One of the greatest things about sites like Amazon or Etsy is the ability to not only purchase products from the retailer (such as Amazon itself), but to also purchase products from third-party vendors. This is an especially great model for sites that sell digital goods, such as music or ebooks. You can provide the ability for authors or artists to upload their own products to your site so that they benefit from your brand recognition and infrastructure, and you gain the ability to sell products to which you wouldn’t otherwise have access.
We’ll describe the creation of a digital goods marketplace using the Easy Digital Downloads core plugin, the Marketify theme from Astoundify, the Frontend Submissions Extension, Commissions Extension, and the Product Reviews Extension. Using these plugins will allow us to set up an Amazon-style marketplace within an hour. For brevity, I’m going to assume you’ve installed and configured Easy Digital Downloads.
Easy Digital Downloads is free, but the rest of the components of this setup are paid themes and extensions. You could use a different theme, but I really liked Marketify, as it includes some useful widgets specifically for EDD, is from an excellent author, and looks great. The Marketify theme is $60, Frontend Submissions (FES) is $83, Commmissions is $39, and Product Reviews is $32. The total cost (using single-site licenses for everything) is therefore $214.
There are a few other add-ons that would be helpful in creating and running a digital goods marketplace, but this is the bare-bones setup recommended. Rather than purchase these extensions individually, I’d recommend buying the Marketplace bundle, which includes all of these extensions, along with some others like the Recommended Products add-on, for $159. As the price of the other extensions mentioned totals $154 (excluding the theme), this is a huge bargain and gives you access to some other great plugins.
Frontend Submissions allows you to accept product / download submissions from authors or vendors and list them in your Easy Digital Downloads store to create a marketplace. When coupled with the Commissions Extension, you can pay out a percentage of sales of the appropriate products to the vendors that submitted them. A new user role is created that allows vendors to create products and submit the appropriate details and media for their submissions.
Vendors will only have access to media that they’ve uploaded, and can only choose from existing product categories and tags, so it’s important that you have store structure organized before accepting submissions. If not, you’ll have to edit product data following submission (adding tags, etc) to ensure that customers can drill down your products to easily find what they want.
FES allows you to create customized forms for vendor applications, as well as product submissions from vendors. You can choose to automatically approve these applications and submissions, or review them manually (which is what I’d recommend to ensure quality). The interface is easy to use and is similar to Gravity Forms. I would recommend updating the default “Download Category” and “Download Tags” fields in the vendor submission form to a multi-select or checkboxes rather than a drop down menu so that vendors can select all applicable categories or tags.
Once you’ve set up your forms for vendors, you’re ready to accept submissions from third parties, as the needed pages are automatically created when the plugin is installed. You may want to include these pages in your navigation if you’re encouraging submissions from any vendor.
When a vendor has submitted an application and it has been approved, that vendor will have access to a “Vendors Dashboard”. This is where vendors can manage their own products and view sales for each product they’ve submitted. Vendors can also update their own profiles from this page.
When a vendor submits a new product, you have the option to approve the product(s) before listing. You can view products in need of approval from the Downloads menu, as they’ll have a “Pending Review” status.
Before approving new submissions, you’ll need to check product details and enable commissions if paying them out to vendors, as commissions are not automatically enabled for products submitted by vendors (Note: This was a bug that has since been patched – see Chris’s comment below). There are also some pricing options, such as the ability to purchase multiple files at the same time, that vendors cannot set themselves.
Now that FES has been set up, you’ll want to enable and configure the Commissions Extension to share sales of these products with your vendors. Commissions automatically integrates with FES to assign commissions to the appropriate vendor when they’ve submitted a product, but you’ll need to set a default commission rate, then enable commissions for submissions that you approve. You can set a default rate under Downloads > Settings > Extensions:
Once your default rate is set, you can enable commissions when approving vendor submissions, as this will not be enabled automatically. You’ll have to edit the product, then click to enable commissions. You can adjust the rate if necessary on a per-product basis, and can add multiple user commissions and rates for each product if needed.
Whenever a product is purchased that requires a commission to be paid out, a new commission is created under Downloads > Commissions, where you can view all commissions and mark them as unpaid or paid. The best part about the Commissions extension is the ability to export all unpaid commissions as a CSV file by clicking “Generate Mass Payment File”, which can then be uploaded to PayPal in order to automatically pay out all commissions to the vendors’ PayPal accounts and marks all ‘unpaid’ commissions as ‘paid’ in your commissions dashboard.
A new commissions-paid-per-month graph is also added to your main Reports page so that you can see the commissions you’ve paid out over time. You can also check out this commissions video for more information.
The final plugin in this puzzle is the Product Reviews Extension. I’m wary of purchasing products from vendors that I’m unfamiliar with, as are many consumers. For example, if I’m purchasing anything on Amazon that’s not from Amazon itself, I almost never purchase unless there are product reviews or seller reviews available. Research shows that even bad reviews boost sales, as almost all consumers look for reviews before purchasing and the absence of reviews troubles them. Therefore, including product reviews is an important component to your marketplace.
Product Reviews settings are in the same place as commissions settings – under Downloads > Settings > Extensions:
You can adjust how reviews are shown, and even disallow reviews unless products have been purchased (similar to Amazon Verified Reviews). Other customers can note which reviews are helpful as well in order to create a full review and recommendation system.
Reviews can be embedded in pages, posts, and other custom post types using the
[reviews id=""] shortcode (there’s a shortcode generator in the visual editor to make this easy). Widgets are also included to display recent and featured reviews.
Now that the skeleton of your marketplace has been built, you can put some skin on it. This is where the Marketify theme comes in. This theme fully integrates with all plugins referenced in this article to create a complete marketplace site.
There’s no “theme options” menu with Marketify, as all options based on using widgets and the built-in templates, so I’d recommend reading the documentation for some guidance. There are some awesome tutorial videos for all of the setup possibilities. For example, you can create a customized homepage by installing the theme, creating a page with the “Homepage Template” and setting up widgets for the Homepage Area, or embed sliders on your homepage. There are a lot of setup possibilities, and for the sake of brevity and to avoid redundancy, I would really recommend viewing the documentation.
I was able to set up my homepage, customize theme options, and set up a social footer menu within 10 minutes. There are a lot of other options available with Marketify, but I liked the “Popular Products” and “New Products” widgets for the homepage, and would have added a slider for Featured Products and added testimonials if I were setting up a real store.
Good question. Here’s the list of all themes and plugins we used to create our sample digital goods marketplace. Remember, you could replace all extensions we used with the EDD Marketplace bundle instead, which is what I’d recommend since you basically get other great extensions for free. Have questions or other suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
- Easy Digital Downloads core plugin
- Marketify theme from Theme Forest
- Easy Digital Downloads Frontend Submissions Extension
- Easy Digital Downloads Commissions Extension
- Easy Digital Downloads Product Reviews Extension