Over half of online customers worldwide go to the websites of businesses to begin searching for products—either directly or guided by search engines. Even those guided by their friends and social media eventually go to a company website. Therefore, purchasing a domain name—often a Dot-Com—is an important early step in building and marketing a business.
Usually, end customers can purchase and register a domain name through a registrar—a transaction we call a primary retail market registration. However, not infrequently, a domain name one thinks of has already been registered by someone else—but not for business purposes; it is available for resale on the secondary retail market. Among the stories of domain names sold in the secondary market is Voice.com, which famously sold for $30M in 2019.
How often does this happen? Who holds domains for resale? Who buys them? What do they sell for? These are interesting questions, but it’s challenging to get hard data to answer them. Estimates of market size range from $1 billion to $3 billion and there is little understanding of the players and dynamics involved.
To better understand the secondary retail Dot-Com market and develop a high-level view of market dynamics, we conducted surveys and interviews with more than 60 domain investors (domainers) and service providers. We then quantified and validated what we learned by merging over 5 billion rows and 40 billion individual data elements from zone files and Whois records spanning 2017 to 2020.
Here are some findings that we thought were very interesting:
Looking forward, the number of domains held for resale will likely continue to outpace the number of domains held by end-users—i.e., the share of Dot-Com registrations held by domainers will increase. Private registrations will increasingly obscure all aspects of the market, including inventories and transaction volumes. Secondary retail market consolidation will continue until few high-volume domainers are left. Among low-volume domainers, low barriers to entry will allow sustained inventory growth, and although low-volume domainers may struggle to monetize their purchases, their enthusiasm and enjoyment of domaining will likely be sufficient in the near- and medium-term to keep them participating in the market. Finally, corporate domainers may try to maintain sales volume growth with new business models—for example, through financed sales to end-users.