In recent years, e-commerce giants like Etsy, Amazon & eBay have changed the face of online retail, opening up their high-traffic marketplaces to ambitious entrepreneurs, and giving independent retailers, craftsman, and manufacturers the opportunity to share their wares with the world. Other successful enterprises, like Evanto — specializing in digital, downloadable products — have built an entire industry out of crowd-sourcing the most talented developers and designers in the World.
If you have an idea for a new multi-vendor venture of your own, the WordPress platform is an inexpensive, accessible place to start. Prohibitive development and startup costs can be leveraged just by taking advantage of a handful of awesome products: themes and plugins conceived and created for the sole purpose of building robust, easy-to-manage & monetize marketplaces. For this collection, we’ve gathered up some of the best currently available.
In the first part, we’ll check out some complete solutions: premium products that provide you with everything you need to get your new marketplace off the ground and up-and-running fast — sometimes in minutes. After that, we’ll take a quick look the most popular plugins providing multi-vendor functionality, leaving you open to design, customize, and brand your site from the ground up.
Starting with a premium theme is a fast, inexpensive way to test your marketplace idea. These themes provide everything you’ll need to launch your first vendor-driven storefront, curtailing upfront development costs and saving you time and resources. Of those available, our current favorites are:
Our favorite multi-vendor marketplace theme is Handy. While the design is sharply targeted toward the sale of crafts and handmade goods, the developers have put a lot of effort into making Handy as versatile as possible. With the built-in options panel, you can customize colors, fonts, layouts, and more. With a few adjustments and a custom logo, the theme will adapt remarkably well to a variety of e-commerce niches.
On the tech end, marketplace functionality is powered by WooCommerce and WC Vendors integration (which we’ll look into further later on). The theme is responsive and retina-ready. Users can expect a consistent user experience regardless of device, and graphics will stay crisp and maintain readability on the latest high-resolution screens & monitors.
Video tutorials are included to help you along, and the theme is fully translatable, with support for the invaluable WPML plugin.
Instead of zeroing in on physical, handmade products like Handy, Checkout is geared toward building a full-featured digital product marketplace. Stock photography, courses, video, audio, and even themes & plugins will be right at home here. The design is gorgeous, contemporary, and minimal, focused strongly on content and optimized for overall user experience.
In fact, the minimalistic design also does its part to keep Checkout lightweight and speedy. You don’t notice performance until it sucks, and with Checkout you won’t have to worry about it. The marketplace features of the theme are powered by Easy Digital Downloads, or more specifically, their add-on EDD Marketplace Bundle. The bundle is sold separately — and might not fit everyone’s budget — but right now it’s the industry standard for this kind of WordPress-powered digital marketplace.
Like Handy, Checkout gives you options on the back-end to help with branding, and a few other extras (Contact Form 7 support, MailChimp integration) provide additional value. It’s your best bet for getting a digital products shop up-and-running quickly & with little fuss.
LeCrafts is a WooCommerce-based marketplace theme that occupies an aesthetic space similar to Handy, applying a slightly finer touch. Like Handy, LeCrafts concerns itself with the sale of physical goods over digital products.
Versatility is a key strength of LeCrafts, with seven distinct homepages available to choose from out-of-the-box, and a selection of useful options on the back-end. Perhaps most notable, is that LeCraft doesn’t limit marketplace functionality to a single multi-vendor solution. Instead, the developers have wisely built-in support for three popular competing products: Dokan, WC Vendors, and WooTheme’s Product Vendor’s plugin.
LeCrafts is SEO-ready, WPML compatible, and well documented (with included video tutorials).
Marketify is the best-selling WordPress marketplace theme currently available, and it’s also been around the longest. But that doesn’t mean it’s out-of-date: the developers are regularly rolling out updates, new features, and improvements, and they’re constantly tweaking & polishing the performance, responsiveness, and user experience. Out of over 150 reviews, Marketify maintains a remarkable 4.5/5 average.
When it comes to Marketify’s design and UX, it’s most similar to the Checkout theme. Marketplace functionality comes courtesy of Easy Digital Downloads and their paid add-on EDD Marketplace Bundle. The theme is geared toward digital product sales, like stock photography, software, and other downloadable files, but like all EDD Marketplace powered storefronts, can also be used as a rudimentary marketplace to sell tangible goods.
For Makery, the developers have created their own WooCommerce-based solution, and multi-vendor functionality revolves around adding “shops”, and extending the default WordPress user profiles. It’s a simple, elegant solution, but lacks the extensibility promised by marketplace-oriented plugins like WC Vendors and the EDD Marketplace Bundle.
