WooCommerce Wholesale Plugins: The Ultimate Guide
A plethora of e-commerce platforms have sprung up in the last couple of years, making it easier than ever to sell online (including our favorite, WooCommerce + a WooCommerce wholesale plugin). However, these platforms rarely make it easy to distinguish between retail and wholesale customers.
You can set up totally separate stores for your retail and wholesale customers, but this is extremely inconvenient. Your technology should be working for you, rather than creating work for you.
Fortunately, there is a better way to create your wholesale store. WooCommerce is one of the most powerful and widely-used e-commerce platforms on the web. Its integration into the WordPress Content Management System means that it is endlessly customizable, not least with the broad range of plugins available that change and expand its functionality.
With the right plugins, you’ll be able to simply and effectively cater to both your wholesale and retail customers all using the same system, with a great user experience at the front end, and an easy-to-manage back end.
Here you’ll find the complete guide to the best WooCommerce wholesale plugins.
You’ll learn how to choose and set up the right plugins to create a fully functional wholesale store using WooCommerce. This post will cover:
- How to create a private wholesale area. This section will cover 3 ways to protect your wholesale store, using 2 wholesale plugins – WooCommerce Password Protected Categories and WooCommerce Private Store.
- How to create user-friendly wholesale layouts & order forms. This section will cover the options for displaying products in wholesale-friendly table views using the WooCommerce Product Table plugin.
At the end of this tutorial, you will know how to create a WooCommerce wholesale store with all the features you need. Each method is easier to set up than other WooCommerce wholesale plugins and membership plugins.
Before you start – set up your basic WooCommerce store
First, install the WooCommerce plugin on your WordPress website. Add some products to get started. At this stage, all your products will be publicly available and presented in the default layout.
Now you’re ready to set up your WooCommerce wholesale plugin. Keep reading, choose your plugins and follow the instructions to set them up!
Creating a hidden WooCommerce Wholesale Area – 3 different approaches
First, I’ll show you three simple ways to protect your wholesale store from public view so that only approved wholesale customers can access it. You might choose to set up a standard online retail store with a separate private wholesale area. Or you can have a 100% hidden WooCommerce store that no one else knows exists!
Below, you’ll find a summary of all 3 methods and the plugins they use. Read the descriptions, and we’ll help you choose the WooCommerce wholesale plugin that’ll work best for you. Then just skip to the setup instructions.
Method 1 – WooCommerce Password Protected Categories
If you want:
- A public retail area of your WooCommerce store as well as a hidden wholesale area
- Different wholesale users to have access to different products
Go to method 1. This lets you create a password protected category for your wholesale products and give the password to your wholesale users. You can use it to create a completely hidden shop, or your wholesale category can exist alongside your public WooCommerce store. Only people with the correct password can view and buy your protected products.
The instructions for method 1 show you how to create a wholesale area for all your trade customers. If you sell different products to different customers, you might prefer our tutorial on how to create a wholesale store with customer-specific categories.
Method 2 – WooCommerce Private Categories
This method also uses on the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin. However, it uses its ‘private categories’ option instead of password protection. Choose this for your wholesale store if:
- You want each wholesale customer to login as a WordPress user on your site (as opposed to using a simple password to unlock the wholesale store)
- You need public and private areas within your store.
If this applies to you, go to method 2. You’ll learn how to create a private wholesale category which is automatically visible to logged in users with the correct privileges. You can hide your whole store or have separate public and private areas in WooCommerce.
Method 3 – WooCommerce Private Store
This is the right WooCommerce wholesale plugin for you if:
- Your entire store is for wholesale users and you won’t be selling products to the general public.
- All your wholesale users will have access to the same products.
If this sounds like what you need, go to method 3. This lets you hide your entire WooCommerce store behind a simple password which you can give to wholesale customers. You can have a single password shared by all users, or a different password for each customer. Alternatively, you can automatically unlock your wholesale store for logged in users. Either way, your WooCommerce products and categories will be hidden from search engines and sitemaps.
