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I completed the steps here: https://developer.paypal.com/docs/commerce-platform/onboarding/partner-onboarding/
I got to this part:
"Send the sandbox client ID shown on the resulting page and the email used on your PayPal business account to your PayPal account manager to begin the vetting process.
You will receive confirmation from PayPal when your account has been registered for use with the Partners API, and you can then get an access token."
I called PayPal and they transferred me to three different departments. The third person said I should be able to use the sandbox client ID and secret as live tokens for my app without an account manager or going through any vetting process. That doesn't explain how I can get the partner APIs so that I can onboard sellers. I also tried filling out the paypal partner "contact us" form (https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/commerce-platform) several times and never heard back. So frustrated. Someone please help with this.
That's odd. Try this one: https://www.paypal-techsupport.com/s/?language=en_US
No, Payouts are not the same as the Partner program. There must have been some confusion there somewhere.
Payouts simply allows you to send payments to people in bulk. So if you have a system setup where you're receiving payments into your account, and then you need to send people a commission of some kind, you could use Payouts for that. However, you are liable for any chargebacks / disputes that might occur since you were the original receiver of the funds. If you send the person their payment less a fee that you want to keep, that would be fine, but this is still not the same thing as the partner platform which would allow you to keep a partner fee.
The PayPal Commerce Platform would allow you to setup payments so that the original payment goes directly to the vendor/affiliate that is selling on your platform, and your "partner fee" would then be paid from them back to you immediately. This leaves the liability on them while allowing you to collect your fees accordingly.
Unfortunately, the new Commerce platform just isn't something they are letting very many people into yet.
Basically, you need to have an account manager you can work with directly. The way to get an account manager is to attract attention to your account by processing a high volume of transactions.
This can be a catch-22, though, since you can't process payments the way you want without the Commerce platform.
You'll need to consider work-arounds until you can attract enough attention to get an account manager.