Twelve sites were extensively reviewed and evaluated based on search functionality, comparable merchandising tactics from marketplace to retail, product information and customer service. Researchers placed orders with each marketplace and conducted queries via all available communication channels. The findings are contained in The Merchantry Report: The State of Online Marketplaces, research done in cooperation with e-commerce consultancy the e-tailing group.
The results demonstrate that online retailers face challenges offering their marketplace shoppers the same level of product detail, transparency and logistical support online shoppers have come to expect and rely on.
"Profit-maximizing practices that have become standard in the e-commerce industry are not consistently applied on marketplaces, where we found incomplete product information, limited functionality and inadequate customer experiences," said Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, which issues the EG100 annual e-commerce mystery shopping survey of 100 online retailers. "Details are ultimately what matter to shoppers. Given our findings, online marketplace shoppers would face many disappointments on the path to purchase; marketplaces have to better capitalize on selling and service fundamentals to retain shoppers."
Sites surveyed for The Merchantry Report were Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Buy.com, Kohl's, Newegg.com, OneStopPlus.com, Overstock.com, Sears, ShopNBC, TigerDirect and Walmart. Researchers evaluated product listings, pricing, social media, customer service, shipping and return processes. Key findings of the report include the following:
Marketplace products are not extended the same functionality as retailer-owned products.
Only 39 percent of marketplace products could be added to a wish list versus 83 percent of retailer-owned products.
Gift registry functionality was available on just half of marketplace products.
Retailers that provide free shipping extend the offer to marketplace products only 33 percent of the time.
While the majority of e-commerce sites incorporate social media tools, the majority of online marketplace products do not have social media functionality.
Marketplace product information is often incomplete.
Only 50 percent of marketplace product listings state seller/merchant details.
Less than half of marketplace products feature customer ratings.
Only 20 percent of product pages have enhanced guides or videos.
Logistics are inconsistent for marketplace products as compared to retailer-owned products.
Out-of-stock inventory notifications are universal but processing times are not often shown.
The average time for customers to receive marketplace orders was high (4.57 days) - more than one day longer than the industry average (as reported by the e-tailing group).
Conducting marketplace product returns is more difficult as not all merchants include complete information (e.g., how to return, to whom to return).
Cross-channel services are not in place for pick-up or returns for online marketplace shoppers.
Email responses were incomplete or they redirected customers to the marketplace sellers/manufacturers more than half the time (55 percent).
"The results of the report highlight that a mix of business, operational and technical factors must be considered when building and establishing online marketplaces," said Tommaso Trionfi, CEO of Merchantry. "A number of the existing operational and technical challenges could be alleviated by implementing a marketplace platform."
Merchantry, originally founded in 2004 as Ixtens, provides catalog management technology behind some of the world's largest online retailers.
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