The Evolution of Marketplaces
In the early days of the web Craigslist’s horizontal listing based marketplace was all things to all people as speed, simplicity and liquidity were the key success factors in the market. A few vertical competitors emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, illustrated by sites like Monster, 1stdibs and HomeAway. They typically retained a listing based business model, but offered better content quality and more sophisticated tools and search.
In the mid and late 2000s, vertical sites became transactional, managing the payment process and taking a percentage of the proceeds. By closing the transaction loop their reviews also became accurate. By simplifying the transaction process and improving trust, sites like Etsy and Airbnb not only took share from Craigslist but grew their category dramatically.
Partly spurred by Craigslist inability to innovate, there has been an explosion of vertical sites of late as illustrated by the timeline below. The latest trend in marketplaces is the emergence of what I dubbed “end-to-end” or “e2e” marketplaces. Others have also referred to them as “full-stack” marketplaces. Even though transactional marketplaces simplified the purchase experience somewhat, they still require the seller and the buyer to do a lot of work. The seller has to take pictures, write titles and descriptions, come up with a price, and answer questions from buyers. Once it’s sold the seller also needs to pack and ship the item. For buyers depending on the category the experience can also be traumatic. A car buyer for instance needs to deal with financing, insurance, and registration, not to mention the fear of buying a lemon. To address these issues end-to-end marketplaces absorb the friction typically borne by buyers and sellers and do the work for them. They have emerged for product marketplaces (e.g;. Beepi, Lofty, Suitey, AptDeco, Fobo, Munchery), service marketplaces (e.g.; Uber, HomeJoy) and information marketplaces (e.g.; DoctoronDemand, Clarity, Rise).
These end-to-end marketplaces won’t completely take over the market. By virtue of their structure there is a limit to their potential market share. However, by focusing on high end customers who value their time and the quality of the experience above all else, they may end up capturing a large share of the profits in the market. As a result sites like Suitey and Beepi are more of a threat to real estate brokers and car dealers than to Trulia and eBay Motors.
All in all the marketplace world is seeing unprecedented innovation and disruption and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out while trying to make my mark in the category both as an entrepreneur and an investor.
The slides below are courtesy of Balanced Payments, the premier payment solution for marketplaces.
To make the slides easier to share, I am also embedding the SlideShare version of the presentation.