WooCommerce: How to Set Up a Multi Vendor / Marketplace Website

Are you looking to build a marketplace where multiple vendors advertise and sell their own products?

Would you like to build the next eBay, or perhaps Etsy, while earning commissions or fees for each vendor or marketplace transaction?

In this article we’ll take a look at the main features, challenges and advantages of building a multivendor platform based on WooCommerce. 

Is WooCommerce a good choice for marketplaces?

There are a lot of tools, platforms and services that can serve as a base for your upcoming multivendor site. The main options you will have to choose from are:

Custom development from scratch

Developing a marketplace from scratch through proprietary code may be the right choice for an enterprise or large-budget project. The main advantage is customizability, allowing you to develop everything exactly as you need it, while the biggest disadvantage is a high cost for security, maintenance, and development.

Using a dedicated service, script, or platform

There are a number of scripts or services that promise to deliver you a ready-made white-labeled solution or even a fully hosted platform solution, such as X-Cart, Zeew, etc. The main problem with using such a solution is that not only is there a high setup and deployment cost, but there are often ongoing costs as well, such as maintenance costs or transaction commissions. Another issue is being dependent on a particular provider, meaning the site will also be difficult to customize and it may be hard or impossible to add new features and options in the future.

Using an open-source platform such as WooCommerce

There are several open-source e-commerce solutions, but in recent years WooCommerce has become the biggest and most powerful of them all. With hundreds of thousands of plugins, themes, and code snippets, it is incredibly versatile, allowing you to set up almost anything, and do it quickly based on existing, open-source, secure code. WooCommerce is also completely free and only carries limited costs if you decide to use premium plugins.

WooCommerce therefore offers the best of both worlds: it enables powerful customization, quick development, and low costs, while also allowing you to take advantage of an incredible ecosystem of existing plugins and code.

How does a multivendor store differ from a typical store?

While the core mechanics of traditional shops and multi vendor shops are the same (cart system, products, pricing, discounts, etc), there are also important differences.

First of all, a key difference has to do with how the cart works and how orders are processed. When a customer shops and places an order containing products from multiple stores, several things must happen:

Secondly, an important difference has to do with store management. Since multiple sellers must manage their own products, there must be a separate interface that allows them to manage products, orders, refunds, etc in a private way, without being able to see other stores’ orders or data.

Finally, another key difference has to do with the role of the admin (marketplace owner / manager). While for a typical shop the owner is also the seller, in a multi vendor marketplace this changes, and the owner becomes a manager that must communicate with vendors, handle issues, charge commissions, while also offering services to sellers. Therefore the admin side of the store and the backend must cater not only to customers, but also to vendors.

What are the main challenges of developing a marketplace?

WooCommerce is a powerful and versatile e-commerce solution but it was not built with multi-vendor commerce in mind, so a lot of necessary elements are missing and have to be built.

On the admin side, you will need a messaging solution to communicate with vendors, a way to set up commissions, and a way to track withdrawals and payouts. Furthermore, a vendor registration solution has to be implemented, as well as a way to verify vendors and their documents, and approve or reject account requests.

On the seller side, a dedicated frontend dashboard is needed, so each vendor can manage their own products, orders and settings without having access to the admin backend. Sellers must also be able to add and manage coupons, receive and respond to customer inquiries, handle customer refund requests, have team members that can manage part of the store, etc. 

There are many other features and options that can make a marketplace stand out such as SEO for vendor stores, reports that allow vendors to track their performance, or a system of badges and achievements that promotes and distinguishes the best sellers.

Most effective way to set up a WooCommerce marketplace

While you can use code snippets and build it all by yourself, the fastest and easiest way of setting this up will be to use a dedicated multivendor marketplace plugin such as MarketKing.

MarketKing was built from the ground up to suit the unique needs of multi vendor platforms, seamlessly enabling dozens of complex features:

  • Vendor Registration Module with Custom Configurable Fields
  • Premium Vendor Dashboard
  • Vendor Verification and Approval 
  • Wholesale and B2B Integration
  • Vendor Staff & Teams
  • Product, Coupon and Order management
  • Refund management
  • Unique highly converting split-cart
  • Commission, Withdrawals and Payouts 
  • Announcements
  • Store SEO
  • Invoicing Integration
  • Store Reviews
  • Vendor Groups & Memberships
  • Product and Vendor Inquiries with Messaging System
  • Product Import & Export
  • and so much more.

MarketKing is a new and modern multivendor solution that delivers a high performance, feature-rich, and visually stunning experience. It bundles a beautiful and powerful vendor dashboard, with dozens of complex features, in a single easy-to-use marketplace package. You can use MarketKing’s free version, or if you need more features, there is also a premium, lifetime-license version.

What are the most important multivendor marketplace features?

Let’s take a look at some of the key features of a marketplace, as well as some other features that can make a marketplace stand out from its competitors.

1. Front-end Vendor Dashboard

An essential part of the store is the seller’s dashboard. This is the area that vendors and businesses interact with when managing their products and orders, so it’s important that this makes a great first impression. MarketKing offers a premium, dedicated vendor dashboard screen with its own private login page: 

Separate Login Panel for Sellers

Once the vendor has logged in, they gain access to the dashboard, and all of its features and panels. The dashboard overview shows recent orders, as well as several important statistics, allowing the seller to see what’s going on with their shop at a glance.

