Marketplace eCommerce

eCommerce Product Catalogs on Marketplace Platforms

September 23, 2022  |  5 min read

The eCommerce catalog of a marketplace platform is composed of everything a site offers. No matter what industry you serve, it’s likely that the catalog will play a part in most buyer interactions on the site. Selected parts of it may be the first thing customers see when they come to your site; every search and filter they do will lead them closer to what they came to find.

The success of a marketplace platform’s catalog depends on many factors. Some will be industry-specific, while others adhere to the popular standards that customers have come to expect from the most popular retailers. In the end, the most important aspect of a catalog is that it serves up what each customer is looking for and makes it easy for them to buy.

Design and UI/UX

The design of your online catalog design—both user interface (UI) and user experience (UX)—needs to be as good as, or better, than the most used marketplace websites on the web. Sites like Amazon, Alibaba, Etsy, Walmart, and Target help customers find what they’re looking for, and this level of performance has become the standard. Anything less and customers will get frustrated.

Here are the basics of modern design and UI/UX; any of these can be customized to meet the needs of your business or industry.

  • The Mini Header – Most websites will have a header across the top of the page that shows primary categories. When hovered over, most of these will reveal subcategories that act as the first level of sorting.
  • The Left Sidebar – Most filtering options are in the left sidebar. Options such as new/used, price range, product review level, etc. can all help buyers filter to their needs.
  • Sort Order – Sort order is often found in the upper-right corner of the page and may contain options similar to those on the left sidebar. Options include sort by price, sort by date added, sort by date ending (for auction eCommerce), etc.
  • Results Views – Customers should be able to decide what kind of view they want the product catalog to take, including grid view, list view, small icons, large icons, etc.
  • Compare Button – Compare buttons can show up under each item in the catalog, allowing customers to choose multiple products to compare side by side.

Should You Copy the Big Guys?

Are the designs of these megacompanies the absolute best that could exist? Yes and no. We'll take a look at Amazon to explain.

  • The Argument for Yes – Amazon isn’t far away from its 30th anniversary, and the ancient UI/UX of its original site is difficult to look at with modern eyes. During that time the site has become incrementally better, improved by A/B testing, studies of human psychology, hiring better designers, and the changing face of its business. Its goal is to help people find exactly what they’re looking for, and Amazon’s continued success shows that they’re doing a superb job.
  • The Argument for No – Amazon is Amazon. It has designed its online eCommerce catalog, from the homepage to every results page layout, to benefit the behemoth it has become. They sell an unimaginable variety of items themselves and via the marketplace, but they are also focusing on providing media and getting their Alexa hardware in as many homes as possible. Their design and user experience have been tweaked to appeal to the broadest customer possible, which may or may not be what best serves your business.

The Basics of eCommerce Catalogs

Again, the primary goal of an eCommerce catalog is to help customers find what they’re looking for. Everything—whether it’s part of the search or filtering—should be geared toward this goal. Here are some of the most common aspects of catalogs and item descriptions that draw people in and make it easy for them to buy.

  • Product Title – The name of the listing is the primary way people will find it during search, and it also helps with web-wide SEO searches.
  • Short Description – Secondary to the title, descriptions are often the next-most-used way to find items from the platform’s search bar. While the description will likely be longer on the product page, a short description needs to entice a customer to click on that item instead of the others.
  • Price – Price helps customers decide whether or not the item is worth clicking on.
  • Product Reviews – Reviews offer an excellent way for customers to sort items, especially if quality is their primary concern.
  • Seller Reviews — Some buyers may only want to work with the best sellers on your marketplace website. You can also reward the most reliable sellers by highlighting them in some way.
  • Shipping – Some buyers may want to take shipping costs into account before they even click on the product. This might not be possible on items that require distance-based shipping choices; shipper options and pricing can be calculated on the individual product pages.
  • Physical Location – Customers may want to sort by physical location, whether that be country, state, or region-based.
  • Fulfillment Times – Customers on a time-crunch might want to sort by time-to-fulfillment, whether that means how quickly they ship or how fast they can manufacture something.
  • Inventory Level – Showing inventory levels can be a two-edged sword. It can be beneficial for creating a sense of urgency, but a customer who needs 100 of an item might bypass a seller who only shows 12 available (even if the seller had 1000 and showed a lower number in order to create that sense of urgency).

Serve Your Industry, Change as Necessary

The results your online eCommerce platform shows can be customized as needed. Many customizations are industry specific. After all, a site that sells camera equipment will have very different needs than one that sells industrial HVAC equipment.

You may also need to change the pricing on products. Preferred buyers may have an agreement with you where they’ll get a better price if they agree to so many transactions a year, or prices may change based on the quantity ordered.

Changes can also be made by utilizing AI to analyze user activity. The AI will watch how people act on the page; was the fuzzy search accurate, or did the person immediately hit the back button? How can fuzzy search be improved? How long was it between clicking on an item and putting it in their cart? All of this is used to ask—and answer—the question, “Did they find what they were looking for in the fastest way possible?”

Promoted Listings

The idea of manufacturers paying for special placement is not new. Sellers have been paying for special placement in brick-and-mortar stores for decades, whether it’s to place their products on endcaps, at the cash wrap, or in window displays.

This idea is now ubiquitous with online marketplace eCommerce as well. It’s an excellent way for the marketplace to make more money than just the cut they take for facilitating the sale. Sponsored items can be a flat fee or add a percentage to the final price; you can offer one or the other, or both. Sponsored options can apply to nearly every page of the buying experience, from the homepage down to heavily filtered selections.

You need to be careful with promotions and filtering. For example, you may be getting paid by a retailer to feature their ½" copper pipe. If a buyer has searched for copper pipe and put a filter on for 3/4” copper pipe, it can be dangerous to allow the sponsored ½" pipe and create buyer confusion (or even worse, a buyer return).

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Stephen Beer is a Content Writer at Clarity Ventures and has written about various tech industries for nearly a decade. He is determined to demystify HIPAA, integration, and eCommerce with easy-to-read, easy-to-understand articles to help businesses make the best decisions.