Method 1 – Create a WooCommerce Wholesale Area using Password Protected Categories
Here’s a step-by-step video tutorial of how to use password protected categories to create a WooCommerce wholesale area. If you prefer, you can follow the written instructions below to create your wholesale store.
Create a password protected WooCommerce wholesale category
- Buy the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin. Install and activate the plugin, then add your license key using the instructions in the confirmation email.
- Log into the WordPress admin and go to Products → Categories.
- Add one category for your public shop.
- Now add a category for your WooCommerce wholesale store. In the ‘Visibility’ section, tick ‘Password protected’ and add a password for your wholesale area. This is the password that you’ll give to your wholesale distributors so they can access the trade store. Then click ‘Add New Category’. (Tip: You can create multiple passwords if you want to give a different password to each wholesale user.)
- In the list of categories on the right, you’ll see that your WooCommerce wholesale category is labelled as password protected.
Divide your WooCommerce wholesale area into sub-categories (optional)
If you like, you can create more complex navigation structures for your WooCommerce product categories. For example, you can add as many public categories as you like.
You can also divide your WooCommerce wholesale area into sub-categories. If you do this, leave them as ‘Public’ and select your main wholesale category as the ‘Parent’ of all the sub-categories. This will automatically protect all your WooCommerce wholesale categories with the same password as the parent category. Your wholesale users will only have to enter the password once in order to unlock the entire wholesale area. This method is much more user-friendly than any of the alternatives, such as creating separate categories with separate passwords, or password protecting each individual WooCommerce product.
With this method, the plugin lets you create sophisticated structures for your WooCommerce wholesale area.
Add products to your password protected wholesale categories
Next, go to the ‘Products’ section of the WordPress admin. Hover over the name of each product, click ‘Quick Edit’ and add it to the relevant category.
Note: If you add a product to a public and a private category, it will automatically be password protected. We coded the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin like this to keep your products secure and prevent mistakes. If you want the same product to appear in your public and wholesale stores, you’ll need to maintain duplicate versions of the product. This lets you charge different prices to wholesale users.
View your WooCommerce wholesale store
Now, visit the front end of your website. You’ll see that only your public categories and products are visible on pages such as the main shop and in product and category widgets. I personally think that this is the best option for most WooCommerce shops that have a wholesale area. However you can change this, if you’d rather your Password Protected Categories be visible in the main shop page.
To change these visibility options, go to the WordPress admin and go to WooCommerce → Settings. Click on the ‘Products’ tab and you’ll see a new option called ‘Password Protected Categories’. This is a settings page added by the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin.
You can see several options on this page relating to the visibility of your password protected categories. Use these to control whether your protected categories and their products appear on the main shop page and in widgets and menus.
Link to a wholesale login page
I recommend keeping the links to your WooCommerce wholesale area separate from the navigation for your public online shop. This is more professional for your retail customers and prevents them from accidentally being taken to an ‘Enter password’ page.
There are 2 ways to create a wholesale login page:
- Link your wholesale customers directly to your WooCommerce wholesale product category. Go to Products → Categories, find your wholesale category and click on the ‘View’ link that appears when you hover over it. This will take you to your wholesale category page. Copy the URL from the address bar at the top of your browser tab; this will be a direct link to your Password Protected store. Anyone who clicks on this link will be prompted to enter their password. Once wholesalers have entered the correct password, they will have access to your WooCommerce wholesale area.
- Create a WooCommerce customer login page – Alternatively, you can add the shortcode
[category_login]to any page or widget. This lets you add a wholesale login form anywhere on your website, so it’s more flexible. It’s also good if you have multiple protected categories as wholesale customers can use this login form to access any of your categories. They will automatically be taken to the correct wholesale category depending on which password they enter.
