For a long time now, it’s been possible for anyone to build a website or ecommerce store without writing a single line of code. In fact, people have been using Wordpress to build websites for almost 20 years! (It launched in May 2003).
However, in the last three years we’ve really seen the no-code and low-code movement explode. For those wondering about the jargon, “no code” means a tool or a platform that requires zero coding knowledge, whereas “low-code” refers to a tool or platform that requires some coding knowledge.
New tools seem to be popping up on a weekly basis and they’re seriously impressive. We’re also seeing plenty of marketplace-specific website builders emerge. It’s never been easier, quicker or cheaper to build and launch an online marketplace!
Which tool should you use? Well, that will depend on your requirements.
If you’re building a marketplace which connects people (P2P) who want to rent/share/sell something, Sharetribe could be a good fit for you. They have two products - Go (no-code) and Flex (low-code).
Go is great for building and launching a minimum viable product (MVP) within a few hours. There’s not much of a learning curve and it’s really easy to configure. The main downside to Go is that I personally feel the marketplace template is ugly and outdated which could put your potential users off. It’s also quite restrictive in terms of customisations so the look and feel of your marketplace will be similar to any other marketplace built on Go. Prices start at $79 per month which is a bit more than other simple website builders, but it’s the only one that offers a ready-built P2P marketplace template.
Flex, on the other hand, is a fully customisable marketplace template which allows you to build lots of fancy features on top of it. However, you’ll need to clone one of their GitHub repositories and get deep into the code so you’ll either need to be technical yourself or be happy to hire people to do the engineering work for you. Hiring a reliable developer for a Flex project can cost between $2,000 - $10,000. You’ll also need to pay the Flex subscription fee to host the backend, with prices starting at $299 per month.
My business partner and I chose to use Sharetribe Flex to build our marketplace. Prior to this, we were running an MVP on Shopify and gaining good traction so we wanted to build a more comprehensive solution. Neither my partner nor I are technical so we hired a development agency in Vietnam. After I designed our marketplace and wrote the requirements, it took a team of three developers, four weeks to get the website live. It cost us about $2,000. The customisations to the Flex template were minimal and our aim was to launch the website as soon as we could. After we launched, we continued to optimise the site and spent an additional $10,000 in development costs over 2 years.
Although they’ve not the cheapest solution, they are the best if you want to build those classic marketplace features. I’m also a huge fan of the Sharetribe team - they’re super friendly, helpful and really believe in their mission to make it easier and quicker for people to build a marketplace.
If you’d like to see a couple of Sharetribe marketplaces in action, check these out:
If you’re building a managed marketplace that connects businesses to consumers (B2C), or business to businesses (B2B), I’d suggest checking out Webflow.
Webflow is a comprehensive website builder with broad appeal. Although it’s not built specifically for marketplaces (like Sharetribe is), they have an extensive library of no-code plug-ins. These enable you to quickly some of the typical features you’d expect to see in a marketplace, such as search and filtering (using Jetboost).
Webflow also allows you to dig into the code and customise it which is great if you’re technically minded. If you’re not, you’ll need the help of a developer. Luckily, there are plenty of Webflow experts around so it should be fairly easy to find someone within your budget.
Unicorn Factory, a marketplace for freelancers in New Zealand, is a fantastic example of what you can achieve with Webflow. They used lots of additional no-code tools to power their marketplace including Jetboost to power their search and filter functions, Parabola to sync data between tools, Zapier to automate certain tasks such as emails, and Airtable as their database. All in, it costs them around $106 per month, which I think is an absolute bargain!
I recently used Webflow to build a website I instantly fell in love with it. Coming from a design background, I found it fairly easy to use, however, if you’ve not used a tool like this before, you’re going to experience a steep learning curve. Luckily, they have fantastic (and hilarious) training videos that are really worth watching.
However, the downside of Webflow is that there are some “classic” marketplace features that you can’t include such as in-app messaging (between buyers and sellers) or transaction payments. Instead, you’d need to use a subscription model where you charge either the supply or demand side to use your marketplace and making introductions. There are some great plug-ins for this such as Memberstack which starts at $25 per month.
