August 12, 2010, 1:20 PM

Marketplace melee

The changes keep coming at top marketplaces, but what does it mean for small merchants?

I’ve reported on a flurry of announcements relating to the marketplace over the past few weeks.

There is Sears Holdings Corp., which quietly launched the local marketplace, an extension of its existing marketplace that seeks to provide a venue for local retailers to sell to consumers in the same metropolitan area. The local marketplace allows consumers to have purchases from multiple marketplace merchants bundled together and delivered to them.

Meanwhile Buy.com says it is opening up its marketplace to more small- and medium-sized sellers, as well as rolling out a white-label marketplace that allows retailers to sell all or some of Buy.com marketplace’s more than 7.5 million SKUs on their own sites.

And Walmart.com continues to slowly add new retailers and categories to its marketplace.

These developments will clearly offer small- and medium-sized retailers more opportunities to sell to consumers who come to major web sites like Walmart.com, Sears.com and Buy.com.

But, at the same time, does it also mean that it will be increasingly difficult to lure shoppers away from all-encompassing web retailers with Amazon-like appeal? 

My guess is that retailers with specialized merchandise will be fine. But retailers who fail to find a way to distinguish their sites—either through their content, communities or other value-added features—may risk getting blocked out by the various marketplaces. If they find themselves overly reliant on sales from the various marketplaces, they may be in trouble because in an online marketplace, it’s hard to convince shoppers to focus on anything but the bottom line price.

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