One of the key takeaways from the recent Shop.org Digital Summit was a noticeable shift in retailers’ approach to online marketplaces. Specifically, companies like Amazon, eBay and others are no longer viewed (only) as market share-stealing, profit-sucking behemoths, but as simply another channel for ecommerce retailers to reach consumers, acquire new customers and expand internationally.

According to GoDataFeed, which helps retailers optimize and automate product feeds to major shopping sites, the number of its retailer customers selling their products on two or more marketplaces was a mere 5% just 18 months ago. Today, that number is 35%. That number is expected to grow along with the global reach of the top marketplaces; Amazon, eBay, Newegg, Sears, Jet, Alibaba and Rakuten lead the pack in volume and monthly unique visitors.

Then there’s the search factor. For people looking to buy, marketplaces are often the starting point of their search. Google’s Eric Schmidt acknowledged as much recently when he stated that its “biggest search competitor is Amazon.”

Whether retailers plan to play offense or defense, they need a marketplace strategy.

PUMA’s Head of eCommerce, Chris Hardisty, (Disclosure: Demandware client) gave Shop.org attendees insight on how the sports lifestyle brand evaluated its approach to marketplaces:

  • Size of the prize (Demographics and ability to acquire new customers)
  • Brand representation and brand control
  • Current wholesale distribution

After examining its selling history and engaging an outside firm to help match data on these criteria, PUMA made the decision to double down on eBay. The key reason: little overlap.

Turns out that less than 5% of PUMA’s customers were buying both on eBay and the PUMA site, and the demographic was right in their sweet spot. The potential for new customer acquisition was high.

PUMA has been surprised by the results: sales above expectations, strong margins due to a surprising number of full price purchases, positive feedback, both internally and externally, and negligible impact to its own online business.

Another example of marketplace optimization and strategy came from the team at Newell Rubbermaid. They audited the experience across all retailers and developed a retailer journey, in addition to the consumer journey, to build a sound plan around marketplace experiences.

At a more tactical level, there are several changes retailers can make to optimize their marketplace presence. Charles Montgomery, Director of Digital Strategy at Airfilters.com, offers suggestions to improve rankings and revenue here.

Marketplaces are also a core element in global expansion, specifically in Asia. Forrester analyst Peter Sheldon outlined the three common approaches to global expansion:

  1. Cross-Border Shipping
  2. Marketplace Storefront
  3. A Market Localized Store

Traditionally, retailers have followed a maturity model that started with number one and progressed to three, but many retailers now choose a blend of these approaches. This falls in line with the input Demandware received from executives of top retailers in our report Insights on Building eCommerce Strategies in Asia.

There is no longer a middle ground on online marketplaces, said Jack Kiefer, President of Sweet Valley Venture. Retailers must take a strategic and tactical approach to each marketplace, leveraging their size and reach to fulfill their own goals while maintaining brand identity.

When it comes to marketplaces, he says, retailers must take control or lose control.