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Could the future of the marketplace be a hybrid one?


Discover 8 reasons why you should take your creative business online.

Discover 8 reasons why you should take your creative business online

The pandemic has changed the way we do many things, and that includes markets. So, let’s discuss why the future of the marketplace might be a hybrid one…

From the infamous 2020 toilet roll shortage and the increasingly empty supermarket shelves, to the run on the petrol pumps that left the country (and our patience) well… out of gas! Unfortunately, all the evidence seems to suggest trends such as panic buying and irregular supply chains are set to continue.

Of course, you’ll be familiar with all of this by now but especially when it comes to the elusive concept that is ‘the future’ (despite the governments ongoing easing of Covid restrictions), for many small-business and/or stallholders, things can seem pretty bleak when you consider potential obstacles to the long-term viability of your business. However, from that point of view, this is just one of the reasons why there has never been a better time to run a business simultaneously both online and offline.

Primarily it gives you reliability and security you simply cannot get otherwise and in fact it is for this reason that hybrid markets becoming the dominant form of the ‘event’ world is probably inevitable. Therefore, if you operate or are even thinking of operating your own market stall but are unsure whether to also take it online, please read on for a list of reasons why its addition could be the way forward for your growing business…

1) Online shopping is here to stay

According to Statista who, as its name might suggest, specialise in financial market and consumer data: ‘In 2020, over two billion people purchased goods or services online, and during the same year, e-retail sales surpassed 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide’. As for the UK: ‘According to the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (UK), the country’s e-commerce revenue in 2019 amounted to 693 billion GBP, a sharp increase on the year prior.’ Interestingly, in the second quarter of this year, ‘63% of e-commerce orders were placed on smartphones’ and by 2023 the ‘forecasted growth rate of online shopping’ as a whole is 34.5%.

Whether our online lives are good for us or not and where the balance lies in their usage is another matter, but nevertheless, the message is clear; online shopping is here to stay and will only continue to grow larger, as a society it simply offers too much in the way of convenience to be dismissed.

One of the biggest issues facing stallholders without an online presence is that potential customers may take a look at the products on show and even consider a direct purchase there and then, but refrain from doing so because they want to check prices online in order to get the best value for money.

In other words, prospective customers end up using your products essentially as a basis of ideas for a future purchase but you as the seller don’t end up seeing any benefit in the way of sales. Because of this, as bigger retailers with their vast resources often offer the lowest prices, there is a strong potential that you are effectively putting yourself out of contention right from the start even if you offer superior quality. Therefore, the ability to sell online can allow smaller retailers to compete with bigger players and this is especially so when customers also have the additional option of a pleasant personal interaction with the seller at the point of sale, something that Amazon or Ebay simply cannot compete with. After all, according to Forbes even ‘Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers’, and this is regarding multi-nationals let alone the sales potential for a local market vendor. 

Even having any kind of online presence, such as social media but not offering the ability to make online purchases, is better than nothing at all, but there really isn’t a reason not to sell online in some form as for one thing, initial set up and running costs are significantly lower and often outright minimal, a topic covered in one of Pedddle’s blogs. Indeed, as a small business, initial start-up costs and time management are arguably the two single biggest concerns, leading me nicely on to the next point…

  2) Sell anything anywhere, anytime…

Obviously, when it comes to e-commerce (and online market) sales there is a major time factor, namely that unlike us, the internet is ‘awake’ 24 hours a day, enabling a seller to have the means to be making money even when they are asleep. In short, the most crucial aspect of any business, selling, effectively takes care of itself. Not only are there no opening hours restrictions and general time constraints, but you also gain the flexibility to operate your business remotely, potentially hundreds of miles, from where your stall is or would be located. If you want to sit in bed in your pyjamas all day with a nice cup of Earl Grey in one hand and with your own business on your phone in the other, you’re completely free to do so! The point is that you have the freedom to operate your business exactly the way you want, whenever and wherever you want.

