Discovery and matching

After getting sellers’ offerings on your platform, you’ll want to think about how to best connect buyers and sellers. This is the key value proposition of your marketplace, and ensuring a smooth product or service discovery process will be critical to your platform’s success. Buyers typically initiate the outreach or start the transaction, but how they find the offerings can vary. There are several questions to consider when creating this part of your platform.

Which side does the searching?

To connect buyers and sellers, it is likely that one side will be searching for an item that the other side has posted. Typically, the buyer will be searching for the seller’s product, but there are other potential options to explore as well. 

Example Simple Search Page
This is a sample UI from our Canvas modular no-code design framework

Buyer searches

This is by far the most common way to set up a marketplace. Buyers will browse the different options offered by sellers, and start the transaction when they find something they want. Etsy, eBay, Amazon, Airbnb and other major marketplaces all work this way.

Seller searches

This setup is common in gig marketplaces. Buyers request what they need such as a logo design or delivery services, and sellers find the opportunity that matches their skills and availability and then bid or apply to be selected. This is useful when the bids or pricing are custom to the job (i.e., an RFP) or when sellers are more discerning and want to opt in to signal interest.

Nobody searches

Some marketplaces, such as Instacart or Uber, will match buyers and sellers automatically. In this case, no searching is needed by the buyer or the seller. This is typically done in service marketplace models where the service is commoditized and on-demand, and where buyers focus more on the outcome than who is providing the service.

Both search

This setup is uncommon and comes with tradeoffs. It is typically used for matchmaking services where two sides are looking for the best match and both sides have something to offer. Allowing for searching in both directions means creating two separate interfaces, potentially confusing users with both incoming and outgoing connections.

At what level do buyers browse?

Determining how buyers view and engage with the offerings is an important part of creating a good user experience. You should think through how your buyers will be making their decision and align your flow to their workflow. There are a few common ways to organize the offerings.

By item

Organizing the offerings by items allows buyers to focus more on the products than who is selling them. This makes sense when the item itself, whether it’s a skateboard, house rental, or massage, is the most important determining factor. Buyers will want to see how many options they have for their desired product, and then dig into the sellers as part of their diligence.

By seller

Organizing offerings by sellers puts the focus on who is offering the service over the service itself. This is common when there is a service that is more about the person such as a therapist or designer, or when there is a brand loyalty such as an airline or major retailer. If your buyers start their decision with looking for a trusted seller or provider, then creating virtual storefronts per vendor with the items nested inside may make sense.

Both

Sometimes marketplaces will have distinct buyer types with different search preferences. Usually you can get away with choosing one user experience, but if you need to offer both items, you can create a toggle for buyers to search by either the item or the seller. This may be the case if you have a gig marketplace where some buyers want more commoditized services and some want more expert or specialty services.

How much choice do users get? 

It might seem like offering more options is better, but that’s not always the case. Too much choice can overwhelm users and cause them to not find what they are looking for or abandon because of decision fatigue. It’s best to show users the minimum number of options they’ll need to find what they are looking for. There are a few approaches to consider here.

Full list of available options

If you aren’t sure what to show, you can show all options and just let the buyers search and decide. This is useful when users are pickier and have specific needs or constraints and are okay with putting in the effort.

Automatic match

On the other end of the spectrum, you can make the match for the buyer and take away the hassle. As discussed above, this is best with undifferentiated offerings where users just want something done and there are multiple equivalent options like in Uber or delivery services.

Personalized recommendations

A balanced approach is to offer recommendations where your marketplace provides some curated choices. This can be done through an algorithm or manually in some cases. This is useful when buyers aren’t sure exactly what they want and can be seen as a value-add for your platform as it helps them find what they need more quickly. For example, Upwork recommends freelancers that match a specific posting, reducing the need for clients to sift through a lot of profiles.

How are the options displayed?

Once you’ve made decisions around organization and choice, you’ll want to consider how you display the items in your user interface. This will vary based on the type of item you are offering. Below are three main ways to visually organize your marketplace items.

List view

Showing a list of items is the most condensed way to display options while still offering a lot of information per item such as a brief description, ratings, and categories. This is more common with services that have less of a visual component such as massages or other gigs where a user needs to read about the offering to know if they want to click in to view more information.

Example List Page
This is a sample UI from our Canvas modular no-code design framework

Gallery view

If your buyers are looking for a specific product that can be identified visually, adding a photo and displaying the items in a gallery is usually the best way. This can also be used for services or events if adding a photo helps the buyer quickly scan and find what they need. Typically this will be a multi-column layout with a key image for each option.

Example Gallery Page
This is a sample UI from our Canvas modular no-code design framework

Map view

If location is a critical part of a buyer’s decision, such as in vacation rentals or services you need to travel to, displaying each option as a point on a map can be helpful. Sometimes this is shown alongside a list or with a list toggle, so as you click options on the list you can see them highlighted on the map.

Example Map Search Page
This is a sample UI from our Canvas modular no-code design framework

How can users filter and sort options?

As buyers are searching for the product that meets their needs, it can be important to allow them to filter and sort their options to get to their ideal option more quickly. There are a few common approaches to consider. 

Search filters

Keyword

This is the easiest and most flexible option and simply looks for matching keywords in the item title or description.

Location

This can be done via a radius around a point or by matching a zip code or city.

Price range

Typically this is done by adding a minimum and maximum price range filter and letting a buyer choose, either via a slider or entering in numbers.

Categories

If you’ve set up product or service categories or tags, adding a filter for them can make it very easy for buyers to quickly narrow in on the type of item they are looking for.

Rating

If you have reviews on your platform, allowing buyers to filter by rating or stars can help them feel like they are getting quality search results. This can also be done via sort since it is unlikely for a buyer to filter on a low star count.
Sort options

Price

Generally this is done by allowing a sort from lowest to highest and from highest to lowest. This is the most common and a good default to have.

Posting date

This is done by adding a newest to oldest filter. Generally this is used when buyers are checking back frequently or if the platform isn’t sure when items have been purchased, such as on Craigslist.

Ratings

Generally you only need a high to low rating filter. This can be tricky early on when there aren’t many reviews, and generally is added later as you grow.

Match score

If you have added recommendations or a way to score relevancy for a specific buyer, then adding a sort by match score can be hugely valuable. This can be complex but a worthwhile value add for users.

Which way should you display additional product details?

When a user has identified a promising option, they’ll need to review details to make a decision. These are typically the details the seller has created from the supply management section. Generally, a user can navigate to a details page within the app, but there are a few additional interfaces you could set this up with as well.

In-list popup

This optimizes for quick peeks into an option without committing to it. The details show either as a popup, a callout, or a sidebar panel. Here the idea is that the buyer will know the right match when they see it, so they can quickly pop in and out of items without leaving them open.

Example Product Popup
This is a sample UI from our Canvas modular no-code design framework

Open in new tab

This gives you more space to show details on an option as a standalone page. This is common for ecommerce and gig marketplaces with profile pages where a buyer may want to scrutinize details. New tabs are helpful when buyers want to compare across many items, and are useful for sharing a link to a particular page.

Open an external link

Sometimes you don’t want to have to create a full new profile page, and can instead link out to an external website. This may be the seller’s website, Linkedin or Facebook page. It’s a great solution in places where you fear sellers won’t sign up or won’t maintain their profiles. This can be useful early on as you grow, but risks taking the transaction away from your site.
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