• Elle Tucker

Marketplaces: The Business Model Making a Difference

Updated: Mar 25

Social distancing, hand washing techniques, toilet paper shortages… Within a matter of weeks, we’ve arrived at a new ‘normal’ – and have a new vocabulary to match. The news is hard to watch, our older relatives are a constant worry, our jobs and future plans seem suddenly fragile… and we wonder if life will ever be the same again.

In a time of crisis like this, the people who can save us are the healthcare workers at the frontline, and those who support them in our communities. But behind the scenes in business, we are all witnessing something unprecedented, and something that those of us who work in the world of marketplaces should feel cautiously optimistic about.

Marketplaces are coming into their own: they are uniquely positioned to provide critical support to communities during the current COVID-19 crisis. They are at the frontline too, offering a wealth of ways that people can connect online rather than in person while they are in isolation.

With communities separated, marketplace platforms and apps offer an opportunity to unite those who want to organize local community support, help the vulnerable and volunteer. With many shops shut for all but groceries and medicines, we can rent items like essential DIY equipment from neighbors. And with restaurants closing, ordering in can support the economy – and let’s make sure we tip more than usual if we can.

“Marketplaces are great at bringing parties together that are otherwise having trouble finding each other”, says Sjoerd Handgraaf of Sharetribe and the Marketplace Risk Sharing Economy Global Summit. “If you're young and able to do groceries or errands, how would you find older people in your neighbourhood you can help?”

“Over the last week or so we have been seeing many crisis-related marketplaces being opened using our platform, ranging from selling gift cards and getting rid of surplus items to entrepreneurs offering their expertise and skillset to other entrepreneurs in need.”

Just a few years ago, such a thing wouldn’t have been possible. But in this sudden and unprecedented crisis, we are seeing people turn to the technology they now have available on their phones, laptops and other devices, and accessing goods and services in a way that trend watchers would call revolution, not evolution.

There is no magic wand, but we can all find ways to support each other and stay connected – and marketplaces make that easier. In fact, so many people are going online, four of the 10 largest US cities – Houston, New York City, San Diego, and San Jose – are seeing reduced download speeds for home internet users, according to a new report from BroadbandNow.

But what of the long game? If this is a new normal, what does the future hold? If marketplaces are coming into their own, and traditional companies are being forced to innovate and move out of their comfort zones, where will this take us?

We may see traditional businesses who have been forced to adapt rapidly – perhaps by creating an entire staff of remote workers, or by suddenly having to use a platform to deliver goods that had previously been bought in person – transition and innovate. Many may choose to adopt marketplace models permanently, having seen the potential of them during the crisis.

Travel has been hit hard by COVID-19, but it could be that some of the peer-to-peer models that were operating on the fringe of this industry will step into the limelight. International travel could start to become a luxury, and ‘staycationing’ the norm. And with hotels struggling thanks to social distancing, along with reduced incomes in an economic downturn, many will look for ways to save on vacations by homesharing or swapping, pet sitting – or making money from listing assets they have on a marketplace, from their RV to their ski equipment to the space in their garage.

Reduced incomes and redundancies could also lead to an increase in those working in the gig economy – piecing together work by tutoring, babysitting, caring for seniors, delivering… a ‘portfolio’ career might become a reality for many.

“Gig workers could be the first to lose their jobs in this crisis since they are part of a flexible workforce” observes Marianne Olsson, gig economy expert from the Marketplace Risk Sharing Economy Global Summit steering committee. “After that, some affected companies will lay off permanent staff as well”.

“But, when our society and the economy bounces back, this group will be bigger since companies will most probably not offer permanent contracts, i.e. former employees become full time gig workers as well. Experienced gig workers will become increasingly attractive as companies start to reinvest and rebuild their business and grow by adapting their organizations and processes to the new economy. This becomes an opportunity for all parties.”

From gig economy to sharing platforms, marketplaces connect users and providers, both locally and globally, offline and online – so that communities, often the victims of a crisis like the one we find ourselves in now, have the chance to thrive again.

We will find strength by being connected to our peers, looking up, down, sideways and around us for what we want – and opening up possibilities at a time when they seem short on supply. The platform economy might be new, but communities are as old as we are. By empowering them through marketplaces, we can find a way forward from what seems at the moment like a frightening alternate reality.

As marketplacers, this is why we do what we do. And this is why we founded Marketplace Risk, to provide a resource to support marketplace startups to learn risk management, trust & safety and legal strategy. And now, at this time of crisis, we want to offer any support along these lines to anyone needing it. If we can be helpful, please do not hesitate to reach out at info@marketplacerisk.com.


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