Skip to main content

Marketplaces vs Ecommerce Platforms

With online businesses, two primary models have gained prominence: marketplaces and ecommerce platforms. These models come with their unique advantages and disadvantages, and the emergence of hybrid models is blurring the lines between them. This report provides a comprehensive overview of these models, explores their key differences, and offers guidance on choosing the right one for your business.

Understanding the Main Difference between a Marketplace vs Ecommerce

At the core of the distinction between marketplaces and ecommerce platforms lies their approach to managing transactions between customers and vendors.


Also referred to as managed platforms, marketplaces may offer a comprehensive experience that includes managed payments and delivery services. They focus on connecting buyers and vendors, providing greater flexibility, but at the cost of some control over the final purchase. Marketplaces maintain control over financial transactions and offer end-to-end user experiences for both vendors and customers. Think of marketplaces like a department store, where various suppliers showcase their products within a shared space, sold under shared rules.

Two Primary Categories of Online Marketplaces

After understanding what an online marketplace is, we can categorize them into two types.

  1. Ecommerce Marketplaces – When people mention selling on online marketplaces, they’re typically referring to ecommerce marketplaces. These digital platforms are the most prevalent spaces for individuals and companies to sell a wide array of products, spanning from clothing and food to digital downloads.
  2. Service-Based Marketplaces – In addition to ecommerce marketplaces, there are dedicated marketplaces designed explicitly for businesses to offer services. These platforms enable users to search for service professionals, encompassing areas like plumbing, painting, and wedding photography.

The Advantages of an Online Marketplace

After understanding what an online marketplace is, the next common question is, “Why should I choose to sell on an online marketplace?” There are four prominent benefits to selling your products on such platforms.

  1. Access to an Established Customer Base – A major advantage of selling on online marketplaces is gaining access to an existing customer base. When establishing your business in a specific market, it can be time-consuming to attract potential customers to your website and encourage them to make purchases. Online marketplaces provide immediate access to a substantial pool of customers already interested in your offerings, saving you the effort and time required to build a customer base.
  2. Enhanced Visibility for Your Business – Another significant benefit of online marketplaces is their capacity to increase the visibility of your business. Numerous individuals may be seeking products that your business offers, yet they might not have discovered your brand. By establishing a presence on online marketplaces, more people can easily discover your business. Since these prospects are already browsing for products similar to yours, it’s convenient for them to come across your brand during their search, resulting in greater visibility for your products and brand.
  3. Establishment of Trust – Building trust with your audience and instilling confidence in your products is pivotal. However, achieving this trust can be challenging if your brand is still in the process of establishing itself. Even if potential customers find your brand while searching online, they might hesitate to make a purchase. When you sell on a marketplace, you benefit from the trust associated with the marketplace itself. This trust backing enhances the confidence of buyers, knowing that the marketplace will address any issues that may arise. Delivering exceptional products and experiences further solidifies trust with your audience.
  4. Shopper Preference – It’s important to note that people have a preference for shopping on online marketplaces. These platforms offer convenience, enabling shoppers to acquire a wide range of products through a single transaction without navigating multiple websites. Additionally, shoppers enjoy a broader selection of options, expediting their quest for the right product. Given this, targeting these marketplace-loving shoppers is a wise strategy for your business.

Ecommerce Platforms

In contrast, ecommerce platforms operate more like a thrift market. While they vet every seller, vendors operate independently in terms of their sales processes and other operations. Ecommerce platforms connect buyers and sellers, allowing greater flexibility and independence in the transaction process.

Ecommerce Platform Types

Ecommerce platforms, like Shopify, are essential tools for establishing a functional online store, enabling businesses to market and sell their products and services. These platforms come in different formats, with many presenting user-friendly website builder interfaces. These interfaces cater to a wide range of users, from those who prefer a hands-on website creation experience to those who seek the simplicity of drag-and-drop features.

There are three primary categories of e-commerce platforms to consider.

Subscription-Based Ecommerce Platforms

  • Advantages – These platforms come packed with valuable features, including secure online payment processing, SSL certificate encryption, tax handling, scalability, web hosting, and more.
  • Drawbacks – However, subscription-based platforms often require a certain level of technical expertise, and their costs can be substantial, especially for high-traffic online stores.

Open-Source Ecommerce Platforms

  • Advantages – Open-source platforms are known for their cost-effectiveness and ease of installation. They offer a high degree of customization and compatibility with various ecommerce tools and add-ons.
  • Drawbacks – On the flip side, they lack dedicated customer support. Setting up open-source platforms, such as Magento, can be technically demanding and require the ability to install plugins from the commerce cloud independently.

Headless Ecommerce Platforms

  • Advantages – Headless ecommerce platforms shine in delivering content across multiple digital touchpoints, offering comprehensive control over your online store. They provide powerful features like A/B testing to enhance conversion rates.
  • Drawbacks – The installation process for headless platforms can be intricate, and like open-source platforms, they typically do not offer direct customer support.

