The functional marketplace is eating the world

The marketplace has been a very influential social and economic construct for a very, very long time. It has been a central concept to commerce all over the world since the dawn of man kind. In time, the marketplace has been refined and evolved to include ever more complex structures. During the past century it morphed from temporarily trade gatherings to large permanent structures such as shopping malls and eventually it evolved into what we now know as the online marketplace. Now – it’s evolving into something else: the functional marketplace.

Simply put a functional marketplace is a combination between a marketplace and software tools that help buyers and/or sellers.

2021 update: I wrote this in 2015 and now it seems the model is spreading across multiple industries. Several examples of (newer) companies employing the functional marketplace model are Airbnb, Peloton (yes, really) or the Adobe Ecosystem, through its creative outlets (such as Behance).

Ebay, Alibaba, Etsy, Amazon and others have one thing in common – they get sellers and buyers in one place. These online marketplaces are fuelled by a business model that has seen a steep increase and proved excellent in the past years. But now, it’s time for the next step:

Functional Marketplace connecting buyers, sellers with useful tools

I believe the times they are a-changin’, like Dylan would chant. The Online Marketplace is not enough any more. The markets demand something more.

That something is the Functional Online Marketplace, a virtual hub that combines the features of a marketplace (buyers and sellers, reputation management, transaction handling) with functions that improve the lives of either sellers or buyers.

The Functional Online Marketplace goes beyond just letting online retailers and buyers trade. It helps the seller run its business better and the buyer benefit more from the product purchased.

And some of the biggest tech companies we know have created this type of Functional Marketplaces. We’ve used them and most customers love them. We just didn’t put a name on it. Have a look at some examples:

The Apple Ecosystem

Steve Jobs envisioned the PC as a digital hub, a central unit that connects the user’s digital activity. From email to web surfing, from music to pictures and more. It then proceeded to create this vision and along the way he built much more.

Apple apps ecosystem - a functional marketplace for developers and users

By launching the iPod and then the iPhone, Apple moved the digital hub inside the consumer’s pocket. With such a valuable real-estate in the reach they’ve had to build a system that shipped music, video and applications from third parties to these devices.

The iTunes Store and the AppStore were born. Apple built the platform to consume apps, the place where customers could download these apps, empowered developers to build these apps but did something else too.

It built Xcode (the development tool for iOS developers), it launched Objective C and than Swift (the programming languages used to build apps) and helped developers create useful apps.

Apple went beyond the marketplace paradigm. Yes, it allowed media and software consumers to meet developers but it also created the platform where they could be consumed and the tools to build them. It built an extraordinarily effective Functional Marketplace.

But Apple is not the only one …

The Uber-marketplace

Uber is an extraordinary successful company that connects freelance drivers to those in need of their services. It connects buyers to sellers. It is technically a digital marketplace. And more.

First of all Uber empowered a set of freelancers that didn’t know they’ve actually had a market. The driver app allows drivers to see potential riders and provides GPS-linked functionality inside a simple mobile device.

The functional side of Uber not only improves the way sellers (drivers) provide their services but actually it makes it possible.

For customers, the app makes hailing a driver an easy task, it allows direct payment on mobile phone and brings the comfort previously unattainable. The functional marketplace at its best.

Google – the biggest functional marketplace

Google is many things. Search giant, mail provider, mobile os developer and genetics researcher among others. But at its core, the business model is quite simple: Get people to pay for ads. Show ads to customers. Make people click on said ads.

Advertising accounts for 89.5% of Google’s total revenue so it’s safe to say that ads are its bread and butter.

To achieve these levels of revenue Google has to place together “The Sellers” (Advertisers) and “The Buyers” (Customers clicking on ads). Though customers don’t technically buy on Google, those that generate the company’s revenue end up as leads or buyers on advertisers’ websites.

To do this, Google built its ad market on top of its primarily function: Search. Users searching for information of interest are effectively buyers in the Google functional marketplace.

The marketplace, therefore provides functional support to buyers. The search, Gmail, Android – are all basically functions that lock in the ad-clicker and in turn generate revenue through these types of transactions.

These are just three functional marketplaces examples but they illustrate the concept. To be successful, a newly established marketplace has to provide more than just a connection between buyers and sellers. It needs to provide function beyond the commercial. By improving the lives of buyers and sellers beyond the commercial, Functional Marketplaces provide the type of lock-in and effectiveness previous models don’t.

Author: Mihai Mike Dragan

Mihai Mike Dragan is an ecommerce expert and the cofounder and COO of Oveit, a global company focusing on live experiences technology, both virtual and in-person. Mike has an experience of over 15 years in building digital products, with a focus on ecommerce. He has worked with some of the largest consumer brands in the world, advising on their digital go to market strategy.   Mike Dragan is also the author of the "Understanding Omnichannel Retail - beyond clicks vs. bricks" ebook, a guide for companies that understand consumer behaviour across media. He holds two degrees, one in International Economics and one in Computer Science.

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