Only a few years ago, it was tough setting up an online store to sell your products and services over the web. Payment gateways were controlled by a few big banks, security measures were difficult to implement, and most store owners found it tough to manage inventory via poorly designed interfaces. Those days are over. If you’ve been contemplating an online store, but don’t know where to get started, drop us a line to schedule a free consultation. We’ll walk you through the steps necessary to start selling products and services on the web.
The WooCommerce Environment
Automattic, the company that produces the WordPress web platform, recently purchased WooCommerce, the leading eCommerce platform for WordPress, making it easier than ever to create an easy-to-manage online storefont. The tighter integration of these two programs has resulted in a mature, stable ecosystem that nows supports hundreds of ready-made themes, extensions, and plugins that help you customize your site to meet your customers’ needs. So let us show you how to best use the eCommerce system that powers almost 40% of all online stores.
Because of the specialized requirements of an eCommerce store, not all WordPress themes can be used with WooCommerce, though many can be adapted by a professional consultant. But for most people starting a new WooCommerce store, it makes more sense to begin with one of many storefront themes offered by WooCommerce. Below are a few we recommend.
Another great WooCommerce theme for which we own an unlimited, lifetime license. What this means is you get the theme free of charge, though customization would be extra.
WooCommerce’s scalable theme designed specifically for stores with lots of products. Includes infinite scroll on shop pages and CSS animations throughout.
WooCommerce Extensions and Plugins
Extensions and plugins are packaged pieces of code that allow a user to augment and extend the power of a computer program. For WooCommerce users, the difference between the two is simple — extensions are developed by WooCommerce, while plugins are usually developed by third-party developers for the entire WordPress system, though many are made just for WooCommerce. Both can be either free or cost a nominal amount. For example, WooCommerce offers a number of free extensions, while the WordPress repository lists 1,000 + WooCommerce plugins, all of which are free, though some try to upsell you to a premium version. And to muddy the waters even further, there are many WooCommerce plugins sold on Envato’s CodeCanyon, though we have never favored these.
Definitions aside, are there any differences in quality? With extensions offered by WooCommerce, you are more likely to get better quality code and functionality because it is backed by company, though that is not always the case. Some WooCommerce extensions have been problematic over the years, while some WordPress repository plugins are incredibly well-crafted pieces of code that are updated regularly and serve a niche focus not addressed by commercial developers. Others, though, seem to be experimental projects by part-time developers who ignore user questions and bug reports and seldom provide updates.
The way to avoid the latter type of plugin is to look for those with a fairly large number of recommendations and many more five- and four-star reviews than one- and two-star reviews. For example, take a look at the repository rating for the plugin WooCommerce Products Filter. With more than 10,000 active installs, this plugin has been reviewed by 53 people and has only 4 bad reviews. It was last updated only 2 months ago and is compatible for the most recent version of WordPress. For those reasons, I would say this plugin is worthy of being downloaded and tested on a development version of your site (never install a new plugin or extension on a live server until it has been tested). A plugin with only a two-star average that hasn’t been updated in 2 years should be avoided at all costs.
Recommended Extensions and Plugins
In the list below, we provide links to several extensions and plugins grouped by functional category. Some are developed by WooCommerce, while others are from third-party developers. But in all cases, they are products we have tested on development sites and have found to be good quality additions to the WooCommerce ecosystem.
|Payment Gateways||Stripe, PayPal, Amazon Payments, Authorize.net|
|Shipping||US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, Per Product Shipping, ShipStation Integration|
|Accounting||QuickBooks Online, Xero, FreshBooks|
|Taxes||Avalara’s AvaTax, TaxJar|
|Courseware||Sensei, WP Courseware|
As you can see, even with today’s simpler tools and lots of preliminary research, starting an online store does take advanced planning and hard work. But we’re happy to provide free guidance if you drop us a line or give us a call to schedule a first meeting. We can answer all of your questions and provide next steps in the process of starting your own online store.