Retail

Online Marketplaces Catching Up To Offline World

If a marketplace can work for aggregating goods from disparate providers, why not for services, too? After all, service industries make up more than three-quarters of the United States’ total GDP — and four out of five jobs. Why should merchants be the only ones who get to leverage the speed, convenience and low-friction environment of the online marketplace?

As it turns out, they aren’t. There are virtual marketplaces for almost everything, including finding an SAT tutor or piano teacher for your child, hubs for professional beauty and style advice, and landing a gig in anything from freelance writing to nursing to freight transport, just to name a few.

But these rapidly growing service marketplaces are easily overshadowed by their retail counterparts such as Amazon, Alibaba, eBay and even Walmart. The big box retailer has been investing heavily in its online marketplace, and recently invited international vendors onto its platform.

On top of that, many of these service marketplaces are highly regionalized and/or specialized, and many are relatively young startups. They simply aren’t going to garner the same press coverage as an international eCommerce giant like Amazon or an established market like Etsy, where artisans have been peddling their wares since 2005.

But that doesn’t mean other service marketplaces are beneath notice. Here are five that are doing cool things out there in cyberspace today.

1. Fiverr

Touting “freelance services for the lean entrepreneur,” Fiverr connects customers with professionals in graphics and design, digital marketing, video, audio and anything else they might need to create or enhance a brand.

Building a business is hard, no matter how entrepreneurial one’s spirit, and the only way to learn is often through trial and error — why not enlist a little help from someone who’s already made the errors?

For freelance creatives, it’s a platform to earn paid gigs through a trusted source, which creates more security around working and income and allows them to focus on what they do best — no chasing clients for payments or waiting for two to three months for checks. Plus, it gives freelancers control over which work they accept and how much time they want to invest in it.

Fiverr subsists by taking a percentage of each transaction, but professionals using the marketplace still keep 80 percent of their profits.

2. TakeLessons

TakeLessons delivers a similar promise as Fiverr, but specifically for teachers and tutors.

Parents can book help for their kids in algebra, chemistry or writing. Amateur coders learn HTML and web design. Crafters pick up skills like knitting, stained glass or calligraphy. Hobbyists study astrology, belly dancing, chess or gardening. Recent immigrants learn English, while travelers study French and Japanese. Budding musicians pick up the mandolin, oboe, bagpipes or ukulele.

Teachers decide how much work they want to accept, when and where (in a shared space, at their own homes or at the student’s). Then they set their price and the platform does the rest. TakeLessons markets the business, handles booking and processes billing and payments so teachers can focus on teaching.

Again, building a business is hard. For self-employed teachers, TakeLessons scrapes much of the burdens off their plates.

3. BigStylist

India-based and serving Pune and Mumbai — and soon, Delhi, following a recent Series C funding round led by Info Edge, which netted $1.2 million — BigStylist offers on-demand beauty and wellness services via its website, Android app and the popular chat platform WhatsApp.

The company vets every professional on its platform, guaranteeing consumers are getting advice from truly experienced stylists and beauticians. Professionals travel to customers’ homes to provide services including massage, waxing, hair color, facials and manicures — all within an hour of the order being placed.

4. Transfix, Sleek Fleet, and others

There are several marketplaces vying for dominance in an unexpected new sector: shipping.

Transfix uses machine learning and data analytics to organize freight truck shipments. Its mobile app and website allow retailers and manufacturers to post outgoing loads and rates. Verified truckers then bid on the load. Thanks to the company’s machine learning algorithms, truckers see loads that follow their preferred routes first, and loads that are going the same direction get grouped together.

Sleek Fleet recently launched a web- and mobile-based freight marketplace solution that connects verified drivers with transport gigs. Owner operators did not traditionally interact directly with large shippers, but in this new marketplace, they have direct access to shippers with available freight and can bid on gigs they want. Payments are disbursed within a few hours of completing the job.

These new freight transport marketplaces unlock greater capacity for drivers as well as saving shippers the time and cost of finding trucks and signing contracts, since the platforms handle those logistics internally. But with competitors locked in an AI-driven competition, it remains to be seen who will emerge the leader in this still-nascent space.

5. UrbanClap

UrbanClap sources professionals in all of the above (well, except for maybe the freight shipping), with an emphasis on projects. Since 2014, it has added 65,000 professionals to its network. Financial Times named it “startup of the year” in 2015.

Relocating? Find packers and movers, get the TV installed, or hire an interior designer to make the new house “home.” Getting married? Meet the perfect photographer, bridal makeup artist, and DJ. Find a yoga instructor, web designer, plumber, or any other professional you could need – all on one platform.

The only downside is that UrbanClap is only available in India. But in its home country, it is one of the biggest mobile marketplaces in existence, and it’s on track to be profitable by 2019.

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