Since the beginning of time markets have played THE critical intermediary role between entrepreneurs and prospective customers.
“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety-jig.” Nursery Rhyme originating back in 1598
Without a market, businesses fail. The extremely rare few create a market. But, for the masses, being part of a market is absolutely essential.
Markets have existed since ancient times as people started to engage in trade. Way back then, open air public markets originated back in ancient Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenecia, Greece, Egypt and on the Arabian peninsula, trading everything from salt to spears.
These simple ancient markets ever evolved to town centres attracting skilled artisans (e.g. metal-workers, leather workers and carpenters) and clusters of traders into types of goods (e.g. fish, produce and clothing). Some markets were permanent, others on designated market days. Some cultures developed particular zones so buyers could find the right types of products based on needs at the time—a place for clothes and another for cows.
Whatever you want, just head to a market!
As population centres have evolved, so have markets. The market centre of small towns, grew into main streets. The centre of larger cities exploded into shopping strips, early departments stores and wider business precincts.
Populations grew surrounding the main streets, and the suburbs grew outwards, further and further. With this came more and more market places clustering local stores—from butcher to baker (and if you were lucky, a candle stick maker). People got to know and trust their local traders for the best loaf of bread or Sunday roast. Neighbourhoods grew both economically and socially. Communities became strong and people felt safe.
You could always keep up to date with the news of the ‘world’ and on the street when visiting the local town centre. And, children and their parents felt safe walking to the local stores. The local corner Milk Bar (of Deli) was a trusted place for simple grocery and other needs. Parents would comfortably say to their kids “Go down to the Milk Bar and buy some mixed lollies…” Ah, the simple times of chiko rolls and dragsters. When kids could walk the neighbourhood, before predators were discovered.
Some local convenience stores, selling a wide range of household items, had grown, and grown into larger grocery stores to make it easy to do the weekly shopping. In 1930 the first supermarket emerged in New York City. The store, King Kullen, operated under the slogan “Pile it high. Sell it low.” The concept swept the world, and to Australia. By 1973 supermarkets had a 50% share of the Australian grocery market (Woolworths 20% and Coles 14%).
Then shopping centres started popping up providing a mega marketplace for those who need just about anything, and they grew, and grew, to offer a safe place for people to shop and find whatever they wish to buy at their convenience.
Shopping centres created a central market for traders to have direct access to people wanting to browse and shop—a captive audience. No longer did one bump into the neighbours, but “WHO CARES with SO MUCH choice!?”
Shopping emerged as an ‘entertainment experience.’ The local corner shops gradually started to struggled to attract the local community as they once did. Most have since died.
As the Internet started, people had another distraction from life and local markets. The world was as close as one’s own home PC and dial up modem. Bulletin boards allowed early adopters to mix with liked minded PC enthusiasts. Then the waves of users started coming, growing and others heard of the fuss, and were intrigued, and slowly usage increased. The fad had become normalised. And, with exponential growth in Internet users, came traders popping up to sell on the World Wide Web.
Some consumers jumped on board, but many worried about this new market and the safety of their credit card details and the quality of the products that might arrive from the traders they had no reason to trust. It all seemed too hard. Bricks and mortar stores were a far easier and trusted option.
Online shopping very slowly became more normal, and even the default when buying products such as air travel. There were big promises that the Internet made it easy for anyone to sell anything without the entry costs of traditional selling. However, most traders were scattered, somewhat hard to find and small retailers often struggled to access the consistent prospective shoppers they had hoped.
Traders were on somewhat of a gold rush, they had forgotten that the markets of old succeeded from clusters of traders. Making it easier for prospective customers looking for what they sell to find them. People want shopping to be easy and no fuss, just like shopping centres, yet ideally with the trust of the local corner shops. Trust that they will not be ripped off.
With such insight in mind, along came Amazon in 1994 (now selling everything from books to auto parts with a market capitalisation of $543B USD), eBay in 1995 (now with a market capitalisation of $37B USD selling liquor to toys), Alibaba in 1999 (now with a market capitalisation of $464B USD selling everything from clothing to home and garden products) and Etsy (in 2005 ‘a creative marketplace where 29 million buyers around the world shop for unique items’ and with a market capitalisation of $2B USD).
In Australia, online market places are now en vogue to venture capital investors, as they can see the potential, pioneered by the likes of Seek (launched 1997, market capitalisation $5B USD) and more recently Freelancer.com (launched 2009 market capitalisation of $188M USD) and influencer marketplace Tribe (launched 2015 and raising much start-up investor funding).
Google and others are also playing their role in helping small and larger businesses to be found with ease, and that the new way to shop is to ‘Google it’ and find the best product according to reviews of users at the best price. Relevant products are pushed to prospective customers as if by magic.
Such digital market places provide a place to easily find and connect matching traders and customers. A place for traders big and small to be in the right place to be found, quickly and simply.
Cyber security fears have gradually dissipated as such markets have built trust. As the convenience outweighed the risk, and banks and others introduced safeguards to build confidence.
Now, more an ever before markets are critical. Six in ten Australian businesses do not employ any staff (61%—88% less than 5 employees), and according to Australian Bureau of Statistics business entry and exit statistics such businesses have the lowest survival rate (ABS 8165.0—Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, Jun 2012 to Jun 2016).
Online markets allow local small traders to cluster in order to more easily be found by the world of 7.4Billion prospective customers. With this the potential survival and growth rate is significantly enhanced.
However, just like the times of ancient Babylonia, there is still a place for local physical markets, and with the trend in recent years to seek nearby producers, they offer a pleasant juxtaposition with the explosion of online choice anxiety inducing globalisation.
Regional produce markets are popping up across Australia and beyond, and initiatives such as Folk on the Road in South Australia enable pop-up celebrations of “unique, local, gourmet and breathtakingly tasty food and beverages served from mobile food vendors of all shapes and sizes.” Small traders can access an eager cluster of prospective customers, allowing them to test and potentially grow their businesses with less risk than otherwise.
Markets online and otherwise allow small traders to be easily found by prospective customers, and with this grow, employ people and collectively build economies. Or, they may just be given the best opportunity possible to start, test the market and sell enough to survive.