Next, add a link to your trade category or WooCommerce wholesale login page. Call it something like ‘Wholesale Area’ to discourage retail customers from clicking it. You can add this as a Custom Link in the navigation menu (Appearance → Menus), in the footer, sidebar or anywhere else your theme allows such as a pre-header bar.
What if I don’t want to link to my wholesale area?
If you want to keep your WooCommerce wholesale store completely private, you can skip this step.
Instead of adding a link to it, you can give your distributors the link directly (e.g. by sending them an email). If you have hidden your protected categories from the public part of the shop, your retail customers will never know that there’s a separate wholesale area.
Give the password to your wholesale distributors
Now your WooCommerce wholesale plugin is set up, it’s time to give the password to your wholesale users. They can enter the password and unlock the protected products within that part of the site.
Your retail customers will only have access to the public area of your online shop and can continue to buy your products as usual.
The plugin knowledge base provides more information on using password protected categories for a WooCommerce wholesale store.
Method 2 – Create a WooCommerce Wholesale Area using Private Categories
If you want your wholesale users to have their own individual logins for the website, you can use the private category method instead. This also uses the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin. But instead of password protection, it creates a private WooCommerce category which you can use for your wholesale store. Once your wholesale users log into their account, the hidden wholesale area will automatically appear for them.
Create a private WooCommerce wholesale category
- Get the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin. Install and activate the plugin and enter your license key using the instructions in the confirmation email.
- Log into your WordPress admin and go to the Products → Categories page.
- Add a category for your public shop.
- Now add a main category for your WooCommerce wholesale area. Tick ‘Private’ in the ‘Visibility’ section, then click ‘Add New Category’.
- In the categories list on the right hand side, your WooCommerce wholesale category will be marked as ‘Private’.
Structure the WooCommerce wholesale area into sub-categories (optional)
You can also add sub-categories to your private WooCommerce wholesale area. Leave them as ‘Public’ and select your main wholesale category as the ‘Parent’ of each child category. The plugin will make them all private because the parent category is private.
Add products to your password protected wholesale categories
Now it’s time to put your wholesale products in the new private wholesale category. Hover over each WooCommerce product, click on ‘Quick Edit’ and select the appropriate private category or sub-category. Save each product.
Test your WooCommerce wholesale store
Now, visit the front end of your website from 2 separate web browsers:
- A browser where you’re logged in as an administrator or WooCommerce Store Manager
- A browser where you’re not logged into the website (you may need to use “incognito mode” or an equivalent to prevent your browser from automatically logging you in)
You’ll see that you can only view the private WooCommerce categories and their products when you’re logged in.
Initially, the private categories and products will be hidden from public areas of your store. For example the main WooCommerce Shop page and your product and category widgets. This is the best option for most WooCommerce wholesale stores, but the plugin lets you change it if needed.
Go to WooCommerce → Settings, click the ‘Products’ tab and look for the ‘Password Protected Categories’ section. This page contains several settings where you can control how your private categories and products appear to the public. Tweak these and revisit the website from both browsers until you’re happy.
Add the private wholesale area to your website navigation
I think the most user-friendly way to create a private wholesale are in WooCommerce is to keep everything separate. Even though your private products/categories will only be visible to logged in wholesale users, it will confuse them to suddenly see wholesale products on the public shop page after they log in.
Instead, I suggest that you add a prominent ‘Login’ link
- Login – Add a prominent login link so that wholesale users can log into the wholesale area. To keep them out of the WordPress admin (which they don’t need need to see), use a plugin such as Peter’s Login Redirect. This lets you redirect wholesale users to the main wholesale category after they login.
- Wholesale Area – Add a link to your wholesale category to the navigation menu. Also add a dropdown menu with links to any wholesale sub-categories. Use the plugin settings page (see section 4, above) to ensure the link only appears to logged in wholesale users.
Create a wholesale user level
By default, your private WooCommerce category will be available to logged in administrators and Store Managers. Obviously it’s not appropriate for wholesale customers to this level of access to the back-end of your website! You need to create a separate WordPress role for wholesale users and only give it access to private categories.
