A question I’m often asked is: Is it possible to sell online with WordPress?
Yes, it’s possible, you can build a quality store using the WooCommerce plugin.
Today almost anyone can start an online store using either a complete hosted e-commerce solution (for example Shopify) or a shopping cart plugin (WooCommerce). Whatever platform you use you should be aware that it’s a lot of work but it certainly is possible.
WooCommerce is the most popular and widely used e-commerce plugin for WordPress. The free plugin has many features and is user-friendly making it a cost effective way to start an online store.
In this review, we will see what the WooCommerce plugin has to offer and if it the best solution for a small business.
Hosted e-commerce software or a shopping cart plugin: What should you choose?
Both hosted e-commerce software or a shopping cart plugin enable you to launch an online store. The two solutions will both manage your store and process payments.
E-commerce software is an all in one solution that includes web hosting, themes, all the tools for managing your store and processing payments. You can build your entire site with the software or integrate your store into an existing site or blog. Some of the top hosted e-commerce software builders are Shopify, Bigcommerce or Wix.
A shopping cart plugin can be used when you already have a website, simply put, it enables you to turn your existing website into an online store. With the plugin, you get the tools you need to manage your store and process payments. There are several other plugins available besides WooCommerce – WP eCommerce, Cart66 or MarketPress.
Background to WooCommerce
The open source e-commerce plugin for WordPress was launched in 2011 and rapidly became popular as it was free and easy to install. WooCommerce was developed by WooThemes and as of April 2015, the plugin had been downloaded more than 7 million times which correlates to around 1 million active installs. About 30% of online stores use WooCommerce.
In May 2015, WooCommerce was acquired by Automattic the company behind WordPress.
A few statistics
People now have more confidence about buying online, this has become part of our way of life. When we order something online we know we will almost certainly be delivered. In the US, e-commerce made up about 9.4% of retail sales in 2015 and for the last 6 years, online sales have grown at around 15% per year.
Worldwide growth in online sales increased by 20% in 2014 and in 2015 it is expected to grow by about 25%. Although it’s a huge market, one of the surprising realities is that many businesses in the US seem hesitant to adopt e-commerce with only 28% of small businesses having an online presence and this despite the fact that more than 57% of Americans shop online.
Although e-commerce is growing rapidly it still only makes up a small percentage of all sales, which means there are great opportunities in this sector.
Starting an e-commerce site
Before diving into WooCommerce, it should be said that lancing an e-commerce site is a little more complicated than just starting a blog. There are a few extra things that should be taken into consideration:
- The site should be easy to navigate so people can find the articles they are looking for quickly and with a minimum number of clicks.
- Creating an account should be made as simple as possible.
- Your site should give your visitors confidence. You should make sure:
- The design is good
- You have your telephone number displayed
- There are testimonials from clients to show others have already purchased from you
- You show the people who run the store
- Give some sort of satisfaction guarantee (satisfied or get your money back)
- You must be able to accept payments securely
Now that you know the extra considerations, let’s have a closer look at WooCommerce.
What is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an e-commerce plugin for WordPress that has everything you need to create an online store either on an existing WordPress site or for an independent store. The plugin will work with most WordPress themes, however, for the best experience, a theme optimized for WooCommerce is recommended.
The basic plugin is free to install, but for extra functionality, you may need to install additional plugins and for these, you may have to pay. Being an open source product WooCommerce is being constantly tweaked and improved to keep it ahead of its competitors.
Before starting with WooCommerce, if you haven’t already got a WordPress site you will require a domain name and hosting. You can create both for free at my recommended site builder, SiteRubix.
If you are already familiar with the WordPress platform, installing the WooCommerce plugin is straightforward. The plugin installs in the same manner as any other WP plugin: click plugins, add new, search for WooCommerce, install and activate.
When the plugin has been installed and activated Woocommerce creates four new pages:
- My Account
Now installed you can start exploring, but if you’re used to using WordPress it is quite easy to navigate around the plugin.
The WooCommerce menu
The first menu is just called Woocommerce, as you can see below, and this has 6 sub-menu items. Let’s have a quick look to see what’s included here.
Orders: this page lists the orders passed in your store. You can view all the orders with details of customer’s address, email, telephone and the order status. You can also add orders manually or create an order for a client.
Coupons: you will find here all the promotional coupons you have created. In this section, you can edit existing coupons or create new coupons by clicking the add coupon button. To be able to use coupons you need to enable them. To do this go to WooCommerce > Settings > Checkout and tick the box enable coupons.
Reports: here you can follow the progress of your store from month to month, using graphs and statistics. There are 3 sections orders, customers, and stock.
Settings: in this section, you configure your store with 8 tabs:
- General – deals with location (your country base) and currency
- Products – you can enter the weight and measurement units you use for your products, you enable or disable product ratings on reviews and determine how you will display your products.
- Tax – define the tax rate, whether you want the prices in your store to be inclusive or exclusive of tax and many other settings.
