The future of online marketplaces: “complex” transactions

The most successful online marketplaces today facilitate relatively simple transactions. There’s eBay and Etsy for buying/selling goods, AirBnB for short-term accommodations, and Uber for local transportation.

While reputation mechanisms (i.e. user reviews) play an important role on these platforms, the price tags involved are typically low enough that customers are ready to deal with strangers over the web. But, it can be a different story when someone is looking to spend $10,000 vs. $100.

There’s an enormous opportunity for marketplaces to emerge that handle high-value, complex transactions. However, to find success, they’ll need to make customers feel comfortable reducing the high-ticket purchase and/or complex deliverable to a few clicks.

Today, we already see marketplaces for more complex transactions… for example booking a location and photographer for your wedding (, hiring a web designer to create your next mobile app (, or finding short-term rentals for pop-up stores (

However, many of these sites currently work more as a lead generation engine than an actual marketplace and / or the platform needs to act as a hands-on broker to facilitate these transactions between participants. To realize the full potential of the opportunity, marketplaces for complex transactions will need to move virtually all of their transactions online by taking care of a few things:

1. Provide more information upfront: If you’re buying a book online, the ISBN and a rough description of the condition is usually enough information for you to feel comfortable making the purchase. But what about booking a wedding photographer? In this case, you’d want to see his/her portfolio, numerous reviews for previous clients, and possibly a write-up of the photographer’s approach and style.

2. Standardize traditionally unique transactions: Professional services companies are increasingly looking to create boxed offerings that include pre-defined scope, pricing, duration, deliverables, results, and other relevant parameters. The “productization of services” helps speed up traditionally lengthy sales cycles, and enables customers to complete complex transactions in a few clicks.

3. Provide more help to the inexperienced buyer: In many cases, buyers will be considering certain purchases for the very first time. In these cases, a marketplace will need to help guide buyers through the decision-making process. For example, oomf offers a project planner/cost calculator to help first-time buyers understand how much it will cost to make an app.

4. Reduce risk: Just like online retailers have found success via free shipping/free return models, transactional marketplaces also need to reduce risk for the buyer – such as by offering full money-back guarantees with purchase.

We still have a long way to go before complex transactions will completely move online, but I’m optimistic that some savvy companies will figure it out. In the meantime, consumer trust in the Web and online transactions will continue to grow. We don’t know who the major players will be, but this will be an interesting space to watch.

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  • Bob Lougen

    Boris you make four good points here. I think they not only apply to online transactions but also could translate to retail as well. Having experience in both I think successful businesses communicate the details of the product or service clearly and simply to make the decision making process easy. Also point 4, mitigating risk, is key in building trust whether by a guarantee or a risk protection vehicle.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • bwertz


  • Joseph Sunga

    I like #2. I look forward to the day when buying a super high ticket item, like a house or condo, doesn’t require an arduous process involving all this paperwork and different parties to get it done.

  • Paul Rubillo

    Boris, I believe educating users in a simple, yet thorough fashion as you referenced in item #3 is critical. Too often companies assume too much when it comes to how sophisticated or not-so-sophisticated their audience really is and design their approach as though the transactions will be a given.

  • Bimalpreet Parmar

    Boris – you have hit the mark with point #2. Too much choice equals more risk in my mind. Give me a menu. However, I think peer recommendations/testimonials are even more important with big ticket items. As someone who markets to business, the larger the transaction the more important it is to mitigate the risk and one of the best ways to do that is providing references. Who else has bought this and how has it worked out for them? No one wants to be the guinea pig. There’s a reason there was an old saying – “no one got fired for buying IBM”

  • William Mougayar

    I like the “productization of services”. Although that started a few years ago, the levels of sophistication will continue to increase, as you alluded to it.

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  • brian piercy

    It’s great in concept. The real trick is how your product is integrated into a customer’s. (Usually this means hardware – electronics integration comes to mind – but think of what happens when you change your software APIs. Oh, the outrage.)

    I definitely see the need for standardized terms of usage in such a transaction.

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  • bwertz

    I think the “productization of services” has a very large potential

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  • marianna

    Very nice concise article! We’re doing something similar at, by creating a marketplace for people looking to schedule appointments with doctors abroad. Although each inquiry is unique, and individual requests can be very complex, we are trying to create a simple user experience and offer full customer support. Putting a service industry (like healthcare) online is a very exciting challenge, perhaps in a few years we will be calling it web 3.0?

  • bwertz

    Big fan of what you are doing at Medigo!