The Definitive Guide to WordPress eCommerce

January 1, 2017

This guide entails a fundamental overview of WordPress eCommerce alongside best practices to get your online storefront up and running.

Table of Contents:

Introduction to WordPress eCommerce

What is WordPress eCommerce?

Let’s start off with some definitions. When we say eCommerce, we are referring to the process of buying or selling goods and services through websites or web-enabled transactions. It’s worth noting that eCommerce is more than just a site that you can sell goods on, it can also encompass mobile transactions and point-of-sale integration.

As you may know, WordPress is the world’s most popular publishing platform, and for good reason. It’s user-friendly interface and the open-source platform has made it what it is today. In combination with low set-up costs, overall ease of use, an incredibly powerful feature set, and the ability customize and expand the platform through any number of plugins, WordPress is also especially popular for powering eCommerce websites.

WordPress alone does not include eCommerce; however, you can install a plugin to add this functionality. Before we dive into WordPress eCommerce plugins, let’s first talk about the different types of eCommerce.

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Type of eCommerce Sites

It’s no surprise that eCommerce sites come in many forms. For simplicity, we have narrowed it down to three specific types based on one or more of the characteristics below. The first step to having a successful eCommerce site is being able to identify which one matches your business model. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Transactional Site

A transactional site, often referred to as indirect sales sites, is one of the most popular types of eCommerce sites. As you might expect, transactional sites facilitate a transaction that is supported by a formal payment processing system and integrated shipping solution. It provides the users with an online shopping experience whereby customers can purchase goods and have the product shipped directly to them. Amazon.com is considered an indirect sales site.

Online Marketplace

The second most popular eCommerce site is the online marketplace, often referred to as an online direct sales site, which provides a website visitors with instant access to purchase and download a digital license of the product. This type of eCommerce site does not require any shipment of goods but does need a payment processing system.

We’re all familiar with purchasing music and apps from Apple iTunes, books from Amazon Kindle, or even third-party commercial themes for our WordPress site. These are all versions of online direct sales.

Static Content Site

A static content site, otherwise referred to as an offline sales site, doesn’t require any software systems for online transactions. These are still eCommerce sites generate sales by promoting awareness of the product; however, they don’t facilitate payment processes or shipping solutions.

Static content sites typically include detailed descriptions of the product offering, prices, delivery options, and so on, to generate sales leads. As such, they’ll likely include a contact form that customers can fill out so the sales staff can follow up and close the sale.

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Getting Started with WordPress eCommerce

Ready to start creating a WordPress eCommerce site? Great! Getting set up for a quick launch is relatively simple. You can install WordPress, a plugin, and a theme tailored for eCommerce in a matter of hours. To simplify the process, we’ve broken it down into four simple steps:

  1. Domain + Hosting + WordPress Install
  2. WordPress Setup
  3. eCommerce Plugin Setup
  4. Storefront Content

1. Domain + Hosting + WordPress Install

As expected, the first step in creating any website is to create a domain name, grab a hosting account, and download and install the self-hosted version of WordPress (from WordPress.org) on your hosting account. Creating a WordPress eCommerce site is no different; nevertheless, you definitely want to ensure that you select a secure and reliable hosting account that supports a large amount of storage space. After all, we want your WordPress storefront to be successful and scalable. We suggest using BlueHost for the following reasons:

  • Offers a WordPress + WooCommerce integration plan (More to come on WooCommerce)
  • Large storage space, 100GB to be exact
  • Positive SSL eCommerce security to protect your site and customers
  • Unmetered bandwidth
  • A dedicated IP
  • And much more

If you’re brand new to WordPress, check out our guide to Creating a WordPress Site.

2. WordPress Setup

After you’ve installed WordPress, there are some basic housekeeping items and custom configurations that you’ll want to get out of the way. This primarily consists of changing default settings located in the Settings subpanel menu, customizing the appearance of your site, and installing and activating plugins that expand the functionality to your site. We encourage that you check out our Quick Launch Checklist for a detailed list and necessary checks as you navigate through the setup process.

3. Plugin & Theme Setup

When it comes to setting up shop, the WordPress platform definitely has its advantages over most other web publishing platforms. Setting up an eCommerce website elsewhere can be very complicated; however, WordPress plugins and themes simplify the setup process. We’ll circle back to setting up an eCommerce plugin alongside selecting a theme to help get your site up and running later in this guide.

It is in this step that you’ll set up your payment processing system, tax rates, and shipping services, among many other custom settings that correspond with your specific type of eCommerce site.

4. Storefront content

Once the formalities are covered, it’s time to populate your site with rich content that appeals to your target audience. You’ll need to prepare these assets in advance to ensure your site has consistent visual elements, such as product pictures, item descriptions, pricing, etc., for each and every item that you are selling. You may want to add additional pages to your site based on your offering, for example, an about page, contact page, frequently asked questions (FAQ), resource documents, return policy, warranty, etc.