Key Factors When Choosing Your Ecommerce Platform

As you weigh the options for your ecommerce store, it’s essential to consider some factors.

  1. Compatibility – Ensure that the ecommerce site aligns seamlessly with the design and layout of your website. If not, investigate whether a website builder like Squarespace offers a suitable alternative.
  2. Technical Prerequisites – Gauge the level of technical expertise necessary to configure and maintain the platform effectively.
  3. Support – Examine the availability of support resources, such as tutorials and customer service, for troubleshooting and guidance.
  4. Updates – Check how frequently the platform introduces new features and capabilities to stay competitive and up-to-date.
  5. User Community – Consider the size and engagement of the platform’s user community. A robust community means more shared experiences and issue-solving.
  6. Scalability – Reflect on the platform’s capacity to grow alongside your online business. Some platforms are more suitable for small ecommerce operations, while others are tailored for scalability.
  7. Support Services – Evaluate the kind of support services offered, ranging from round-the-clock assistance to relying on online tutorials or additional fees for support-related issues.

Determining Your Business Model: Key Differences

To identify whether your business operates as a marketplace or an ecommerce platform, examine how your business handles transactions between buyers and sellers and the level of control you maintain over these transactions.

  • Marketplace Model – If your business maintains control over financial transactions, manages delivery services, and provides a consistent end-to-end user experience, then you’re likely operating as a marketplace (or managed platform).
  • Ecommerce Platform Model – On the other hand, if your business connects buyers and sellers, allowing for greater flexibility and independence in the transaction process, then you’re likely an ecommerce platform.

Online Marketplace vs Ecommerce Website Examples

To better grasp the key differences between marketplaces and ecommerce platforms, let’s delve into some well-known examples of both.

Marketplace Examples

  1. Etsy – A traditional marketplace specializing in handmade jewelry, crafts, and decorations. It offers a unified digital space for vendors to sell their products while aggregating a wide range of offerings
  2. Amazon – A massive online marketplace offering a wide range of products, from books and electronics to clothing and household items
  3. eBay – An online marketplace where users can buy and sell items through auctions or fixed-price listings
  4. Fiverr – An online marketplace connecting freelancers with those in need of services like graphic design or copywriting
  5. Alibaba – A global online marketplace connecting businesses with suppliers from around the world

Ecommerce Platform Examples

  1. Shopify – A popular ecommerce platform that enables businesses to create online stores, manage inventory, process payments, and customize websites
  2. WooCommerce – A plugin that turns WordPress websites into online stores, offering features like inventory management, payment processing, and shipping options
  3. Magento – An open-source ecommerce platform known for its flexibility and customization options
  4. Squarespace – A website builder with ecommerce functionality, allowing visually impressive online store creation with customizable templates

Hybrid Models: Blurring the Lines between Ecommerce and Marketplaces

Hybrid models combine features from both marketplaces and ecommerce platforms, making the distinction more complex. Brands like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft are often described as ‘sharing economy’ or ‘peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms’. They facilitate transactions between individuals rather than traditional businesses while maintaining certain rules and policies. For instance, Airbnb connects travelers with hosts, handling payments and setting standards for quality.

Choosing the Right Model for Your Business

Several crucial factors should guide your decision between a marketplace or ecommerce platform business model.

  • Business Goals – Your business’s objectives play a significant role in determining the ideal model
  • Target Audience – Consider the preferences of your target customers, as they can impact your choice
  • Product or Service Offering – The nature of your offerings, whether broad or specific, influences your decision
  • Control and Flexibility – Assess how much control and flexibility you want in your buying and selling processes
  • Revenue Streams – Understand how you plan to generate revenue, whether through commission fees, subscription fees, or other sources
  • Technology and Infrastructure – Analyze the technology and infrastructure requirements for your chosen model, considering your budget and technical capabilities

Ultimately, the best model for your business depends on your specific goals, available resources, and the audience you wish to serve. The choice between a marketplace and an ecommerce platform is a significant decision, so thorough evaluation is crucial.

How E‑ Can Help Your Platform is a company that offers a broad range of services in the fields of e-marketplaces, e-commerce, and multi-channel sales and marketing. They assist retailers in developing comprehensive multi-channel sales and marketing strategies, help wholesalers establish cost-effective online sales channels, and collaborate with brands to extend their marketing reach. They also provide solutions for businesses undergoing digital transformation and offer support to e-marketplace operators.’s skill set includes various aspects of e-commerce and marketing. They start the process with a free consultation and proposal to guide companies in the multi-channel landscape. Overall, the company is a valuable resource for businesses navigating the complexities of contemporary multi-channel commerce.


The choice between a marketplace and an ecommerce platform depends on the product niche, needs, and goals of each retailer. For eCommerce beginners, starting on online marketplaces is cost-effective and reduces the time and risks of setting up a business.

Alternatively, established brands seeking to retain more profits or those needing a customized solution may prefer to create their own eCommerce website. You can use both a marketplace and a platform to make your business successful, as they offer different advantages for selling online.