Unless you’re partial to the design itself, we recommending leaning toward Handy for physical goods, and Marketify/Checkout for digital products.
If themes aren’t what you had in mind, building your marketplace using the plugins driving their functionality could still provide an excellent alternative to pricey proprietary solutions. These are most popular free & premium multi-vendor plugins available.
Dokan tends to fly a bit under the radar, sometimes overshadowed by competing products, but this WooCommerce-based plugin provides such a strong, comprehensive set of marketplace features, it’s become the hands-down favorite multi-vendor solution of many WordPress developers.
In terms of UX (user experience), Dokan takes some inspiration from eBay’s stores functionality, allowing users to set up their own storefront in minutes. Each seller then has access to their own dashboard, for managing sales, inventory, promotions and more. Webmasters can, of course, monetize their marketplace via a commission model, charging sellers a percentage of each sale.
Sellers can manage payment methods, shipping, and even SEO from their dashboard. Other features — like the detailed reporting system and reviews system — make Dokan the most impressive, complete multi-vendor plugin. But this does come at a cost, in that Dokan is the most expensive plugin of its kind, starting at $199 for a single site.
WC Vendors is the most popular of the multi-vendor plugins, and the developers claim it’s been the #1 plugin of its kind on the market since 2011, with over 9000 downloads from WordPress.org alone. But how much does that have to do with the fact that, unlike competing products, WC Vendors is free to download?
Unless you’re new to WordPress development, it won’t surprise you to learn there’s a Pro version of WC Vendors with a $149 price tag. But it might surprise you that the free version is extremely useful even without the upgrade, and unlike many freemium products, WC Vendors haven’t stripped out all the best stuff, crippling functionality, and forcing you to pay for the upgrade once you’ve painted yourself into a corner. This is a free plugin that’s able to stand on its own, guided and fine-tuned by feedback from the eager WordPress community.
But don’t take our word for it, because you can download it and try it out. Also worth noting: even if you don’t opt to upgrade to the Pro version, the developers provide paid support options in case you run into difficulties with the free version. So there’s some peace of mind in that.
Socio Multi-Vendor is another premium multi-vendor option powered by WooCommerce, but with a much lower price tag than Dokan: you can grab this one at CodeCanyon for only $33.
While it may not be as a feature-packed as Dokan, omitting features like reporting and reviews, Socio Multi-Vendor does have plenty to offer, providing all necessary marketplace features and then some.
It’s an excellent light-weight option for webmasters who require basic multi-vendor functionality, but won’t benefit from the more sophisticated implementation boasted by Dokan.
EDD Marketplace Bundle
Many creators & sellers of digital products — at least, those using WordPress for their e-commerce platform — would probably agree that Easy Digital Downloads has become the standard for setting up a streamlined, user-friendly digital product storefront. Although WooCommerce includes this functionality, EDD specializes in it, has honed and perfected it, and has emerged as being the best tool for the job. The plugin is remarkably modular in its design, with a ton of awesome extensions available at pretty reasonable prices.
And with that in mind, it’s not much of a surprise that the EDD Marketplace Bundle is an excellent solution for building a multi-vendor marketplace specializing in the sale of intangible, downloadable products. It’s an extremely intuitive, user-friendly way to put together a website along the lines of Envato & stock photo providers. The bundle assembles eight existing extensions, which can also be purchased individually. Priced at $199, the entire package is not exactly cheap, but it is reliable, well-supported, and extensible with additional EDD add-ons.
WooCommerce Product Vendors
At $79, WooThemes Product Vendors add-on lands somewhere between Dokan and the pro version of WC Vendors. It’s a lightweight plugin similar to Socio Multi-Vendor, and perhaps the best thing it has going for it is that it comes from the developers of WooCommerce themselves. It’s an “official” add-on, you might say. And it’s worth a closer look, but it’s certainly not the most exciting multi-vendor product, and it’s our least favorite of the five.
And that concludes our look into building a multi-vendor marketplace with WordPress. If you want to test an idea, and you’re eager to get your storefront up & running fast, one of the four themes spotlighted is a good bet, and highly recommended. If you’ve got a bit more money to invest, or require a scalable solution tailored to a unique set of needs, one of the plugins could be the path to take. Either way, with the options available, there’s no reason to start from scratch: skip developing proprietary software, and invest that savings into marketing & talent.