If you intend on having a supporting blog, compose a couple initial articles in advance to launch with. As a general rule of thumb, we always suggest that you launch a blog with at least five posts. Having a supporting blog has it’s advantages, especially if it includes content that attracts new and returning visitors. It can also increase your site ranking and add value to your SEO score.

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WordPress eCommerce Plugins

There is no shortage of options for WordPress eCommerce plugins. Some popular examples include WooCommerce, Shopify, MarketPress eCommerce, WP eCommerce, and Cart66, to name a few.

In this guide, we will be dealing exclusively with the WooCommerce plugin to build our eCommerce site. We will still cover eCommerce from the big picture perspective, such as tips and tricks for running a successful WordPress eCommerce site. You’ll still find this guide helpful even if you’re using a different WordPress eCommerce plugin.

For setting-specific best-practices, we will make references to the WooCommerce plugin. Reason being–WooCommerce is by far the most popular eCommerce plugin, powering nearly 30% of all online e-commerce sites. Best of all, WooCommerce is completely free!

Wait! WooCommerce is FREE?

Yes! Well, sort of. WooCommerce (or the developing company WooThemes) makes its money by offering extensions, such as advanced inventory management, credit card processing (note: the free version syncs with PayPal and Stripe), and by offering complementary products that you’ll likely end up using, such as their popular WooCommerce Themes (more below).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get our hands dirty and discover what it takes to get a WordPress eCommerce site up-and-running.

Setting Up Your Online Store with WooCommerce

Once you’ve installed the WooCommerce plugin, you can run the Setup Wizard from within the WordPress admin area. The Welcome to WooCommerce notification will appear on your Dashboard. Click the Run the Setup Wizard button.

The setup wizard is designed to configure the basic settings for your eCommerce site, such as adding certain eCommerce elements to WordPress and configuring the location, currency, units of measurement, shipping information, payment processes, etc., that are specific to your site. These are essential, so we encourage that you run the wizard rather than skipping over it.

After launching the wizard, you’ll be greeted with the Welcome to World of WooCommerce greeting. Go ahead and click the Let’s Go! button.

WooCommerce will need to add some pages to your WordPress site, including the shop page, cart, checkout, and customer account screen. You can manage these pages from the Pages screen in the WordPress admin area.

Once this is complete, you’ll need to configure the store locale settings. After entering in your information, such as the store location, currency, and units of measurement for weight and dimensions, click the Continue button to move on to the next section.

The third section includes details about shipping and tax. Here, you’ll need to specify whether or not you are shipping goods and charging tax. Again, you should know this prior setting up your account, for example, whether or not you will be selling physical goods that need to be shipped and taxed, licensed copies of digital downloads, or neither–such as a static content site.

Don’t get too hung up on this page. You can reconfigure these settings from the WooCommerce settings screen. Once complete, click Continue to proceed.

The next step is configuring your payment processing system. By default, WooCommerce supports PayPal and Stripe for free.

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Find a Compatible WordPress eCommerce Theme

We’ve set up the foundation for creating an online store and configured our settings appropriately, but before we begin it is imperative that we find a user-friendly theme that is compatible with WooCommerce.

As a simple reminder, plugins extend and expand the functionality of the WordPress platform whereas a theme is the graphical interface and underlying design of the site that controls the output of its functionality. Otherwise put, plugins help you manage functions on the backend, whereas the theme dictates what you visitors will see on the front end. For more on information on themes, check out our Previewing and Installing Themes video tutorial in our free Beginner’s Guide to WordPress video training series.

There are many reasons why finding a good theme that supports WooCommerce (or any eCommerce platform for that matter) is important. For example:

  • Certain themes are geared specifically for eCommerce
  • Themes dictate how your products are displayed
  • They can be tailored to appeal to your specific target customer
  • They offer deep integration with plugins, for example, WooCommerce
  • Themes can be responsive, so customers can purchase product on all devices

Mobile Responsive Themes

Let’s talk about that mobile devices for a moment. The following stats reveal a lot about the importance of having a mobile responsive eCommerce website:

  • Mobile sales are growing 300% faster than online eCommerce.
  • 66% of time spent on online retailing is done through mobile devices.
  • 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision.

Check out our expert suggestions on the top 5 WooCommerce themes.

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Build a Secure, High-Performing eCommerce Website

We can’t stress this enough: eCommerce Sites Must Be Secure. Security is important for all websites but is mission critical for all WordPress eCommerce sites.

