Marketplaces and Online Malls: Should You Consider Signing Up?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading about a startup online marketplace (mall) 7Mainstreet which is a blend of online Yellow Pages (business listings), social media (enabling you to connect with other businesses) and eBay (product/service sales).
What’s the traditional online business landscape like?

  • You have a web site.
  • You want to sell so you throw up some kind of shopping cart/ecommerce system.
  • You need to market your products and services so you do organic search engine marketing, buy online advertising, market through social network sites and etc.

In the early stages of the Internet, marketplaces were more popular. The success of these marketplaces was that they would market themselves and attract shoppers, just like the traditional shopping malls of today. The tenants of the digital malls would market themselves and attract businesses to their individual store while also attracting shoppers to the other businesses in the mall.
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Ideally, digital malls (or marketplaces) provide a turnkey way for businesses to have a presence online (complimenting or in place of a web site), find customers (or enable customers to find them) and facilitate online transactions. claims to have over 16 million businesses listed on the site, of which over 2100 are very active — input information and use the site regularly after 5 months of quiet beta launch. These businesses are represented in 30 states across the country.
A representative told me that 7Mainstreet allows businesses to connect with their customers, pushing out information (coupons, stock inventory notices, new services, etc.) and sell to those customers on the spot – when the customer is ready to buy. And on the reverse, it allows consumers to browse, look at products, send the merchant a note/question and buy on the spot.
There are no fees for a business to create a profile and marketplace on the site. And there are no listing fees for businesses who want to sell through 7Mainstreet (like there are with eBay and Amazon). There are fees when you make a sale.

After having a look at 7Mainstreet and considering other malls or online marketplaces, my advice is that you should first invest the time and money to build a great web site, ensure you have an email newsletter for clients, even a blog. Make sure you are leveraging social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Once you’ve done all of this, consider if an online mall is for you.
Andy Leff said that Commerce sites don’t successfully integrate social networking capabilities while business directories lack the interactive dimension customers expect when searching for businesses online. 7Mainstreet brings all of this together at a low-cost point of entry and at the same time is simple to use. It is ‘grandma tested and approved’ with site navigation and content creation that is easy for both businesses and consumers.
If you need help selling online, Paypal provides a VERY easy way for companies to start selling online. Like 7Mainstreet, you only pay PayPal when you sell something.
Since it costs nothing to join 7Mainstreet, it can’t hurt to invest some time to setup your online profile, if you get business, good. If you don’t find it working for you, you’ve just lost a few minutes of time.
One of the biggest challenges of a small is that as search engines get better, and target local businesses for local search results, most people will find what they need online through search engines. My guess is that a search engine is going to find it easier to list an individual business with great content and links to it from other web sites as opposed to one business, amongst thousands in a digital mall. Point taken – ensure you are doing everything you can to boost search engine visibility for your web site and even individual product micro-web sites.