of as a digital shopping center. According to the online marketplace definition, it’s a website where you, as a buyer, can visit and find products sold by multiple independent sellers. It’s like an online store, but instead of one brand or company selling their goods, you have access to a variety of third-party sellers all in one place. This setup allows you to browse and compare different products, much like walking through different shops in a mall, but from the comfort of your own home.

On the other hand, a “marketplace platform” refers to the technical backbone or the eCommerce platform that powers these online marketplaces. It’s the underlying software, a website builder, that allows the marketplace to function, supporting features like product listings, financial transactions, and customer-seller interaction. Essentially, it’s the digital infrastructure that enables multiple independent sellers to offer their goods or services on a single website, ensuring that everything runs smoothly and efficiently.

So, when we talk about these terms, it’s helpful to remember: the online marketplace is where you shop from different sellers, enjoying a broad selection of products. The marketplace platform, meanwhile, is the eCommerce platform that makes this unique shopping experience possible, acting as the foundation for all these financial transactions and interactions to take place seamlessly.

marketplace platform dashboard
Marketplace software back end

From a business point of view

Imagine a marketplace like a vast, virtual fair where shop owners from different corners set up their digital tents to showcase their wares. Here’s the scoop on why joining this bustling online fair is a smart play:

  • How They Earn: In these online marketplaces, the organizers might take a slice of your sales, ask for a small spot fee, or charge a regular ticket to keep your digital booth open. Each method helps you and other businesses thrive, whether you’re selling hand-crafted treasures or quirky gadgets.
  • Connecting with the Crowd: This eCommerce platform is a magical spot that draws potential buyers and sellers to your virtual tent, no matter their physical location. It’s all about creating a space where people looking to buy can easily find and connect with businesses ready to sell products or services.
  • Launching Your Online Booth: For anyone pondering over launching their booth in this online fair, the perks are plentiful. You get to reach out to a broader audience without the need for more physical space. The online marketplace model allows your fair to expand effortlessly, providing a cost-effective way to grow your business.

From a technical point of view

Let’s dive into what it takes to construct and maintain this enchanting online fair:

  • Constructing the Fairground: Building a marketplace, a digital fairground, entails laying down the virtual land [eCommerce platform], ensuring there’s ample room for growth [scalability], keeping a ledger of all shops and items [database management], and making navigation a breeze [user interface]. You also need a secure way for people to exchange money [payment processing] and robust guards to ward off digital mischief [security].
  • Building Challenges: Assembling a marketplace is akin to constructing a fortress that can expand while keeping invaders at bay. It involves safeguarding the treasure trove of data from digital dragons, facilitating smooth currency exchange, and adapting to the needs of a growing community of buyers and sellers.
  • Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere: Imagine a fair where everything is easy to find, paths are clear, and the environment feels safe and inviting. That’s the goal of excellent design. It’s about making the marketplace a place where potential customers want to linger, explore, and return. It allows them to easily compare prices and offerings, enhancing the shopping experience.

In essence, whether viewed through the lens of a shop owner or the architect behind the scenes, online marketplaces are about forging spaces where connections flourish, businesses grow, and the joy of discovery is endless. It’s an eCommerce platform where buyers and sellers meet, share, and contribute to a vibrant, expanding community.

Best use cases of a marketplace platform

Marketplace platforms are like Swiss Army knives for the online world—they’re super versatile. Let’s dive into some prime scenarios where they really come into their own:

1. E-commerce and Retail

Think of this as the digital equivalent of your favorite shopping center but in the form of an online marketplace. Here, you can snag a new pair of shoes, the latest bestseller, or a shiny new kitchen gadget without stepping foot outside—all in vendors’ online stores. E-commerce and retail online marketplaces bring together a variety of shops on one eCommerce site, making it a breeze for you to find what you need. It’s like having a shopping festival in your pocket, where businesses sell products or services directly to you.

2. Freelance Services and Gig Economy

Picture a marketplace but for skills and services. Looking for someone to jazz up your website, pen some content, or compose a catchy tune for your project? Freelance services marketplaces are where skilled individuals and eCommerce platform users looking for those skills connect. It’s essentially a talent fair where everyone’s eager to collaborate and bring ideas to life, including delivery services for those gigs that require physical goods.

