The Shopper Speaks: Shoppers embrace online marketplaces in record numbers

Digital Commerce 360, in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, surveyed 1,000 online shoppers in May 2022 to explore current shopper perceptions of online marketplaces.

Online shoppers are showing strong interest in marketplaces. Some 35% of online shoppers buy from marketplaces at least weekly, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 online shoppers conducted in May 2022. Almost half of survey respondents (49%) said they make monthly purchases on marketplaces.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Amazon dominates marketplace behavior from purchasing to leaving product reviews

It is important to dig into the experiences these shoppers find when they visit marketplaces. Online shoppers remain engaged with Amazon’s marketplace, which saw purchase among 70% of those surveyed. Top competitors were:

  • eBay: 46%
  • Walmart: 33%

An array of U.S. marketplaces beyond Amazon, eBay and Walmart are seeing purchasing by 45% of online shoppers. Specialty marketplaces captured the attention of 31% of those surveyed. Chinese marketplaces lag at 10%.

17% said they took advantage of same-day delivery. One can only speculate that this will grow in the coming year due to consumer interest, particularly if more retailers add this capability. Surprisingly, only 9% mentioned products out-of-stock or long lead times as experiences they had this year given persistent supply chain challenges.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

2022 online shoppers are less active around marketplaces

Shoppers continue to concentrate marketplace purchasing at Amazon. Just as was the case in 2021, a range of marketplaces are still seeing activity. Specialty marketplaces, where purchases are down from 42% to 31% among respondents, aren’t getting the same level of attention.

Shoppers participate in these communities at high rates, leaving product reviews at Amazon (49%) and other marketplaces (32%). But review participation has declined, perhaps an indication that the community’s role may not be as critical post-pandemic. Year-over-year numbers reflect such a shift:

  • Amazon: 49% (2022) vs. 56% (2021)
  • Beyond Amazon: 32% (2022) vs. 39% (2021)

Given all the attention sellers had given to their marketplace initiatives in the past year, we wondered whether online shoppers were finding marketplaces with larger assortments. Our results indicate 1 in 3 marketplace visitors are finding larger assortments, just over half (52%) are seeing about the same levels, and only 15% are seeing less. One might just hypothesize that with assortments on marketplaces perceived to be greater, shoppers may find marketplaces more attractive.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Higher prices, longer delivery lead times and out-of-stock products were the biggest marketplace challenges shoppers faced

Marketplaces need to monitor everything from product pricing to shipping fees as customers are savvy and shop around. Prices were higher than people remembered, according to 45% of respondents, while 24% saw that year over year. From a higher shipping fees point-of-view, 24% (vs. 19% last year) indicated that was part of their experience.

Logistics were challenging for online shoppers onsite as well, with 36% reporting longer delivery lead times.

Out-of-stocks were a factor for online shoppers and may have driven them to explore alternative marketplaces. Historically, longer delivery lead times seemed to be of lesser concern (36% vs. 46%). The same held true for out-of-stocks (35% vs. 41%).

And 21% reported feeling there was a more limited assortment. From a customer service standpoint, 16% suggested there were limited or longer wait times. Despite these relatively positive numbers, customer service should always remain a point of focus.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Social marketplaces make inroads

It’s essential to understand the behavior shifts and perceptions among marketplace visitors and buyers. So we asked how their buying behavior and perceptions had changed over the past year. While the answers were interesting, little stood out.

One question we added this year was around social marketplaces. We found they are attractive to online shoppers, with 28% of survey respondents saying they had shopped on social marketplaces like Facebook or Instagram. We encourage retailers to test if the audience fit makes sense.

Shopper behavior is limited when it comes to fees, inventory and the testing of new marketplaces. From an inventory perspective, 24% found a broader marketplace assortment appealing. Generally speaking, 19% were more comfortable with the online marketplace model. The same number had tried new online marketplaces.

