Pricing models: Choosing the right marketplace business model

Now you have successfully developed a great marketplace idea, and validated that idea with thorough research – what’s next? Your marketplace’s longevity is essential, and that hinges on identifying a suitable marketplace business model to finance its existence. This will empower you to construct a thriving, sustainable marketplace business.

Barring projects intended for charity or purely for enjoyment, which may be self-funded or supported by donations, the required funding will have to stem from the users of your marketplace platform.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that marketplaces unable to scale for long-term success typically meet with failure. Of those that are successful, the majority of online marketplaces adopt one of the following six marketplace pricing strategies:

  1. Membership or subscription fee
  2. Commission
  3. Listing fee
  4. Lead fee
  5. Freemium
  6. Featured listings and ads

Marketplace business models

It’s crucial to determine which marketplace business model aligns best with you and your concept by delving into each one more comprehensively.

1. Membership or subscription fee

This model involves charging all your marketplace’s users a recurring fee for access. Generally, this is utilised when platform vendors derive value from gaining access to new customers. Customers, in return, seek savings on products or services or something unique they cannot find elsewhere.

This model is a good fit when your platform offers high value or when users intend to make multiple transactions. For example, platforms like Skillshare and other online learning marketplaces apply this model effectively.

While this model can be an excellent starting point, transitioning to a commission model once things stabilise can be beneficial. However, the challenge lies in attracting vendors without having a customer base and vice versa, all while convincing them that the membership fee is worthwhile.

2. Commission

The most widespread marketplace revenue model involves charging a flat fee or a percentage of the sale every time a customer pays a vendor, facilitated by the marketplace platform. This method won’t deter potential customers or vendors as they aren’t charged unless a sale is made, making it a lucrative model for the marketplace owner.

However, customers and vendors could always engage directly, so providing additional value to encourage transactions through your platform is necessary.

3. Listing fee

This model operates similarly to traditional classified ads, charging a fee when a vendor posts a listing. It’s a better fit than membership where vendors don’t desire a continuous subscription and only wish to sell specific items.

However, a substantial volume of listings is required for profitability, and since paying the fee doesn’t guarantee a sale, vendors may be inclined to seek alternatives.

4. Lead fee

This model is a compromise between the commission and listing fee models. Customers post requests on the platform, and vendors pay a fee to bid for these customers. This model is typically used where the lead’s value is high.

However, buyers and sellers could eventually bypass your platform, resulting in no additional income after the initial introduction.

5. Freemium

This model is suitable when your marketplace deals primarily in low-value items. The core offering is free, but premium services can be offered to more established vendors and customers.

However, the premium features need to attract a sizeable proportion of users for profitability.

Vendors willing to enhance the visibility of their listings may pay for featured listings. General listings are typically free, but a fee is charged for featured listings.

However, a large user base is needed for significant revenue, and excessive ads can be irksome to users.

What marketplace business model is best

The selection of a suitable marketplace business model may be straightforward, or it may involve starting with one and transitioning to another. It’s even possible to combine multiple models if it works for your situation.

Currently, the most scalable and lucrative model for the majority of marketplaces is charging a commission on all purchases. However, exceptions exist, so reviewing and possibly trying all the models until you find the one that suits you best is worthwhile.

As you ponder over these models, consider that the primary goal is to create a seamless, valuable experience for both your vendors and customers. Your chosen model should work in tandem with the natural flow of your marketplace.


While the majority of successful marketplaces rely on a commission model, this doesn’t mean it’s the one-size-fits-all solution. The right business model for your marketplace depends on your unique circumstances, goals, and the nature of your marketplace. It may be a process of trial and error to find the best fit, but with persistence and adaptation, you can find the model that propels your marketplace to success.

Remember, each marketplace is unique. What works for one may not necessarily work for another. It’s critical to understand your marketplace, the needs of your users, and how they interact with your platform. This knowledge will guide you to the marketplace business model that aligns best with your goals and ensure your marketplace’s success and sustainability.

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