Building an Online Marketplace Has Never Been Easier in 2021

In the last three or four years, one of the most common eCommerce questions I've received has been about creating an online marketplace. Every couple of years more players step into the market and I'm happy to tell you that it's never been easier than in 2021.

What is an Online Marketplace?

An online marketplace is just like it sounds. It's not a single store. It's a collection of stores. Customers walk in and can browse goods from several different vendors.

Building an online marketplace used to cost tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars because it often meant solving at least three different challenges:

  1. Giving vendors the right to create their own stores
  2. Allowing vendors to create / upload products (physical/digital)
  3. Working out the commission structures so that the “house” gets a piece of the action

The first challenge has often been linked to the need to make sure there was an official approval process for your marketplace. No one, after all, wants illegal goods sold on a marketplace.

The second challenge is often an issue of ease of use. If you've ever tried to create an online store, you know how intimidating it can be and now think about doing that multiple times.

The third challenge is related to the financial institution / gateway dynamics. You need to make sure that the marketplace gets a cut of each interaction, but you don't want to do it manually. So you need a way to track sales, determine commissions, and automatically pay them out.

If you imagine asking developers to build these kinds of systems, you could get you quotes ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 – based on how intricate and complicated you made the vendor application, acceptance and product management processes.

The good news is that you don't have to spend anything like that today!

It's all powered by WooCommerce

You're going to need WordPress first. Then you're going to need WooCommerce. Of course I'll tell you that you also need a host with solutions for online marketplaces.

But after that, you're gong to have a choice to make. Here are several vendors who offer marketplace products:

Check out the table below and then I'll share with you the good news.

Features WCMp WC Vendors Dokan Product Vendors WCFM Marketplace
Sell Physical / Digital Products Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sell Bookable Products Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sell Subscription Products Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Individual Vendor Shops Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Vendor Interface Yes Yes Yes Admin Yes
Vendor Support / Tickets No No Yes No Yes
Vendor Reporting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Market-wide Announcements No No Yes No Yes
Messaging / Chat Yes No Yes No Yes
Commission per Product Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Commission per Category Yes No Yes No Yes
Commission per Vendor Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Global Commissions Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Order Emails Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shipping Management Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Coupon Management Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vendor Memberships Yes Yes Yes No Yes

Now, I know what you're going to say…. wait a minute, you didn't make this any easier, almost all the products have almost all the items marked as “yes”.

That is my point.

I know if you go to each of their sites, they'll create massive tables to show you how they're different. But I kept my list short on purpose. Sure, if you create a long enough list, you can find things that make each unique.

But when you step back to the basics, you likely won't go wrong with most of these.

Remember when I told you that creating an online marketplace was easier than ever? It's because it is. You have to work hard to pick a product that can't do enough to get you started and help you make some money.

And even though some of these are free plugins, by the time you add the features you want, you'll likely spend a couple hundred dollars. But that's cheap in comparison to what you're getting – an online marketplace that can generate tens of thousands of dollars in transactions monthly.

But wait – inexpensive doesn't mean easy.

I know I said it was easier than ever. And I just spent time telling you it was inexpensive. The two aren't the same, I know that. But here's what I can tell you about how easy it is.

And I don't want to push you in one direction or another, but I've worked with Dokan on real stores, and built a sample solution with WCFM Marketplace this past weekend. And what I can tell you is that you can get an online marketplace on WooCommerce up and running in a couple days.

Now, that's coming from someone who has worked with these kinds of platforms and solutions a lot. But the complexity isn't in the setup. The complexity comes later and isn't related to technology.

The code part is easy. The hard part is managing vendors. Because every vendor will have questions, issues, need support, and more. And that will take time.

But now you know why I put the “support ticket” item in the list. 🙂

Get started building your online marketplace today!

Every Monday I write you about WooCommerce. Today I'm going to do something more. If you decide to grab one of these solutions and you want to build it on WooCommerce, I'm going to make you this offer.

Reply to this newsletter, if you get it via email, or hit up my contact form, and I'll get you a discount on your managed WooCommerce hosting that's better than what you can find online.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission, at no cost to you.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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