Why Security is so Important for eCommerce

Website security is more important now than ever for eCommerce sites. Taking the necessary steps to properly secure your site will protect you and your website’s visitors in the unfortunate event of a security breach. Security is especially important on eCommerce sites for the following reasons:

  • You’re dealing with your customer proprietary information. Protecting your customer should be a top priority.
  • If your site is vulnerable, something can and will happen. You won’t generate any revenue if your site is down.
  • Security is one of Google’s ranking factors, so the more secure your site the better your search engine ranking. A higher PageRank results in more organic traffic and site recognition, which means more revenue for your business. For more information on SEO, check out our Complete Guide to WordPress SEO.
  • If you don’t have an SSL certificate in place, meaning you’re site is running on HTTP and not HTTPS, Google will flag your website as insecure, warning your customers that they are at risk. As of January 2017, all Google Chrome users will receive a “caution” warning when accessing eCommerce sites without SSL encryptions. This will likely scare customers away. No Bueno!

For more information and best-practices on how to secure your WordPress site, check out our Ultimate Guide to WordPress Security. If you interested in obtaining an SSL certificate, we can help you get set up with one here.

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Accepting Payments

Payment gateways can be a confusing topic for those new to eCommerce, especially considering the various options, methods of payment, and incurred costs associated with each. For starters, let’s get the basics out of the way.

A payment gateway is a service provided by an eCommerce solution that authorizes payments for online transaction. Essentially, this is the process of receiving the customer’s payment information, such as their credit card information or bank information, and making the charge on your behalf.

Types of Payment Gateways

There are many types of payment gateways, including hosted, self-hosted, non-hosted, as well as local bank integration. We won’t go into the details of each, but given the potential complexity associated with taking payments, you’ll quickly see the value-added benefit associated with using a reliable hosted payment service provider (PSP) to take care of payments for you. Above all, security and simplicity are most important. When using a PSP, such as PayPal of Stripe, your customer’s proprietary information is securely captured and payments are seamlessly processed. They are simple in nature in that everything is already set up, so you can focus on running your business successfully.

For most online shop owners starting out, PayPal is a great PSP solution. It is incredibly secure and accepted worldwide. It’s also easy to set up. If you choose PayPal as your gateway, your customers are required to use their PayPal account or submit their credit card or bank information through the company’s website.

It’s important to note that there are pros and cons when choosing a payment gateway, so you may want to consider the factors of each, including monthly and transaction-based fees. You’ll also want to ensure that your PSP of choice works in conjunction with your WordPress eCommerce plugin. WooCommerce, for example, supports nearly all popular providers but you’ll still want to check compatibility.

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Inventory Management

Inventory management is an integral part of transactional eCommerce sites. Ensuring that your customers are able to purchase your products on demand and receive them in a timely manner results in satisfied customers and repeat online purchases. Having the right systems in place can be very rewarding; however, staying on top of inventory across your eCommerce site can be challenging and time-consuming. Some common challenges with eCommerce sites are as follows:

  • Overstocking or understocking
  • Incorrect inventory levels or lost inventory
  • No centralized inventory management system

This guide isn’t intended to be a lesson on inventory management; if you run your own business you understand the importance of tracking inventory and maximizing your investment in capital.

We are here to tell you that there are automated inventory management solutions that can be integrated with your WordPress account, especially if you are using WooCommerce. As previously mentioned, WooCommerce offers many extensions (both free and paid) that expand its functionality, one of them being inventory management extensions. Here are some examples of WooCommerce inventory management extensions that may simplify your life:

TradeGecko (FREE)

The TradeGecko extension for WooCommerce is a complete inventory and order management platform that streamlines your operations. Its user-friendly tools make inventory management a breeze by automatically syncing inventory stock levels across all sales channels. You also have control over prices, product names, customer and supplier management tools, and fulfillment processes, among many other key features.

Square ($79/year)

Square is one of the most popular point-of-sale credit card processing systems. It recently paired up with WooCommerce to release an extension that, alongside providing payment services, offers an integrated inventory management solution. Moreover, Square automatically syncs inventory changes, so every time a product is purchased with Square, the inventory will be updated in WooCommerce. Alternatively, you can take your operations offline and manually sync inventory levels with the click of a button.

StitchLabs ($199/month)

The StitchLabs extension streamlines inventory and operations with automated inventory control across multiple sales channels. It’s advanced platform syncs inventory, order, purchasing, and fulfillment into one platform. StitchLabs also accurately tracks multichannel inventory and forecasts demand so you can make smarter purchasing decisions. While this option is more expensive, it is well worth the cost for some eCommerce sites, especially with those eCommerce sites that are scalable and experiencing rapid expansion.

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Shipping

Shipping should never be left unnoticed; after all, this determines how your customer receive your products. It’s kind of a big deal!

Shipping often comes across as complex for eCommerce newbies; however, there are many solutions for managing shipping options in WordPress. As with all things WordPress-related, you can integrate plugin solutions into your WordPress site to maximize shipping fulfillment processes. Shipping is often bundled into robust eCommerce solutions since it is just one piece of the much larger eCommerce puzzle. Makes sense, right?

