The Future of Marketplaces

the art of the cash register

The Apple iPod came out a month after September 11th, in 2001, in October. It was consider groundbreaking for its marketing power: “1000 songs” was WAY easier to understand than how many megabytes of storage an MP3 player had on board. But, if you ask me, the iTunes store is the big story.

Why? Because it put a one-click marketplace with a very low-friction sales channel directly into our hands, attached to a device that willingly sucks up the purchases and plays them to us at our whim. The iTunes store was one of the first brilliantly distributed marketplaces because it was a simple management app that morphed into a simple sales tool.

One last thing about Apple before I move on to talk about the future of marketplaces: have you been to the Apple Store lately? If so, you probably bought something. Notice the credit-card-readers-on-the-phone trick? Well, that’s part of the story, too. The sense of doing transactions without eating up space for registers is part of this.

So, let’s talk about my thoughts on the future of marketplaces.

Marketplaces Will Be Distributed

In the old days of podcasting and videoblogging, pretty much no one could make money directly from their podcasts, because they were using old CPM advertising models on their main website, and very few people had the urge to click over to the primary site, and then click an ad. In the old days, distribution was the devil, because if people weren’t going to the primary site, they weren’t getting the potential to have eyeballs and maybe cost-per-action (CPA) deals.

In the new world, the marketplace (different than advertising, but stick with me) is distributed. We sell where the people are. We put the opportunity to buy where they might actually want to make use of it. Want a real brick and mortar world example? Red Box puts DVD dispenser units at grocery stores and airports, where someone might have the urge to rent a DVD. BestBuy has gadget vending machines at airports, filled with things that travelers might want.

The future of marketplaces will continue that trend outward, using things like affiliate marketing to spread the potential to buy out to where people are looking to make the transaction happen.

Marketplaces Will Be Mobile

On one side, I’m thinking about payments. PayPal has a whole new mobile payment suite. Square allows one to accept payments via one’s mobile phone. ( See also) The world has shifted to make it easier for someone to accept many payment options as a merchant, and now, to accept them from mobile transactions. Look for more and more mobile wallet type opportunities to extend in the coming years. Look also for micro-funding opportunities to blend a bit more with mobile in some interesting ways.

On the other side, the opportunity to purchase things will be made a lot simpler for mobile devices. We’re only just starting to see this. What we currently have are amalgamated moments when someone will see a really well-designed mobile website, or an app, will want to purchase something from the site, and then will be flipped into the laptop-style version of the purchase funnel. I think that the whole “opportunity to purchase” part of transactions will be much better executed via mobile devices shortly.

One last note on mobile: the whole RFID, QR, Bluetooth, near field communication thing will still be up for grabs with regards to how it best serves the marketplace.

The Marketplace Will Be Integrated

In the 50s, we had advertisers that were very embedded with our shows. In recent years, product placement has grown and grown in mainstream movies and to a lesser extent on TV. In the next little while, the online space will do a lot more to integrate marketplace opportunities with our content and community opportunities. The big blogs do sponsored posts, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Think more of that Oprah-level experience of giving everyone in the audience a Ford. There WILL be a lot more integrated marketplace opportunities in the coming years.

Projects like sponsored content communities like OPENForum from American Express, are just the beginning.

The Marketplace Will Be Weblocal

In the next few years, there will be a HUGE push to help more local people selling on the web in a much nicer fashion. We’ll also have the other opportunity bridge: to promote local business via web projects, such that people become educated and enamored with a real world marketpace. Showing people your local farmer’s market will become an opportunity for the local community, plus a great opportunity for web-to-physical bridging.

We’ll see a lot more done with location-based-applications. I tend to downplay Foursquare, but it’s because I think Foursquare is to location-based technology what AOL was to the Internet (the old “You’ve got Mail” AOL, not the Huffington Post).

The Marketplace Will Be Global for the Little Guy

We’ve read about outsourcing forever. We’ve read about the chance to buy virtual assistant help from India or wherever. That’s just the start. The marketplace for products and services and supplies and labor and much much more will be thrown open to small business types with every bit as much fervor as the big companies experienced in the last few decades. That means that a solo business might find themselves sourcing product materials or parts or foodstuffs from someone on the other side of the world far more frequently than is happening right now.

One change will be improved marketing of these opportunities. For everyone who discovers something like the Oriental Trading Company for retail of toys and party favors, there will be plenty more chances to source products, materials, foods, and the like from other places, and in a way that makes for interesting new business opportunities nearby.

The Marketplace Will be Subscription and Ecosystem Minded

I talked about this the other day in the Future of Media post, saying that things like books will be sold with subscriptions in mind. I feel that way about a lot of goods. If you sell me wine of the month, what else could you add to my monthly purchase ecosystems? There will be more and more partnerships and distribution projects and other ways to “bundle” services or products, such that marketplaces look at me as a total sales opportunity, and not just a solo product transaction.

Your Thoughts on the Marketplace?

I’m very interested in your thoughts on the marketplace. That’s the whole buying and selling of things and how it might change. YOUR take will be very interesting. I’m grateful for your time, too. Thanks!

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