3. Rental Marketplaces

Have you ever wanted to borrow a designer outfit for a special occasion or find a rustic cabin for a retreat? Rental marketplaces are your go-to online spots where you can rent just about anything—fashion, vehicles, or accommodations for your next holiday. It’s akin to a vast library, but instead of books, you’re browsing through an array of rentable treasures.

4. B2B (Business to Business) Marketplaces

This is where businesses meet other businesses in a professional online setting. Need to place a large order of coffee for your cafe or find office essentials in bulk? B2B marketplaces cater to this business model, facilitating transactions where businesses sell products or services to each other in significant quantities. It’s like an exclusive club for companies to find everything they need to thrive.

5. Niche Marketplaces

Niche marketplaces are the special corners of the internet dedicated to a specific product, hobbies or interests. Whether you’re into handcrafted items, vintage treasures, or digital artwork, niche online marketplaces offer a curated selection of products. They operate on a business model that focuses on providing eCommerce platform users with unique finds that cater to particular tastes. It’s like stepping into a boutique where everything on display is exactly your style.

In each of these scenarios, marketplaces showcase their flexibility and utility. Whether you’re on the hunt for daily necessities, seeking specialized skills, renting something unique, engaging in business to business financial transactions, or exploring products that resonate with your personal interests, there’s likely a marketplace designed just for that purpose.

Popular marketplace projects on the market

In the bustling world of digital commerce, several online marketplaces stand out for their ability to connect people with a diverse range of products and services. Here’s a snapshot of some popular marketplaces and what makes them special:

1. Amazon

Amazon is a titan in the realm of online marketplaces, offering an astonishing array of items from A to Z. It has hundreds of thousands of sellers’ online stores under one roof. Amazon caters to just about everyone, ensuring customer satisfaction with fast delivery services like Amazon Prime. The Amazon is renowned for its vast selection, from everyday essentials to the latest gadgets, making it a one-stop shop for the global audience.

2. eBay

eBay offers a unique shopping experience with its auction-style listings, appealing to those who love the thrill of bidding on items. It’s an eCommerce platform known for a wide range of products, including collectibles and vintage finds. eBay values customer satisfaction, using customer data to personalize shopping experiences and ensure buyers find exactly what they’re looking for.

3. Etsy

Etsy shines as a destination for handmade, vintage, and unique goods, perfect for shoppers looking for something special. It focuses on a specific audience interested in artisanal items and personalized purchases. Etsy’s commitment to fostering a community between buyers and sellers sets it apart in the world of digital commerce.

4. Airbnb

Airbnb transformed the rental market by connecting travelers with unique accommodations worldwide. This e-commerce platform goes beyond just bookings, focusing on buyer satisfaction by offering local experiences that cater to the adventurous spirit of its user base. Airbnb uses customer info to match travelers with stays that align with their preferences, making it a favorite in the diverse range of travel options.

5. Alibaba

Alibaba dominates the B2B marketplace segment, facilitating transactions between businesses across the globe. It’s a cornerstone of digital commerce for companies looking to source products in bulk, offering a wide range of goods at competitive prices. Alibaba is tailored to meet the needs of its target audience, ensuring businesses find the right suppliers to match their requirements.

6. ThredUp

ThredUp leads the way in sustainable fashion, offering an online consignment and thrift store experience. It appeals to an eco-conscious audience, providing a wide range of pre-loved clothing. ThredUp prioritizes customer satisfaction by simplifying the process of buying and selling second-hand clothes, making sustainable fashion accessible to more people.

7. ShopClues

ShopClues is a major online mall in India, akin to Amazon marketplace, but tailored for the Indian shopper. Hosting tens of millions of products across a wide array of categories and supported by hundreds of thousands of sellers, it offers something for everyone. Built on the CS-Cart Multi-Vendor platform, ShopClues ensures a seamless and expansive shopping experience, making it a preferred choice for millions seeking variety, value, and convenience in their online purchases.

