Marketplace or Branded Portal for Selling Chemicals Online: Which Helps Acquire and Engage Customers Better?

Marketplace or Branded Portal for Selling Chemicals Online: Which Helps Acquire and Engage Customers Better?

Derek Morgen

Digital Marketing Expert

Today's buyers look for speed, transparency, and ease of doing business. Chemical buyers are no exception! Recent McKinsey & Co. research reports show that 85% of chemical industry buyers prefer digital channels for repeat purchases, and more than 65% of buyers prefer to learn about suppliers' products via digital channels.

As a result, a digital storefront is not just a convenience but a necessity to generate new sales growth in the chemical industry. When it comes to selling chemicals online, there are two major options: building a branded online digital commerce portal or using a pre-existing online marketplace to drive customers.

This article showcases the pros and cons of branded portals versus marketplaces for chemical manufacturers that want to sell chemicals online without losing their unique customer experience. We're also sharing how chemical industry manufacturers can get the best of both worlds, accessing the benefits of both an owned portal and an online marketplace. So, what exactly is the difference between a marketplace and platform?

Defining a branded portal versus a marketplace

A branded online digital commerce portal is a constant opportunity for customers to view your products, learn about your company, and request pricing information to help them make a purchase decision. From there, the ecommerce platform for chemicals tracks orders and documents via a personalized dashboard for each of your customers and your teams.

An ecommerce marketplace, on the other hand, operates much like a physical mall or outdoor market. Multiple vendors are present in a central (digital) area, competing for the same customer set. For consumers, the marketplace, in general, is a destination, and they may be attracted to one brand or another depending on their needs or the brand's marketing efforts.

Branded digital commerce portals: Great for owning the customer experience and data

A branded online portal gives you total control over the customer experience. For example, when someone is looking to buy chemicals online and comes to your portal, they see how you differentiate from competitors, your story, and the value of working with you - a must-have to compete in the chemical industry.


Having a branded portal is beneficial for quite a few key reasons:

  • You own the data and the customer relationship: It's your brand and your portal, so you own the customer relationships and the data. Selling chemicals online requires significant data protection, and with cloud-based, multi-tenant platforms (like Salesforce or Agilis), modern data encryption technology allows each tenant to own their data securely.
  • Customer lifecycle visibility: You can connect to the entire customer lifecycle, meaning you gain visibility into the entire sales process - from search, exploration, selection to transactions, fulfillment, and retention.
  • Customer experience: You own your brand experience and customer experience, making it easy for customers to learn about your business and allowing you to differentiate from competitors.
  • Flexibility with marketing techniques: You have the flexibility to use a variety of marketing and sales techniques to bring customers to increase your chemical product visibility on the web.


Branded online portals have one key challenge:

  • Set up time: Building a custom solution can take months when you do it yourself, but industry-specific platforms like Agilis make it easy to get done in weeks (not months).

Marketplaces: Great for bringing multiple buyers to a single location

Online marketplaces focus on getting lots of people to discover new opportunities and see what's available to solve their needs.


Marketplaces are helpful for a couple of reasons:

  • Broad awareness: Providing broad-based awareness to potential new customers is essential for new players who don't already have established sales channels.
  • Price shopping: Giving customers an easy opportunity to price-comparison shop.


Unfortunately, marketplaces are great for generic commoditized products but carry more cons than pros for complex, regulated industries like chemical manufacturing:

  • Marketplaces own your data: Not only do marketplaces own your data, but many marketplaces also monetize data associated with your products and your customers.
  • No control over the customer experience: You don't own the customer experience and the engagement - marketplaces set their own rules and can often promote alternatives to your products if it serves the overall marketplace.
  • Unqualified buyers: Large marketplaces can attract irrelevant or unqualified buyers that waste your time.
  • Faster commoditization: When you pitch your brand or products in direct comparison with other suppliers, you risk the commoditization of your portfolio. In these instances, buyers focus more on price comparison and less on unique value propositions and supplier quality.

A common misunderstanding with branded online portals is that you won't get the same number of customers coming to your door that you would from a marketplace. However, the reality is that when you own your own digital storefront, you can use a variety of technology tools such as SEO-ready product profiles, email marketing, and other digital marketing campaigns to bring even more traffic - or at least more relevant customer traffic - than a marketplace. ‍

Own customer experience and get customers with technology

Agilis and UL partnered to make it easy for chemical manufacturers to have a branded online portal and drive relevant customer traffic from a marketplace. Now, chemical manufacturers can set up a branded online portal with Agilis to own their entire customer experience. At the same time, the UL Prospector marketplace integration brings the largest network of validated chemical buyers directly to your online portal.

Ecommerce for chemical suppliers is a unique initiative because of various safety concerns and regulations to maintain. However, that shouldn't impact your selling ability using modern digital tools. Both branded online portals and marketplaces have pros and cons. Still, new integrations with purpose-built ecommerce technology for the chemical industry make it easy to own the customer experience and bring customers directly to your digital storefront.


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