Webflow starts at $29 per month for a basic eCommerce subscription which will allow you to process payments.
Another good tool for building a marketplace which connects businesses to customers (B2C) or businesses to businesses (B2B) is Bubble.
Although Bubble is not aimed specifically at marketplaces, they provide some awesome ready-built marketplace templates (such as Booky or Marketly) which are ideal for people looking for a no-code solution. However, you’ll still need to make lots of customisations to ensure it meets the requirements of your own marketplace, and it can take a bit of time to get to grips with using the Bubble platform. You can easily add additional features such as payments and reviews using plug-ins which will save you a lot of time and effort.
If you’re happy to get stuck into the code, the opportunity to create the marketplace of your dreams will open up for you. But again, if you’re not technical, you’ll need to find a developer who can do the work for you.
Traktion, a marketplace for on-demand marketing talent, is a great example of what you can do with Bubble. They use Airtable as their database, Zapier to automate emails and Calendly to schedule calls.
Bubble starts at $25 per month.
Tangram only launched at the end of 2020 so it’s very early days for them. Their platform is specifically for booking-based marketplaces (e.g. fitness classes, cooking classes etc.), meaning it’s no good if you’re a product-based marketplace. However, I’ve spoken to one of the co-founders and it sounds like they’ve got an awesome team behind them and they’re super motivated to create a great product. It’s certainly a platform to keep an eye on.
If you’d like to see a Tangram marketplace in action, take a look at Indifit.
Tangram starts at $399 per month for up to 100,000 users per month.
Arcardier has been around for a while but I don’t know a single person who has used it, which is not a great sign (considering I’m part of a community of over 500 marketplace founders!). So unfortunately I can’t share any advice on how it works or who it’s best for.
They have template themes for product marketplaces as well as service-based marketplaces and like the other platforms in this list, they have some plug-in tools but the range is very small (11 in total).
Prices start at $69 per month for up to 500 monthly transactions.
Finally, of course, you can always go down the custom build route. I would say that this route should only be taken by founders who have seriously validated their marketplace idea. I would expect you to have been running your MVP for at least 6 months and seeing positive evidence of increased traction.
Custom builds are incredibly expensive and take a while. You’ll need help from a team of designers, engineers and testers. However, choosing a custom build can benefit you in the long-run as no-code and low-code platforms with high traction can outgrow their template and require more bespoke features. Investors also favour custom builds as it reduces platform risk (e.g. if the platform went out of business - your website might disappear).
As always, my advice is to break your product down into smaller chunks and prioritise the features. The first version of your product should be simple and lightweight, with more complex features added later. If you'd like to learn more about this, check out my next article for my 10 step design process and how to create a product roadmap.
If you plan to stick to the exact design of a pre-built no-code template, just with minor customisations (e.g. your own logo and colours) then you probably don’t need any design support. However, if you want to change page layouts, how the marketplace works or add new features, then I recommend you hire a freelance UX designer. And I’m not just saying that because I am one!
Marketplaces are far more complex than a single page website or an ecommerce store so they require a lot more thought and consideration. User experience (UX) is critically important - your site must be easy to navigate and understand or else you’ll end up with very few customers or suppliers.
A UX designer can help you to design the structure of your marketplace and every journey a user might take through your platform (e.g create a listing, find a suitable supplier, book a supplier). They will make sure your site is intuitive and enjoyable to use.
To find a good UX UI designer, ask people in your network or other marketplace founders for recommendations. Many are happy to work on a freelance basis and for a reasonable price.
I hope this article has inspired you to kick-start your no-code, low-code marketplace journey! There are so many platforms and tools available with great features and reasonable prices. There’s also a fantastic community of no-coders on Twitter who provide lots of ideas, support and advice.
So what are you waiting for?!
Checkout the Marketplace Directory from Everything Marketplaces to find out what tech stacks other early-stage marketplaces are using to run their business.
For more a more in-depth look at no-code marketplaces, you can download the Guide to No Code Marketplaces (featuring an interview with myself) by Mike Williams (Yoroomie)