You can do this using the User Role Editor plugin. Create a ‘wholesale’ role. Give it the same privileges as normal subscribers and WooCommerce customers, but also tick the box to allow access to private categories.
Create user accounts for your wholesale customers
Finally, you need to create a user account (Users → Add New) in WordPress for each wholesale user. Assign them to the wholesale role you created in step 6.
When your trade users login, they will have access to your private WooCommerce wholesale area. Your public customers won’t even know the private products and categories exist.
Use the knowledge base to learn more about creating private WooCommerce categories for your wholesale store.
Method 3 – Build a Private Store for your a WooCommerce Wholesale Area
This method uses a different plugin from methods 1 and 2 – WooCommerce Private Store. This lets you create a completely separate, private, wholesale store for your trade users.
Using this method, all areas of WooCommerce will be password protected including all your products, categories, tags etc. Or, if you prefer, you can set up the wholesale plugin so that the store automatically unlocks for logged in users. All WooCommerce content will be automatically hidden from search engines.
Here’s a video tutorial on how to create a private WooCommerce wholesale store. You can also find written instructions below.
Set up your basic wholesale store
- Get the WooCommerce Private Store plugin. Use the instructions in the confirmation email to install and activate the plugin. Enter your license key on WooCommerce → Settings→ Private Store.
- Go to Pages→ Add New and create a page where your wholesale users will log in. You can either leave this blank or add some content.
- Go back to WooCommerce→ Settings→ Private Store. Select the wholesale login page you created in step 2 and add one or more passwords for your wholesale store. If you like, you can also change the text that appears above the wholesale login form and on the Submit button. Alternatively, tick the ‘Logged In Users’ box so that the store will automatically unlock for logged in customers without having to enter another password.
- Click ‘Save’.
And that’s everything you need to do! Simply following the above steps will lock down your entire WooCommerce store so that only your wholesale customers can access it.
Here are a few more tips on creating your WooCommerce wholesale store. But you can stop now if you like, as the hard work is already done!
How will wholesale users access your store?
Decide whether you want to link to your WooCommerce wholesale login page, or whether it will be completely hidden from your public website.
If you like, you can link to the wholesale login page from your menu or elsewhere on your website. You can also insert a login form anywhere on your website using the shortcode
[store_login] e.g. in a sidebar widget.
If you’d rather keep it hidden, you don’t have to link to the WooCommerce wholesale login at all. Instead, give the URL to your wholesale users so they can access the login page directly.
Note: If you’ve ticked the ‘Logged In Users’ box in the settings, you don’t need a separate store login page. The store will automatically unlock when customers login.
Add other WooCommerce content
It’s worth mentioning that this WooCommerce wholesale plugin supports hidden menu items and widgets.
If you add menu links to your shop page, WooCommerce categories, products or tags, the private store will only display them to users who have unlocked the store. The menu items will be completely hidden for public users. (You have to add them using the WooCommerce options in Appearance→ Menus – they won’t be hidden if you add them as custom links.)
You can also add any of the standard WooCommerce widgets found in Appearance → Widgets. Again, these will disappear from your sidebar for public users. When a wholesale customer enters the correct password, these WooCommerce widgets will magically appear!
Use the plugin knowledge base to find out more about what this WooCommerce wholesale plugin can do.
How to create user-friendly wholesale layouts & order forms
So far we’ve covered the best ways to protect your wholesale area from public users – this is about functionality. The other type of WooCommerce wholesale plugin you’re likely to need focuses on the layout of your wholesale store. This is more to do with user experience. There’s little point having a private section for wholesalers if it’s clunky and difficult to use, or if it appears identical to your retail section. You need to ensure that you’re offering a visually different experience that’s better catered to the needs of wholesalers.
Public e-commerce shops tend to use a standard layout with large product images and basic information, suited to retail customers who don’t need to know detailed specifications for each product but do want eye-catching, persuasive visual listings. Customers can browse the products and click through to view more detail on individual product pages.
