This Small Business Saturday, I am deeply thankful for the many small businesses I frequent in my neighborhood in Virginia. While planning which stores I’d like to hit for the holiday, I began thinking about how much the human tradition of a “marketplace” has changed over time, especially as more individual and small business sellers become better connected to consumers through a mix of both online and in-person sales methods. The vast expansion of this term and the many different options consumers and businesses have to purchase goods and services from each other is cause for celebration.
Traditionally, marketplaces have stemmed from three different audience services: business to business, business to consumer, and peer to peer. While marketplaces still cater to audiences this way, in the last couple decades, they have expanded to include a wide variety of channels for their potential customers, mostly driven by individuals or small companies. These examples include handcrafted goods, wholesale, the “gig” economy and resale or “thrifting.” And these marketplaces have emerged both online and in-person, through various fulfillment methods like delivery, curbside pickup, order ahead and more.
One of the most successful examples of the emerging and innovative new marketplace for handcrafted goods is Etsy, which connects its 7.4 million small sellers around the world to millions of buyers who are looking for products “with a human touch.” The company uses its credibility, strong site security, helpful support tools and low fees to help individuals and businesses sell their products to consumers. As a result, it’s seeing commendable success. According to the company’s reporting, Etsy had about 94.1 million active buyers and $13.49 billion in annual sales in 2021. This is an incredible and accessible market for creators and consumers alike.
Resale, aka thrifting or secondhand, marketplaces have boomed as consumers seek affordable, sustainable deals and individuals want to shed some of their clutter and make extra money during this time of high inflation. A survey from ThredUp, an online fashion resale marketplace, predicts this market is expected to grow to at least $218 billion globally by 2026. Their findings show that 74% of consumers have shopped or are open to buying secondhand products. In 2021, ThredUp reported that 57% of consumers resold their apparel, 53% purchased secondhand apparel (up 22% from 2020) and 46% of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers noted that they consider the resale value of clothing before buying it.
And while e-commerce traffic has risen in the past two decades, the majority of Americans still prefer to buy in person. According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 57% of U.S. adults favor in-person shopping. A smaller share—only 38 percent—opt for an online experience. Consumers still value the benefits of the in-person experience and care deeply about supporting the small businesses in their communities.
Thanks to today’s emerging and expanding marketplaces, there’s a plethora of options. Customers can conveniently choose their preferred shopping experience and fulfillment method while purchasing from local businesses and sellers.
This reflects the overall dynamism of retail—an increasingly innovative sector that knows how to respond to consumers’ needs and preferences. And these are just a few of the new marketplace models now available to people globally. As we celebrate our favorite small businesses this year, I am grateful for their creativity and ingenuity that help us live happy and fulfilling lives.