If you’re using WooCommerce, you can install the free ShippingEasy extension, which offers advanced shipping tools and features to simplify shipping processes. Alongside automated operations, you’ll also receive discounted shipping rates from major carriers, which is a big plus. ShippingEasy integrates with your existing inventory system (such as another WooCommerce extension) and enables shipping via UPS, FedEx, and USPS for fast printing of shipping labels.

Shipping Strategies

This wouldn’t be a definitive guide to WordPress eCommerce unless we covered shipping strategies. There are several methods of positioning shipping charges. Offering free shipping is becoming more popular for it has shown to reduce what is known as shipping cart abandonment. Of course, shipping is never free… someone has to pay. Whether you choose to offer free shipping or not, here are some options that may lead to increased conversion and reduced shipping cart abandonment:

  • Free Shipping: Increase the price of your products slightly just to cover the cost of shipping.
  • Partial Shipping Costs: Increase the price of your products marginally to cover a partial cost of shipping. Consider charging a low flat rate so the customer knows what they’re paying for shipping.
  • Free Shipping for Orders Above a Certain Amount: Offer free shipping for orders that exceed a specified dollar amount. You’ll still pay for shipping, but the cost of shipping is offset by the increased order size.

We hope our professional recommendations get the wheels spinning with regard to the various options you have when positioning your products. Selecting the right shipping strategy depends on many factors, including the weight, size, and variety of products you are shipping.

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Best Practices to Boost Online Sales

There’s no better way to wrap up this guide than to leave you with some best practices to boost your online sales. Once you have your site up and running, it’s time to apply the tried and true tactics that will increase your sales and conversion rates.

Feature Benefit Descriptions

In addition to the basic descriptive items, such as weight, size, specifications, etc., write compelling feature different benefits of your product so you customer know what sets it apart from alternative options in the market.

Use High-Quality Images

High-resolution images can be a powerful sales tool as they engage your visitors through visual stimuli and make your products seem more real. Make sure you use the right size and format so your pictures are clear and they don’t bog down your site’s performance. For additional best practices on optimizing images, check out our Complete Guide to Optimizing Images for WordPress.

Mobile Optimize Like Crazy

As previously mentioned, ensure your WordPress site is responsive/adaptive and optimized for viewing on mobile devices. Most consumers use their mobile devices to make their purchases online and mobile eCommerce increasing is growing at a faster rate than traditional online eCommerce. A well-structured eCommerce theme can help you with this, but take the initiative to test your site on different platforms.

Focus on SEO

What better way to boost your sales than by increasing the number of site visitors through organic traffic. The key ingredient to increasing conversation rates is through driving relevant traffic to your site. Check out our Complete Guide to WordPress SEO for detailed best-practices on how to increase your site’s ranking in search engines.

Build a Loyal Customer Base

Every online store owner needs a little TLC. Consider the following formula for increasing your online business success:eCommerce Success = T (Traffic) x L (Loyalty) x (Conversion).Traffic and conversion will increase your sales in the short-term, but loyalty is the variable factor that can help the success of your online store long-term. Consider building a loyal subscriber base to keep your customers engaged. There are many options, including:

  • Send out a monthly newsletter with new product offerings and promotions
  • Run a customer rewards program. Customers can collect points and redeem them for discounts on future purchases.
  • Be responsive. Respond to all comments, ratings, and of course customer inquiries in a timely manner.

We hope this guide providing you with insight into launching a WordPress eCommerce website. If you like this article, please share it with your friends our like it on Facebook.

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11 Comments on "The Definitive Guide to WordPress eCommerce"

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Clarissa
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This is outrageously thorough! You should totally sell a PDF version to your readers!

-Clarissa @ The View From Here

admin
Admin

Hi Clarissa, It is actually funny that you mentioned this. We were already in the process of adding a PDF version of this guide and should be online later today. Is going to be a free download, we also have a in-depth course that will be launching in the next 2 months that covers additional topics.

Isaly Holland
Guest

I do not have wordpress at the moment, but these tips were helpful in general when I am ready to start my site!

Isaly Holland | http://www.memoriesbyisaly.com

admin
Admin

I am glad you liked them 😉

Lee Patterson
Guest

I am really excited about this. It’s something I have been working on – trying to set this up – for days. Your article is incredibly thorough and a great resource. I’m printing it to make sure I don’t miss anything.

admin
Admin

Hi Lee, We are in the process of adding a PDF version of this guide today. I will send you an email when it is live so you can download it.

Alissa
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Thanks for sharing this information

Divine Mwimba
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I have not use e-commerce yet. Thank you for writing this up. I must really check out.

Helen Vella
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Very well researched and very informative. I use WordPress and love it, easy to use.

John
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Incredible resource! Thanks for putting it together!

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