Vendor Dashboard Overview

2. Product, Order and Coupon Management

The dashboard allows vendors to manage their own items and orders, as well as create and manage coupons. 

When editing products, vendors have access to the native WooCommerce product management UI, with all of its options. They can configure everything from product SKU, to price, product up-sells, stock quantities, attributes, etc.

Product Edit Screen, Using Native WooCommerce UI

Similarly, vendors can add and edit coupons through the same native WooCommerce interface. When it comes to orders, vendors can view billing and shipping data necessary to fulfill orders, change order status and add order notes. Vendors can also view their earnings after commissions, and generate PDF invoices based on configurable invoice settings.

3. Vendor Registration

Through the registration module, a dedicated vendor registration page can be created. Multiple custom registration fields can be added and configured based on marketplace needs. Registration fields can be text fields, dropdowns, checkboxes, or even file attachments for things such as licenses and company documents.

Vendor Registration Page with Storefront Theme

4. Ordering From Multiple Vendors – Split Orders

Another important feature that almost all modern marketplaces have today is the ability to split the cart and show items and totals by vendor. This kind of system is also implemented by MarketKing, and it is quite unique among multivendor plugins.

Cart Split by Vendor

Once the order has been placed, the system then automatically splits it into multiple sub-orders, sending each individual sub-order to their vendor. The customer can also see each sub-order as separate, being able to track order status and the progression of each sub-order.

5. Product and Vendor Inquiries (Messaging)

Communication is important for any e-commerce shop, but even more so for a marketplace, as there are multiple layers of participants. MarketKing implements a messaging system that everyone can access: vendors, admin, and customers.

Customers can send inquiries about specific products directly to vendors, and vendors can respond. Similarly, vendors can send inquiries to the marketplace admin, or vice versa. Configurable email notifications keep all participants up to date with what’s happening.

6. Wholesale or B2B Marketplace

Another highly sought-after capability for marketplaces is the ability to support business customers and B2B e-commerce. Through its integration with the popular B2BKing wholesale plugin, MarketKing enables several capabilities for vendors:

  • Vendors can receive and respond to quote requests
  • Set up wholesale prices by customer group
  • Set up tiered pricing for their products
  • Configure product visibility, hiding or showing products 
  • Setting up minimum order quantities or box quantities
  • Hiding prices for specific products or customers
  • Offering special discounts on specific products

7. Single Product Multiple Vendors

A situation that is quite common on marketplaces is when multiple vendors sell the same products. In this case, MarketKing has a powerful feature that allows showing multiple offers under each product.

Multiple Product Offers

These offers can be sorted by vendor rating, by offer price, stock quantity or all. On the shop itself, only the highest ranking offer will show, so that marketplace listings do not show the same product twice. Furthermore, a smart cache system automatically refreshes which offer shows on the shop – for example when an item goes out of stock, that item will be hidden, and the next best offer will be displayed.

8. Vendor Verification

Once a vendor has registered, other documents or files may still be needed, so it’s necessary to have a secure upload area where vendors can verify their data. In MarketKing this is implemented through a dedicated seller verification module.

Verification Panel In Dashboard

A dedicated verification panel is added to the vendor dashboard. Any documents uploaded can be viewed and verified by the admin in the backend. A documents log permanently saves all files, so these can also be re-checked in the future.

9. Vendor Staff 

A common problem for sellers on marketplaces is the necessity to have multiple staff members that can manage store operations. This is particularly important as stores grow larger and need more and more staff to manage products, handle orders, respond to requests, etc.

MarketKing has a dedicated Team & Staff module that was built to meet this challenge. Each seller can create team members and configure permissions and access to specific panels or specific functions only.

Team Member Permissions

10. Earnings & Reports

No marketplace can be complete without a reports feature. Both vendors and the marketplace admin need a quick and easy way to visualize sales and performance across time. 

On the admin side, a dedicated panel shows orders, sales and commissions, by marketplace, or by store, between specific dates:

Admin Reports Panel

This is doubled by another earnings panel on the vendor side, where each vendor can visualize their earnings by month, as well as each transaction in a configurable table.

In Conclusion

We looked at a few of the main elements of setting up a multivendor marketplace store with WooCommerce. As you have seen, while many features work as in a traditional store, many also have their own unique challenges. From the necessity to split the cart, to the need to have a dedicated seller dashboard, multi vendor sites often involve a lot of complexity. 

You can jump past a lot of these challenges and develop quickly by using a dedicated multivendor plugin. In that case, MarketKing is a powerful package that brings to the table not just a large number of features, but also stunning designs, unique capabilities, and attention to detail.

Rodolfo Melogli

Business Bloomer Founder

Author, WooCommerce expert and WordCamp speaker, Rodolfo has worked as an independent WooCommerce freelancer since 2011. His goal is to help entrepreneurs and developers overcome their WooCommerce nightmares. Rodolfo loves travelling, chasing tennis & soccer balls and, of course, wood fired oven pizza.

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