These popular marketplaces each serve their target customers by offering a wide range of products and services, utilizing customer information to enhance the shopping experience and drive online commerce forward. Whether you’re shopping for unique gifts on Etsy or sourcing bulk items on Alibaba, these platforms are designed to meet a wide array of needs while ensuring customer satisfaction.

thredup storefront
Thredup—a niche second-hand marketplace

Features a good marketplace should have

A top-notch online marketplace is like a bustling digital bazaar, where the platform model ensures that both guests (buyers) and hosts (vendors) have a fantastic experience. Here’s what makes a marketplace truly stand out, along with the potential pitfalls of missing these features:

1. [For marketplace admin] Powerful and Flexible Vendor Management System

This is the backbone of managing payments and interactions between sellers and buyers. Delivery services managements is also a crucial thing to control. Think of the vendor management system as the command center for the marketplace, where large companies or small vendors have a separate online store and can seamlessly manage their presence. Without a strong system, it’s like trying to manage a crowded market without any organization—leading to missed opportunities and frustrated users.

2. User-Friendly Interface and Navigation

The ease of moving around the marketplace is crucial. A confusing layout can deter users, affecting the economic value generated by the eCommerce platform. A straightforward design ensures that everyone, from tech-savvy users to first-timers, can navigate the marketplace without getting lost.

3. Robust Search and Filter Mechanisms

Effective search tools are like having a personal guide in a vast market, crucial for a good marketplace comparison. They help users find exactly what they’re looking for, enhancing the eCommerce platform’s value. Without these, users might miss out on the best deals or unique items, diminishing the marketplace’s appeal.

4. Secure Payment Processing and Fraud Prevention

Trust in managing payments safely is non-negotiable. The underlying technology must safeguard transactions to maintain confidence among users. Insecure payment systems can lead to a loss of trust, pushing users to safer alternatives.

5. Reviews and Seller Ratings

These systems act as a marketplace comparison tool, guiding users to the best vendors and products. They add value by promoting high-quality product offerings and trustworthy sellers. Without them, users have to take a leap of faith, which can lead to dissatisfaction and harm the marketplace’s reputation.

6. Mobile Compatibility and Responsive Design

With more people shopping on their phones, mobile compatibility ensures that users can access the marketplace anytime, anywhere, making it a key part of the growth strategy. A non-responsive design can alienate a large segment of potential customers who prefer using mobile devices.

7. [For marketplace admin] Scalability and Integration Capabilities

As the marketplace grows in the long term, it needs to handle more users, more transactions, and potentially more warehouse space for those that handle logistics. Scalability is essential for any growth strategy, allowing the marketplace to expand without losing performance. Lack of integration capabilities can limit the addition of new features or services, stifling innovation and hindering the platform’s ability to adapt to market changes.

These features are pillars of a successful online marketplace, supporting everything from the platform model to the economic value it generates. Ignoring any of these aspects can stunt a marketplace’s growth, making it less competitive and less appealing to both users and large companies looking to participate. Ensuring these foundations are strong and adaptable is key to thriving in the bustling world of online commerce.

airbnb rating system
One of the best marketplace review systems—Airbnb reviews

How to choose the right marketplace platform for your business

Selecting the ideal platform is crucial, whether you’re aiming to join existing online marketplaces to sell your products or services, or planning to create one to cater to specific buyer needs. Let’s dive into both scenarios to help you make an informed decision.

For Sellers: Expanding Business on Online Marketplaces

If you’re looking to start selling in online marketplaces, it’s like choosing the best street to open your shop:

  1. Know Your Consumers: Pick a marketplace frequented by your target buyers. It ensures that your products meet the needs of a particular end consumer base, much like choosing the right neighborhood for your shop. With a marketplace, you can effectively reach customers.
  2. Understand the Fees: Familiarize yourself with the platform’s fee structure before you start selling. This transparency helps in managing your expenses, akin to knowing the rent before leasing a shop space. Keep in mind, that a marketplace can not only charge you fees for every transaction but also monthly subscription fees for using the marketplace.
  3. Evaluate the Competition: Assess how many more vendors offer similar products and how you can offer a consistent experience that stands out. It’s like checking out the other shops on the street and figuring out how to make yours more inviting.
  4. Check for Support and Tools: A good marketplace will offer tools and support to help you manage your product listings and sales effectively, ensuring a wider range to showcase your products and a smooth process to start selling.

