The Miami Debrief - AI, Data and Customer Experience: The Future of Online Marketplaces

Reflecting on the Global Online Marketplaces Summit 2023, we believe it delivered valuable insights into the future of online marketplaces and portals.

We recently had the privilege of attending the Global Online Marketplaces Summit in Miami, USA. The summit provided invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of online marketplaces and portals, an ecosystem that connects buyers and sellers across various industries. Mark Griffioen, CEO & Co-founder and Matthew Searle, our Head of Business Development, gained a deeper understanding of the trends shaping the industry.

In South Africa, well-established local online marketplaces and portals such as, Junkmail, Private Property, Property24, AutoTrader, Careers24, and Facebook Marketplace play crucial roles. At the conference, we listened to how these businesses’ global counterparts in adopting powerful tech tools and harnessing emerging technologies, many of which could have huge impact if adopted by local players

The payments in the online marketplace sector are projected to reach USD $8.7 trillion by 2025, but the South African market, including our clients in real estate agencies and car dealerships, seems to be one to two years behind markets like Dubai. This disparity becomes even more apparent when it comes to utilising tools like customer relationship management (CRM) systems and innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Our belief is that these tools hold the key to gaining a competitive edge and meeting the evolving demands of consumers for personalised experiences. Instant messaging apps like WhatsApp also play a central role in conversational commerce, a trend observed among many international players.

The summit highlighted how online marketplaces and portal businesses worldwide are proactively adapting their strategies to stay ahead, expand their market reach, and remain relevant in the dynamic digital landscape. In this context, we would like to shed light on the most notable trends and opportunities that online marketplace and portal businesses should prioritise:

  1. AI Disruption and Conversational Experiences:
    The emergence of AI entry points such as ChatGPT and Google Bard is set to revolutionise user interactions with online marketplaces and portals. By integrating conversational AI elements, portals can personalise user experiences and provide relevant listings. However, ethical considerations, such as content moderation to combat fraudulent listings, need to be addressed.
  1. Harnessing the Power of Data and AI:
    Data and AI play indispensable roles in shaping the future of online marketplaces. Dubai-based portals have already implemented dynamic pricing models, gamified agent performance, and leveraged user behaviour data to enhance customer experiences. Agility and adaptability are essential traits to navigate the evolving market. AI-powered conversational elements and content moderation are areas where AI can significantly enhance marketplace experiences.
  1. Exploring Alternative Revenue Streams:
    The summit explored the idea of online marketplaces exploring revenue streams beyond traditional models. A German property portal, for instance, charges property seekers for privileges like early property alerts and specialised concierge services. Diversifying revenue sources beyond advertisements and subscriptions remains a focal point.
  1. Innovative Revenue Generation Approaches:
    The South African market has witnessed the emergence of innovative products such as Property24's Seller Leads, which augment revenue by connecting potential sellers with real estate agencies and enabling the sharing of generated commissions. Although South Africa may lag behind global peers, signs of increased innovation are already visible amid shake-ups in the tech and product teams of major portal players.
  1. Leveraging Strengths and Expertise:
    Portals and online marketplaces have distinct advantages in adopting AI and emerging technologies. With strong brand recognition, vast proprietary data repositories, and expertise in connecting buyers and sellers, these platforms can embrace new technologies. They can leverage their brand presence and data to improve algorithms, enhance the user experience, and offer personalised recommendations. Additionally, their transaction facilitation experience helps identify areas for improvement and innovative solutions. However, relying solely on past successes is not enough. To stay competitive, portals must continuously experiment and seize opportunities presented by new technologies and shifting consumer behaviour.
  1. Local Marketplaces and Portals vs. Global Counterparts:
    A comparison between South African property marketplaces and portals and their global counterparts, particularly Dubai, revealed noteworthy differences. While South African portals have room for growth in terms of innovation and pushing boundaries, Dubai portals have been proactive in adopting advanced toolchains that leverage popular platforms like WhatsApp. This is likely due to the more competitive landscape in Dubai. Nevertheless, South Africa has the potential to follow suit over the next couple of years.

Reflecting on the Global Online Marketplaces Summit 2023, we believe it delivered valuable insights into the future of online marketplaces and portals. From recognising the value of proprietary information to exploring alternative revenue streams and embracing AI-driven technologies, the summit emphasised the need for adaptability and innovation. Contrasting local marketplaces and portals with their global counterparts highlighted the importance of pushing boundaries and addressing industry challenges.

In conclusion, South African online marketplaces and portals have a tremendous opportunity to evolve and thrive by embracing these trends and capitalising on the transformative power of technology. By adopting a forward-thinking mindset and staying at the forefront of innovation, online marketplace and portal businesses can secure their positions as industry leaders and shape the future of e-commerce in South Africa.