Other than death and taxes, the one thing you can be certain of in life is that no matter how well you manage your time, unexpected things always crop up at the worst possible moment to derail your best laid plans. The beauty of e-commerce is that, in the event that a pressing matter of business or your personal life prohibits you from attending every single market in-person, you have the luxury to be more selective about when and where you do attend.

3) Come rain, wind or shine…

As a related point, one significant consideration for any stallholder is the weather. It goes without saying but weather can be volatile, certainly in the UK, which is like saying well… the sky is blue (or not!). It can be your greatest ally on a beautiful lazy summer’s day and your worst on a wet and windy Wednesday when you are fighting just to keep your products in a sellable condition or even from being blown off into the stratosphere! Clearly, online your products aren’t at the mercy of the elements, products that may have taken dozens of man-hours of painstaking work to produce or manufacture aren’t at risk of damage and destruction when tucked snugly indoors and the considerable potential for customers to be put off venturing outside to visit your stall is negated.

It might not give you the same buzz of excitement, but selling online is the greatest insurance you can have. Even in the worst-case scenario that a market you’ve been counting on financially is cancelled due to extreme weather conditions, you still have your online marketplace to fall back on. You could even increase anticipation for your next in-person event appearances by notifying customers of the details online for when the weather hopefully improves, instantly promoting your online presence and simultaneously improving the likelihood of future sales, so again putting you in a win-win position!

After all, as the saying goes, anticipation is the root of desire and by extension, demand. Another is that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so essentially you can use perceived scarcity to your advantage to increase product demand and make your brand more desirable. Give people something to look forward to and they’ll flock to your stall when it does open, but whilst they are waiting in the meantime, you’re providing them with options online.

This might all seem obvious, but by covering both bases, the value of reliability this gives you as well as the resulting peace of mind, can’t be overstated. It can be difficult to achieve, but by effectively striking a balance between off and online, the stall holder can create a feedback loop where both help each other, enabling the business to grow much faster and further than it might otherwise. It is arguably the best means with which to provide small businesses with the resilience to weather the storm of commercial and social uncertainty.

4) Social media and diversity

The title may have you worried but it’s not completely what you think! I’ve already touched on it but what I’m talking about here is how competing online promotes business diversity, both in terms of the products a stallholder sells, and as a result, the nature of the business itself. Small businesses can be more agile and flexible and also follow current trends more easily, providing more unique goods and services whilst still maintaining their own core values which, as mentioned in the prior section, is something that develops resilience and longevity amidst uncertainty.

Nowhere is this more easily utilised than on social media. Of course, there is no obligation to sell on platforms such as Facebook marketplace, especially if you want to keep social media as a fun part of your social life and separate from work, but it is an option to explore particularly considering their high user bases. For example, the most recent estimate of users of the biggest social media platform Facebook is ‘2.89 billion monthly active users’, so it is a way to reach many potential customers very quickly. It can also be a way to build up a social circle of followers who have at least an emotional investment in your products if not a financial one initially, and this may translate to more traffic or footfall at your stall. Also for the same reasons, social media offers far more scope for collaboration in general as it enables new businesses to help each other out for mutual benefit.

It is also appropriate to include here, going online also improves diversity of customers, meaning more of them which equals better sales. Individuals with health issues or disabilities for example who may not be able to attend a market in-person can still attend online and with some social media livestreaming magic (or Tresstle TV!) can even still feel as if they are taking part. This can be followed up with the added feature of group chats or forums and the like post-event, but just the general aspect of making people feel included cannot be a bad thing for their wellbeing or yours.

At the very least, social media offers probably the best free advertising you can find, and if your business can grow to a certain level and you can get customers involved, they can virtually sell your product for you through positive digital word-of-mouth, spreading the message that your products are great. After all, people are more likely to buy from you if other people they know rate your products highly in comparison to more conventional means of advertising like a random billboard. This is due to the psychological aspect of bias, as if someone thinks another person in their social ‘tribe’ is ‘good’ they sub-consciously believe the things they buy to be reflective of their personality, so essentially they trust in that individuals ability to discern quality simply because they like them.

