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Selling with e-commerce:Using online marketplaces

What you’ll learn

  • the pros and cons of using online marketplaces
  • how to optimise your listings to get the best results
  • the importance of efficient fulfilment and returns

Online market places around the world

Online marketplaces, like Amazon and China’s Alibaba, account for more than half of all e-commerce transactions globally. They’re the main destination for global cross-border shoppers and the majority of cross-border purchases take place on online marketplaces, rather than single-brand or retailer websites. Online marketplaces can form an important part of any exporting strategy, particularly when you are selling direct to the customer.

Pros and cons of online marketplaces

Selling through an online marketplace can be a good place to start your export journey because you can remove some of the barriers that come with selling internationally through your own website.


  • access to a large, ready-made audience of engaged, motivated customers
  • built in payment systems, currency localisation and logistics solutions
  • the ability to launch quickly in new markets


  • you'll pay fees on all your sales which can affect revenue
  • it can be very competitive and difficult to stand out from other sellers
  • other sellers can copy your products and sell them at a reduced price

Optimise your product listings for search

Marketplaces are highly competitive, with millions of products from hundreds of thousands of sellers. Discoverability – making sure your products are searchable on each platform - is extremely important for increasing sales. Optimisation of your listings can vary from platform to platform, but the fundamentals of discoverability are the same:

  • have accurate product titles and descriptions which match local use in the market
  • be prepared to translate titles and descriptions if necessary
  • incorporate your search keywords into your product listings
  • provide complete and accurate product attributes (for example: size, colour, weight)

By taking the time to optimise your listings for search you will give your products the best chance of being seen when customers search, or filter, products.

Get help with managing multiple marketplaces

A third-party software service will allow you to manage listings on multiple marketplace channels from a single account. Many of these tools can also help you with listings optimisation, localisation and best practise, leaving you free to focus on your core business.

Use available marketing tools

Most marketplaces will have built-in marketing tools to help you manage your listings. Take the time to understand what specific tools are available and you can use them to influence web traffic on that platform.

When you first launch, you may want to run some pay-per-click ads to start driving traffic and sales. And it’s also a good idea to encourage customers to leave reviews, which will help boost your visibility in search and increase conversion.

You should also use good-quality photos that show your product clearly. An image represents your brand and can be the difference between a sale or lost interest, especially in markets which value high standards of presentation, such as China.

Provide a good delivery experience

A good shipping experience is a key driver of customer satisfaction. Marketplaces may require you to meet specific targets in terms of order processing and delivery lead time, and customers will certainly expect you to meet their expectations. For an additional cost, some marketplaces offer a complete pack, pick and ship solution, which is often more economical than running it yourself.

Have a plan for returns

Returns are a fact of life in global e-commerce. Having a clear and consistent returns policy can increase sales and ensure your seller ratings are high on the marketplace in question.

Most marketplaces will require you to offer a returns policy that matches or exceeds their own, which in turn can meet or exceed those determined by local law. Customers will often expect pre-paid or free return shipping, convenient drop-off options and quick refunds, so you may want to work with a partner that can help you run your returns management process.

Protect your brand

Counterfeit products are an increasing problem for online marketplaces. Check that your chosen marketplace has measures in place to protect your brand. This will vary. It may mean basic Intellectual Property (IP) legislation is quoted on the site. Or there may be additional procedures, such as authorisation, to block bogus retailers.

Check legal requirements

When selling through online marketplaces, a country’s laws will almost certainly decide product regulations for that marketplace. If your product contains an item or ingredient banned in that country, it’s very likely the marketplace will not let you sell it.

If selling on Amazon, eBay or other online marketplaces, ask yourself if you need category approval from your chosen marketplaces to sell items online? To protect its consumers from fraudulent or harmful products, the platforms restrict some categories to most sellers. Make sure you meet the requirements for approval.

Remember: some products need approval even though their categories do not.

If you do need approval, request it before you start to sell in a new country.

Marketplaces are a good way to test new markets. Select a popular marketplace in your target country and list a few best-selling products to assess demand. It’s comparatively low cost and can help you decide whether to invest further in the market.

International trade adviser

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