For Entrepreneurs: Building Your Own Online Marketplace

If creating a marketplace is your goal, consider these factors:

  1. Scalability: Opt for software that can grow and scale quickly when your business grows, accommodating more sellers and a wider range of products as demand increases. It’s like picking a location where you can expand your market as more consumers come to purchase goods.
  2. User Experience: The platform should offer a seamless and consistent experience for both sellers and consumers, making it easy for users to navigate and purchase goods and manage inventory. It’s like ensuring your market is easy for everyone to walk through and shop.
  3. Secure Payments: Choose a platform that supports secure payment options, crucial for consumers’ trust. It’s akin to having a reliable, secure cash register but only to process payments online.
  4. Customization and Flexibility: Look for software that allows you to customize your marketplace to meet specific user needs and preferences. This is like designing your market space to reflect your unique style and cater to the specific tastes of your consumers.

CS-Cart Multi-Vendor stands out as a robust solution for those looking to build their own marketplace. Its flexibility, scalability, and customization options address the main difference between merely participating in online marketplaces and creating one that perfectly aligns with specific customer needs. Check out their free demo to see how it can help more sellers join your platform and start selling efficiently: CS-Cart Multi-Vendor Personal Demo.

cs-cart marketplace
CS-Cart marketplace storefront

Whether joining an existing marketplace or building a new one, understanding the landscape, the main difference between various platforms, and how they align with your business goals is key. By focusing on buyer needs, security, and the potential for growth, you can select a platform that will support your venture now and in the future.


In summary, diving into the world of online selling means choosing between two paths: selling on an existing online marketplace or creating your own with tools like CS-Cart Multi-Vendor. If you’re selling, pick a marketplace that fits what you’re offering and where your customers like to shop. Look at the costs, competition, and how the marketplace helps sellers. If you’re building your own platform, focus on making it easy to use, secure for payments, and flexible enough to grow with your business.

The key is finding a platform that’s easy for everyone to use, keeps payments safe, and matches your business’s growth. Whether you’re setting up shop in a bustling online market or building your own digital marketplace, the goal is to provide a great experience for buyers and sellers. This helps your business stand out in the busy online world, reaching more customers and growing over time.


Q: What makes an online marketplace different from a regular e-commerce website?

A: An online marketplace acts as a digital platform where multiple independent sellers can offer their products or services to buyers, similar to a virtual mall with many stores under one roof. In contrast, a regular e-commerce website typically represents a single brand or store selling its products directly to consumers.

Q: How do online marketplaces generate revenue?

A: Online marketplaces can generate revenue through various models. Online marketplaces include: charging sellers a commission on each sale, imposing listing fees for products, or offering subscription services for premium features. The specific revenue model depends on the marketplace’s strategy and target audience.

Q: Can anyone start selling on a marketplace?

A: Generally, yes. An online marketplace model allow individual sellers, small businesses, and even large companies to start selling after meeting certain criteria, which can include providing business details, agreeing to the marketplace’s terms of service, and sometimes passing a quality check of the products or services offered. After all the checks are complete, a marketplace operator approves the seller and they can upload products, manage inventory, and make transactions on the eCommerce platform.

Q: What are the key considerations when choosing marketplace software to build a marketplace?

A: When choosing marketplace software, key considerations should include the software’s scalability to support growth, its flexibility for customization to meet specific business needs, security features for safe transactions, and the overall user experience for both sellers and buyers. Additionally, looking at integration capabilities with other tools and services can be crucial for extending the marketplace’s functionality.

Q: Is it better to sell on an existing online marketplace or to build my own?

A: The answer depends on your business goals, resources, and the level of control you wish to have. Selling on an existing online marketplace offers ease of entry and access to a large audience but comes with competition and fees. Building your own marketplace provides more control over the customer experience and branding and less control over inventory. But it requires a significant investment in marketplace development, marketing, and operations. For those starting out or with limited resources, selling on an existing marketplace might be the best option, while established brands or businesses looking for long-term growth may benefit from building their own platform.

Head of Content Marketing at CS-Cart | Website

Yan Anderson is the Head of Content Marketing at CS-Cart with over 10 years of experience in the eCommerce industry. He's passionate about explaining complicated things in simple terms. Yan has expertise in building, running and growing eCommerce marketplaces. He loves to educate people about best practices, new technologies, and trends in the global eCommerce industry.