Multiple sellers on one site

I have a (very small) site for a group of craft producers. The site is primarily to advertise their existence and various events which they hold.

Some members have their own websites, and may or may not sell through them; some members have no website.

It’s just been suggested that those with no site of their own (and, indeed, anybody else who might want to) could sell through the communal website. The easiest way to implement that seems to be to let each member generate their own PayPal buttons for their own accounts, so that payment goes direct to each member and there is no need for any central accounting.

The drawback is that each member’s items would need to be checked out separately, but I don’t think that would be a major problem. Judging by the behaviour of “real life” shoppers, those interested in buying art are generally not interested in buying jewellery or hand knitting, etc. (At least, not on the same occasion.) If the “shop” area is set up in such a way that each member’s items are on a separate page, I think it could work without confusing customers too much. I could include a brief message on the shop entry page explaining how it works.

Does anybody have any thoughts or suggestions? Remember, we’re talking very small scale here. :slight_smile:

My first reaction was to say that I disagree with this approach. I think it would be confusing to the customer, and I don’t think the explanatory message will be much help (as most customers will either not read it, or they will read it but not take in the message).

But having thought it through, I don’t much like the alternative approach either. If you had a single shopping basket, and a single checkout page, you would have accounting issues to deal with, and you would have to devise a common set of terms & conditions that all the vendors could agree to. Those problems are not insurmountable. A worse drawback is that you would lose your biggest selling point: the personal nature of the transaction.If I see a sweater for sale that was hand-knitted by a crofter on a Scottish island, I would get a real thrill out of buying it direct from the crofter. If I thought the purchase was going via some intermediary, I would probably still buy it, but the transaction would definitely lose some of its appeal.

Maybe the best option would be for each vendor to have not only their own PayPal button, but also their own shopping basket and their own checkout page. Each of these would have the vendor’s individual branding. If, exceptionally, a customer adds products from different vendors to their basket, it would be at that point that a message pops up explaining that this is a different vendor, and must be checked out separately. Make that a modal message box, which the visitor is forced to dismiss. Consider also displaying a message after the first vendor’s basket is checked out, to remind the customer that they still have products in the other vendor’s basket.

I should add that I don’t have any direct experience of this kind of setup, so I might be well of target with these comments. However, whatever option you go for, I’m sure it will be much more beneficial to the vendors than not having any on-line selling ability at all.


Using PayPal buttons and a PayPal basket, that’s what would happen by default, I think - each button is linked to the owner’s account and will therefore go into a basket with their name on it, and subsequently to their checkout. One of the possible areas of confusion is if somebody buys a hat from Dorothy, then earrings from Barbara, they won’t see the hat in the shopping basket when they add the earrings.

Using “buy now” buttons instead of “add to cart” buttons would eliminate this problem, but annoy lumps out of anybody wanting to buy several items of jewellery, or woolly hats for the entire family.

Another possibility is to set the site up differently, so instead of having a page about each member and their crafts, and then a separate “shop” section, I could have a prominent link from each member’s page - “Buy jewellery from Barabara here” or somesuch - which will link just to her items. Anybody wanting to buy from another producer would need to go back to the members’ pages and follow the relevant link. I suspect people would be more likely to remember to checkout one member’s items before returning to shop at another member’s page.

It needs to be a simple solution, because I’m doing this pro bono. If they all become rich beyond the dreams of avarice from their on-line sales, then I’m sure we can revisit it with a more elaborate (paid) set-up, but for now, the simpler the better. :slight_smile:

I agree with what Mikl, it can get very complicated both for customers and your self as the site owner.

You could go down the road of giving each vendor their own page and checkout, but that then defeats the object of a multi vendor set up.

You could use a true multi vendor shopping cart system which would give you the single checkout etc, but then you have obligations for terms, settling up with vendors and so on.

The other option would be to run a “normal” non-multi-vendor shopping cart, whereby you list items yourself on behalf of the vendors. You then take the orders and payments, then when you get an order notify the vendors(s) to arrange despatch, then finally you take a commission on a sales and pay out each vendor, say weekly or monthly.

If you’re using Paypal they have a decent solution as part of Adaptive payments - scroll down to ‘parallel payments’:

So the customer has a single cart and makes a single payment. Paypal then splits the payment accordingly and send the relevant share to all the merchants involved; you can also take a commission if you wish, it’s just subtracted from all the merchant’s share, or you can take nothing. Many marketplace sites use this.

I am unclear what the invoicing situation is, as you’d need the customer to receive a receipt from the actual sellers and not you - maybe Paypal provide this automatically, e.g. a single invoice listing each seller and the items purchased. Otherwise you may have to generate something yourself, similar to a typical Amazon or Ebay receipt where you’ve purchased from multiple marketplace sellers in a single transaction.

We have looked into this in the past, it’s still something we’re considering. I spoke to HMRC about our VAT Liability, and they told me that as long as we ensure invoicing is between the buyer and the marketplace sellers, VAT is not our concern (the only VAT we’d need to deal with is the VAT on any commission we charge the sellers).

So I think you’ll initially have to spend some time setting up the parallel payments thing (pretty sure there’s plugins available for all the major ecomm platforms though), but after that it should be fairly straight forward and automated.

I wondered about that as well. Perhaps the solution would simply be for the vendor to include the invoice with the product. The vendor would produce the invoice using whatever means they are already using for face-to-face sales.