Another advantage of utilising social media is that it can be used as a free source of knowledge that just didn’t exist in the past – examples include specialised online seminars, ‘tips and tricks’ advice or ‘how to’ videos, in order to build a bigger and better business for both customers and established business owners. Click here to find out more about hybrid working and the future of small businesses with Pedddle, our sister website.

It also helps that both general information social-media posts and even sales or promotions can effectively be automated by being scheduled in advance for a specific day, for example through the use of applications such as Hootsuite or Mailchimp. All of which can give you more time to focus on the many other inevitable tasks that are required for running a business, helping you not to get too overwhelmed. Also because there is a digital footprint of your activity over time, essentially like having a secondary infallible memory (you can find what you said to what person like five years ago), it decreases the scope for human error which is especially useful when it comes to managing finances and suchlike.

5) QR codes on queue… /‘Get’ em queueing with QR codes’

Although they’ve actually been around for over 25 years, the increasingly ubiquitous QR codes are everywhere these days, from bus stops, shopping centres to medical facilities or on TV with a whopping 94% ‘growth in number of QR interactions from 2018-2020’. They might look like hieroglyphics to the uninitiated, but they are called ‘Quick Response’ codes for a reason. They have the ability to be scanned at great frequency and speed with a high margin of error; that is they can still be read with partial information if damaged or faded.

As a business owner in particular they offer a wealth of possibilities not possible with conventional old-fashioned barcodes or the like, (they can include ‘2500 characters compared to a barcodes 25’) QR codes are multi-faceted offering the ability to instantly link to a website/app/social media/ video or audio media/ payment service without having to type anything in. They can even ‘be up to 10 times smaller than a barcode and still readable’ so offer greater reliability and all you need is a basic smartphone camera. Because QR codes can link to different types of services, as the website ‘Blue Byte’ aptly puts: ‘Consumers can be presented with different information depending on when they scan and how many times they’ve scanned, keeping them engaged and connected.’ Their versatility allows them to provide variety or rather novelty to the user experience, customers are intrigued to see what they discover next even if it’s actually relatively mundane!

The biggest advantage they offer is that because you get the customer to engage with your stall rather than just passively look at it, so there is the powerful psychological aspect of user interactivity. If they use their phone, which is most likely already to hand anyway, to scan a QR code, that ultimately links to a means of purchasing products, and they are more likely to take the plunge and do so because you’ve already got them to invest in it emotionally. It might well be cognitive bias again, but because they physically interact with your product (but indirectly enough to not cause their initial positive impression to dissipate, which might happen if they handle a product and decide they dislike it), a person’s tendency is to believe they have had some part in a product’s ‘creation’ which is of course very unlikely in reality. However, that sense of attachment is probably the singular strongest force that attracts sales, a deal-breaker even and can determine the perception of your business for life. 

Lastly, I cannot fail to mention that this is another aspect of the disruption caused by the pandemic, leading to the adoption of convenient technology, as scanning QR is of course contactless and there is no need to touch a surface, which is another reason their usage has grown exponentially and is very pro-active for putting customers’ minds at ease concerning health and safety. Obviously, this has led to their adoption in providing a means of payment without requiring cash or expensive card readers and whilst not necessarily perfect, they do offer better security than many other forms of CNP (card-not-present) contactless payment or the infamously volatile Bitcoin. Whether cash is completely dead yet, according to Quartz, is a topic for another time!

6) E-commerce lets organizers create tailor-made and unique events

As an independent business, whilst you might not have the branding or reputational clout of a large high-street retailer, one thing you can do that their inevitable bureaucracy often restricts, is to be immediately adaptable when it comes to creativity in layout or design. With the right tools and DIY willpower (no this isn’t a B&Q ad!) you can create something completely unique and therefore eye-catching right in the moment. I could probably sum this up in one sentence: the only limitation when it comes to what you do with your stall is your imagination, so in terms of individual ideas there are just too many to list all of things you could come up with. However broadly speaking, one strong area marketplaces can excel when bolstered by e-commerce is through the use of limited time events.