From a dollars and cents perspective, 24% find prices often lower than other retailer sites. 20% believe the fees were often less than other retailer sites. Another 18% found the prices, including shipping fees, in line with their retailer counterparts.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Marketplace purchasing will likely be steady in the coming year. Two in three online shoppers plan to purchase about the same from marketplaces. On an “up” note, comfort with the model sees one in five shoppers indicating they will be buying more.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Many shoppers will experiment when smartly tempted by marketplace sellers 

Year-over-year findings indicate more than half (54%) of online shoppers are willing to buy from unfamiliar marketplace brands or sellers. That’s up slightly from 49% in 2021. The biggest opportunity is convincing those who are on the fence (28% this year vs. 34% last year) that a site or brand is a viable option and to gain their trust in pursuing new sellers.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 online shoppers May 2022

Going direct to sites is opportunistic

The upside for sellers comes from the majority of online shoppers who have gone direct to sites to make subsequent purchases. Marketplace exposure and purchasing often leads to direct purchasing, which is likely to be more profitable for the merchant. Direct-from-seller’s website purchase post marketplace visit findings are as follows (2022 vs. 2021)

  • Yes: 52% vs. 57%
  • No: 35% vs. 28%
  • Don’t know: 13% vs. 15%
Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 online shoppers May 2022

92% of online shoppers read and make purchases based on ratings and reviews. Purchasing influence from ratings and reviews sees small decline year-over-year as noted:

Read reviews and make purchases:

  • Always: 50% vs. 58%
  • Occasionally: 42% vs. 38%
  • Never: 8% vs. 4%

The role of ratings/reviews in helping shoppers make smart selections has bottom-line impact for sellers. Marketplaces must make sure reviews are robust given their influence among consumers. Smartly positioning reviews within the shopping experience ensures strong viewership.

Marketplace shopping is predicated on free shipping and better prices, along with in-stock products that can be delivered fast

Online shoppers seek out fundamentals when choosing to shop at marketplaces, where price is the driving factor, selection appreciated and convenience a given. Purchase influences include free and discounted shipping at 51% and better prices at 49%.

The combination of the pandemic and the supply chain crisis may just have increased delivery speed’s importance (35%) and in-stock status given tough inventory positions at many retailers (37%).

Marketplaces have a special opportunity to help online shoppers find specific items while also trying unique products. The following sheds light on this: finding very specific items (32%), broader selection in a category (25%) and unique products (25%). Of course, shoppers are assisted with seller feedback/ratings, which 23% of survey respondents highlighted.

Convenience is always a factor, and our research pointed to its role for 35% of respondents. That included a wider range of categories in one location at 21%, which also supports this dynamic. Other marketplace tactics included shopping efficiencies for 18% while product information, loyalty programs and a mobile app all saw 15% penetration. There is never a substitute for past experience. It is an important indicator of future purchasing, as 17% indicated.

Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

3 out of 4 top concerns relative to marketplace purchasing are related to product authenticity, quality and shipping

Online shoppers want the products they purchase to be of top quality and as represented on the site. They expect these goods to come from reputable sellers, and survey respondents expressed some trepidation about non-U.S. sellers. That manifested as the following product-based concerns:

  • Counterfeit products: 49%
  • Seller not reputable or certified: 34%
  • Products from non-U.S. seller: 34%
  • Subpar product quality: 32%
  • Lack of product or seller reviews: 27%
  • Lack of inventory transparency: 16%

Long shipping times can cause buyers concern (44%), whereas inventory and delivery transparency is welcome. Shoppers like to have flexibility in their return options, which was the case for 39%, as was customer service/support at 33%. Orders never shipping is problematic and was a factor for 23%.

Managing fees from shipping to hidden charges can alleviate concerns. From a money perspective, the following proved to be concerns among online shoppers:

  • Shipping costs too high (44%)
  • Unexpected additional expenses such as sales tax (23%)
  • Finding U.S. product for lower price (18%)
  • Financing options not available (11%)
Source: Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1000 online shoppers, May 2022

Online shoppers will look to marketplaces in the coming year with their broad assortments. It will be incumbent on sellers to manage prices, deliveries, and attempt to keep products in stock during these challenging times. Satisfaction will derive from the experiences shoppers receive. And that will determine future interest in the marketplace model.