A slightly more complicated issue would be to do with communicating with the customer after the order is placed but before it is received. I’m thinking of things like customers querying the delivery date, or complaining that the goods haven’t arrived. But that needn’t be an issue, provided any such communications are promptly forwarded to the vendor.

As far as VAT is concerned, I don’t think that will be an issue. If the vendor is registered for VAT, the VAT will be included in the price. The entire purchase price goes to the vendor, and it is up to the vendor to account for the VAT, just as they do with their face-to-face sales. (If the intermediate site charges a commission, and the operator of the site is registered for VAT, then the commission is of course VAT-able, but that has got nothing to do with the issue under discussion.)


Thanks, @shadowbox - that looks interesting, but I’ll need to look into it in more detail.

Unfortunately, I may fall at the first hurdle:

The application owner must have a PayPal Business account.
It’s been some time since I last tried, but PayPal insisted on having a publicly-displayed telephone number for a Business account. As I can’t use a phone, displaying a number is pretty useless and only likely to annoy somebody trying to contact me. Endless e-mailing to PayPal on the subject got me nowhere, and I eventually gave up and settled for a “premier” account. Perhaps they’ve changed the requirement, but somehow I doubt it. :frowning:

VAT is never going to be an issue here; we’re talking very small scale stuff.

It sounds like you described Etsy almost perfectly. You should take a look at that before going further, if you haven’t already. It will give you an idea of how it can be done.

Thanks - that is interesting. (Although it feels a bit like sending somebody setting up a corner grocer’s to look at WalMart and see how it’s done. :lol:)

I will look into PayPal “Adaptive Payments”. It’s occurred to me that there should be an easy solution to the business account problem. The Artist aka Running Bear is a member of the art and crafts group, and if he doesn’t already have a PayPal Business account, could certainly set one up - so we could use his account, rather than mine. :slight_smile: There’d be no question of taking commission or anything, so no complications there, but I would need to find out how invoicing would work and, as Mikl says, resolve the issue of communication.

(This is where PayPal buttons and separate checkouts is simpler, because PayPal issues receipts on behalf of each vendor, and provides the vendor’s e-mail address for customer contact.)

At the very least, I suggest including a text box (on the order page) so that the customer can send a message direct to the vendor - for special requests, etc. If nothing else, it will re-assure the customer that direct communication is easy.


No problem there. Most of the sellers will also work to commission, so there will already be an e-mail address for each on the site.

I understand you’re trying to make something small, but that corner grocer should at least look at larger chains who’ve spent lots of money trying to build the best experience possible. For instance: Walmart puts all their fruit and vegetables on display in nice neat open rows, trying to minimize the amount of produce that gets trapped on the bottom where nobody can see it.

I don’t mean to copy them, but it’s usually good to get a feel for how other people are doing something similar. In retrospect, I may be a bit off topic here. I just realized what forum I’m in. I was thinking more of design and structure and not necessarily legal issues.

Also: I’m big on editing my posts and I’m still getting used to things here. I have a habit of not word things the best way the first time. :smiley:

Sounds like the original site has out grown its purpose and anything less than an ecommerce platform supporting multiple store fronts is going to just end up being a hack. However, given you’re working for free I wouldn’t worry to much about it and just get it done the quickest way possible to fulfill your obligations. It doesn’t even sound like this site is dynamic just static files. If so without rebuilding the site or moving to a new platform any solution implemented is going to be like using table layouts to achieve this dynamic requirement in a static file setting. That is really just how it is and it sin’t going to scale well at either without some form of dynamic programming involved. I would agree though in what you’re describing is in essence etsy…

But it was still helpful to look at, thank you. :slight_smile:

I’m really just looking for ideas on the easiest/best way to implement this, with costs kept to the absolute minimum. So design, shopping cart/payment solutions and legal issues are all relevant here. The group is new and funds are very limited. If I can get something basic up and running, I can always revisit it at a later date.

By the time you get used to it, we’ll probably be moving to Discourse and it will be all change again. :slight_smile: You have 30 minutes in which to edit your post here; it will probably be a bit longer on Discourse.

No requirement as far as I know, we leave the ‘Customer Service Number’ blank in our Paypal business account and I’ve personally updated that profile page very recently and it didn’t force me to enter anything. Customers only see our ‘Customer Service’ email address (I’ve previously checked this by buying from our own site).

You have to give Paypal a ‘private’ contact number, but that’s for their internal use only, so you can just give them your mobile number.

Thanks - that’s really helpful. :slight_smile:

When I tried to set up a Business account some years ago, it stated specifically that the phone number would be publicly displayed. I had a lengthy and fruitless e-mail exchange with PayPal, who insisted it had to be displayed so that customers could contact me. As nobody can contact me by phone, it’s clearly pointless, in my case, to include it. I suggested e-mail and postal addresses should be sufficient, but no. Clearly I’m not the only person with difficulty using a phone, so maybe they’ve finally seen sense. :slight_smile:

I hope so. When I tried to set up a business account several years ago, they asked for my business address, which is perfectly reasonable. However, the address included a box for “county”. As you know, we don’t have counties in Scotland. So I tried leaving it blank, but that was rejected. I then tried entering the name of my “unitary authority” (which is the nearest equivalent to a county). That was also rejected, because it happens to be the same as the name of my city. I tried several other possibilities, but it just kept on rejecting them.

I finally gave up.

(Sorry, I know this is off topic, but it does perhaps throw some light on PayPal’s attitude to business accounts.)