This is merely a suggestion, but one example would be hosting a kind of pseudo-auction, where you would offer special deals (pre-announced via social media) on certain products for say a 1-hour period only whilst being open to nearest offer submissions or similar. This would be hosted in-person at your stall but you could enable customers to join in online through livestreaming (remember diversity?), allowing you to bridge the gap between online and in-person.

I’ve touched on it before but what makes this so brilliant is that you can choose your own ways to keep online and offline separate and ways to integrate them. You can choose how much emphasis you want on either, even if you just can go on instinct as a salesperson based on what you believe your businesses core values to be. If you decide you want to enjoy having a niche as a more ‘analogue’ business rather than expanding your e-commerce capabilities too much, one way is to advertise special-items online but which can only be purchased at a stall.

The takeaway is, whether you feel you want to keep your customer interactions as one of the focal points of your business, or if you want to do the above the other way round for your online business to gain some traction, it is entirely your choice as to whichever you value more. Only you can make your idea of what exactly a marketplace should be possible! It’s all entirely up to you.

7) Livin’ la vida local…

One of the most interesting things about small businesses selling online is that, whilst on the one hand, the point where a person puts in their card details might seem as mundane and identical as buying from any large companies website (even if they had a great user experience on your meticulously crafted website) these transactions do actually translate to money staying being invested in the local community. This is just as much as with an in-person sale even if it isn’t visually apparent, for the simple reason that these businesses are based in the local community and therefore investing in them offers more scope for their growth. This in turn creates the potential for a nicer commercial environment, which only increases the likelihood of attracting more businesses to set up shop, leading to a larger more varied range of products, enabling people to have new experiences they wouldn’t otherwise, and on the cycle of prosperity grows… phew! In short, everyone benefits – not some cold faceless monolithic corporation based thousands of miles away hoovering up more profit that they don’t actually need!

8) Retail therapy (a helping hand to society)

Remember all that talk in the news about herd immunity? Well this isn’t quite that but hybrid marketplaces can offer a gentle stepping-stone back to the now nostalgic days of more normalised forms of retail. If done the right way, with appropriate safety measures in place plus general care and attention, they can enable people to socialise and have that in-person retail experience in a staggered, more gradual manner – without masses of people congregating all at once due to FOMO (fear of missing out) or other such factors unique to crazy collective human psychology! They are probably the greatest symbolic representation of the most optimal mid-point between complete lockdown or isolation and what now seems like wild, reckless pre-pandemic freedom. At a minimum they can allow the public to have the positive feeling of being socially responsible without being explicitly told to do so or following a criteria or a set of rules and I think we can all agree with having the freedom to shop well.

In conclusion…

For all of the awful aspects of the pandemic, there are some silver linings. It has offered certain opportunities for start-up and small businesses, arguably more than ever, and especially those with unique USP’s. There’s more freedom for you to decide exactly what style of your business you want, and freedom to grow it in the way you want.

There is more online demand to buy and sell goods than ever before, but as expectation is also up in the air (in the sense that even big businesses don’t quite know how to set their own forecasts), it takes some of the pressure off. For example, in the event that your business may not grow quite as quickly as you would like, that’s ok. If the drive is there then you can have the peace of mind that once things balance out with Covid, you might find your business has developed more than you thought in retrospect. Even if it’s a factor as simple yet essential as identifying and then understanding the nature and behaviour of your target audience better, you will have succeeded where some of the biggest companies in the world have failed.

Be sure to check out our sister website Pedddle, where you can easily find markets and events near you. Our Membership Package offers both market organisers and stallholders help with sourcing markets/stallholders, with several other benefits, including being great for boosting SEO and general visibility. Click here for more on that. There’s also some great tips for both well-established and fledgling businesses, especially if you’re struggling with how to get a small business up and running, or you just want take your business (or hobby) to the next level.

If this article has been useful to you, please feel free to share it on social media. Tresstle runs online markets and events which can help boost your business. Click here to see what’s on and get involved.