Expand Your Business Through International Online Marketplaces


Marisa Fasciano
Content Specialist
Marisa is a communications consultant based in New York with a background in social research, diversity education, and nonprofit development.  She has lived and traveled abroad extensively… Read more

Online marketplaces are web sites or apps that enable shoppers to browse products from a variety of different sources.  Rather than owning the inventory, the operator of the marketplace displays other people’s inventory and helps to promote and complete transactions between sellers and buyers.  With a stock market capitalization of $500 billion, the unstoppable Amazon is the world’s most successful internet-based marketplace.  eBay, which boasts 167 million users, and China’s superstar, Alibaba, also dominate the ecommerce landscape.

Explore Online Marketplaces off the Beaten Path

If you’re the owner of an SME, chances are you’ve already looked into selling on the best-known sites, so now might be a good time to explore alternative places for marketing your wares.  When conducting your research, keep in mind that there are three basic types of online marketplaces:  vertical, horizontal, and global.  “Vertical” marketplaces present products from multiple sources but just one category, like watches for example.  “Horizontal” marketplaces cover multiple product categories (e.g., food, clothing, furniture, etc.) that share a common trait, such as a targeted consumer demographic.  “Global” marketplaces are just what they sound like; they sell everything to everyone.

There are a variety of specialized service providers that help sellers remit funds from their international online marketplace accounts.  Companies such as Currencies Direct, OFX, and World First, typically offer faster (within hours) and less expensive money transfers than more traditional providers, like banks.  By holding local currency accounts where the seller does business, they can offer lower exchange rates and also reduce business owners' exposure to "currency risk," potentially damaging fluctuations in exchange rates.

It’s also important to consider which geographic regions the online marketplace serves.  You may need to test out different regions to determine where your product works best and customize your marketing approach to particular regions.  Fortunately, unlike opening up a brick-and-mortar store in a new country, joining a virtual marketplace that is based abroad comes with low upfront costs. 


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Some Ideas for Where to Begin

To get you started, we’ve provided a sampling of some of the most promising online marketplaces that have sprung up around the world:

Trade Me

Trade Me describes itself as “the place where Kiwis buy and sell online.”  It’s the top online marketplace and classified advertising platform in New Zealand, representing 85% of all ecommerce traffic there.  Trade Me offers auctions and fixed-priced sales for new and used goods.  Founded in 1999 by a young computer consultant who saw the need for a service his compatriots could trust, Trade Me prides itself on its cultural sensitivity and loyal customer base.


The second-largest ecommerce site in France, Cdiscount sells a wide range of products, including high-tech items and household appliances.  Launched in 2011, Cdiscount is one of the fastest growing sites in Europe.  It boasts 16 million registered buyers and over 1 billion euros in sales annually.  One feature that distinguishes it from competitors is that merchants aren’t required to sign a contract upon registration.  Cdiscount now covers four continents:  South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

Rakuten Inc.

Rakuten Inc. is an internet services giant that was founded in Japan in 1999 and operates internationally through dedicated regional ecommerce sites.  Its US-based marketplace, Rakuten.com, serves more than 20 million customers and offers over 18 million products in a broad range of categories.  In 2010, Rakuten acquired French ecommerce leader, PriceMinister.com.  Rakuten also reaches many other global marketplaces, including the UK, Germany, Brazil, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand


Wish appeals to younger generations who use their smartphones for everything.  With hundreds of millions of users, Wish is the top mobile commerce platform in North America and Europe.  Its mission is “to give everyone access to the most affordable, convenient, and effective shopping mall in the world.”  Despite the high transaction fees for sellers (15%), the app’s unusually wide reach could make listing your products here a worthwhile investment.  Almost anyone around the world with a smartphone is a potential buyer. 


Other online marketplaces to check out include the technology specialist Newegg, the Italian ecommerce upstart ePRICE, and the Silicon Valley-funded Tophatter.  Take advantage of the growing consumer demand for efficient shopping experiences that present multiple product categories and retailers at once.  Online marketplaces are the fastest way to scale up and expand your business globally, all from the comfort of home.  Good luck!

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