This retail-style layout isn’t suitable for most WooCommerce wholesale stores. WooCommerce Product Table offers a more wholesale-friendly layout. Products are listed in a responsive space-saving grid or tabular layout with extra product data. This is more appropriate for wholesale customers, who are already familiar with your products and know what they need. They want to see all the information at a glance and make quick buying decisions.
Creating wholesale product tables
- Get WooCommerce Product Table. Install and activate the plugin using the instructions in the confirmation email.
- Go to the plugin settings page – WooCommerce → Settings → Products → Product Table. Enter your license key from the confirmation email, choose the default settings for your wholesale order forms, and click Save.
- You can now start displaying wholesale products in a compact table view. Use the plugin documentation to configure the table using the various options. Also check out our top 10 tips for improving your conversion rates, which include advice for WooCommerce wholesale stores.
Getting more sales from your wholesale product tables
The WooCommerce wholesale table plugin is incredibly flexible. Here’s a summary of the main features you’re likely to use to list wholesale products:
- Columns. The table can contain various columns of product data. It supports all the main WooCommerce data fields (title, description, categories, product attributes, tags, stock, etc.). You can also add extra product data through custom fields and taxonomies.
- “Add-to-cart” buttons. By including add to cart buttons, wholesale customers order online directly from the product table view. You’re also able to choose whether to include a quantity selector and product variations in the table. You can create further options using the official Product Add-Ons plugin. This way, you can create a wholesale order form for easy bulk ordering.
- Wholesale enquiry forms. The product table knowledge base contains an article on how to replace the add to cart column with wholesale enquiry buttons. By adding buttons or links to the wholesale table, users can click through to a separate page with an enquiry form (created using a WordPress contact form plugin).
- Downloadable documents. Lots of WooCommerce wholesale stores provide downloadable files with technical product information. This is useful for downloadable promotional materials, specification documents, etc. You can add a column with an icon, button or text for each product linking to a downloadable PDF or similar.
- Search, sort & filters. The product tables support various types of filters. This is important to help wholesale customers to find your products quickly and easily. There’s also a search box and the table can be sorted by any column.
Using product tables in a protected Wholesale area
Most people use WooCommerce Product Table by adding a shortcode to a normal page. If you’re using it with the methods for creating a protected wholesale area explained above, then you need to add the shortcode to your shop page template or category archives.
If you want to use the product table layout in the wholesale categories while using the default layout in the retail categories, then you need to do some extra coding. You’ll need to update the category archive template in your theme to show product table layouts in the protected reseller categories, while using the standard store layout for retail categories. If you don’t know how to do this, then I recommend posting a job on Codeable to find a WordPress expert. Alternatively, get in touch if you’d like a quote from our customizations service.
It’s time to create your WooCommerce wholesale store!
And there you have it! We’ve looked at three separate ways you can create an easy-to-use wholesale store using a variety of WooCommerce plugins, each tailored to the needs of your particular business. You’ve seen how you can:
- Use Password-Protected Categories to lock down certain areas of your store to wholesalers only.
- Use Private Categories so that only wholesalers can see certain areas of your store.
- Create an entirely separate store for your wholesale customers, using the WooCommerce Private Store plugin.
We’ve also looked at the wide range of customisation and optimisation options for each of the three methods, and the pros and cons of each.
Whichever method you choose, I hope this tutorial helps you to create a wholesale store using the WooCommerce plugins we have discussed. With nearly 2 million websites using WooCommerce in 2017, there’s never been a better time to join this fantastic platform and give your wholesale customers a professional retail experience that can take your sales to the next level.
I’d love to hear which wholesale plugins you find most useful for a wholesale website. Please let me know in the comments below. If you like our WooCommerce wholesale plugins and want to spread the word, you can also sign up as an affiliate and get 30% commission for recommending them :)