- Checkout – here you configure everything to do with the taking orders and their payment. You can enable coupons, or allow guests to checkout without creating an account. There are different options for the cart page, checkout page and the terms and conditions. You can also control the payments gateways from here.
- Shipping – to keep your customers happy you need to configure your shipping options. You need to decide on the types of shipping you will offer and the costs.
- Accounts – normally a client will create an account when they complete an order. There are different registration options such as enabling registration on the checkout page or automatically generating accounts and passwords.
- Email – once you have some customers you will need to communicate with them. In this section, there are many settings to configure most importantly your store name and email address. Next, you can customize your email template, by uploading an image for the header, customizing the text and colors. Then you can set up the individual emails for a number of events, for example: new order, canceled order, completed order or customer invoice.
- API – you can use third party or external apps to see information about your store. This section should probably be left alone unless you really know what you are doing.
When reading this you might be worried that this sound too complicated but WooCommerce provides extensive documentation and videos about all these settings.
System Status: this is useful if you ever need to do a little troubleshooting either yourself or by contacting the WooCommerce support. You can download or print a status report and either use it yourself or attach it to your support ticket. The report gives a picture of your set up and includes things like your WordPress environment, your Server environment and the plugins you have activated.
Add-Ons: if you need additional functionalities or features on your site you can browse the extensions catalog. The extensions can either be free or premium.
There is certainly a lot to take in with this first menu and we still haven’t any products in our store. To remedy this let’s look at the second menu concerning the products.
Starting with Products
A feature I found useful when I started was using the sample product data file that comes with the plugin. You can put some sample products in your store to experiment, you will see how the plugin behaves. If your site is live, be careful as people might try to buy your sample products.
If your site is live, be careful as people might try to buy your sample products. Now there are sample products on your site, you can take a look at the store as a customer. You can see how some others are using WooCommerce here.
The Products Menu
Before looking at adding products let’s take a quick look at the Products menu.
Products: here you will find a list of all the product you have added to your store.
Add Product: when you want to add a product to your store click here. We will run through this process a little later in the article.
Categories: you can class your products in categories and the categories are managed here.
Tags: you can add tags to your products in the same way you can add them to your posts.
Shipping Classes: you can group products of a similar type. You can then use these groups to provide different shipping rates for each group of products.
Attributes: this tab lets you define extra product data such as size, color or type.
If you’re familiar with WordPress you will find adding a product a straightforward process. In fact, this is much like creating a post. You type in the product name and a full description.
Below the main dialogue box is the Product Data tab where detailed information on the product is entered. You have several choices as to the type of product you are selling.
Simple products: will probably be the majority of products in your store unless you’re selling clothing or shoes. These are products without any options like color or size.
Grouped product: is a product that can be sold separately or as a collection of products. For example, a set of 6 mugs or a set of towels.
External or Affiliate product: is a product that is sold by another retailer, you earn a commission when someone buys a product after coming from your site. For example, the drill shown above could have a link to Amazon.
A question I often see: Is it possible to create an affiliate store with WordPress? The answer is clearly yes it is possible. If you’re building an Amazon affiliate store the WooZone plugin will help you get products from Amazon and keep them updated
Variable Product: is a product that has different variations – color, size, male, female, infant, etc
Once you’ve decided on the type of product, you need to add the different data as you can see below. This list will change depending on the product type. If you are promoting an affiliate product you will have different information like the product URL.
- SKU (stock keep unit) used to keep track of products, must be unique.
- Price and sales price
Inventory: allows you to manage stock for the product and you can also allow back orders.
Shipping: here you can add the weight, dimension and a shipping class for your product.
Linked products: gives you the opportunity to add:
- Upsells – products that you may recommend instead of the current product. This could be better quality products or more profitable or expensive products. The upsells are displayed under the product description.
- Cross-sells – these are related products that you promote to the customer based on what is already in the cart. These will be displayed underneath the cart.
- Grouping – you can add products that are related to the product. For example for the power drill, you could include an additional battery or drill bits. These will appear under the product description.
Attributes: in this section, you can add variations for each product – color, size, etc.
Advanced: with this tab it is possible to add a note to send the customer after purchase, to decide what position the product will have in the menu and to enable or disable reviews.
Additional Pages You Will Need
Although WooCommerce sets up 4 pages for your site there are 2 other pages that you will require:
- Terms and conditions
- Thank you page
Terms and conditions can be set to have a checkbox appear at the checkout process. To set this up go to WooCommerce -> Settings -> Pages scroll down to Checkout pages and select the page with your terms and conditions. Your customers will be asked to accept them before checking out.
A Thank You page is an ideal opportunity to build a relationship with your customers. WooCommerce has a default thank you message but this may not be exactly what you require. To create your own thank you page there is a free plugin or a premium plugin.
There are 5 payment options that are installed on WooCommerce for free.
- Simplify Commerce
- BACS (bank transfers)
- PayPal Standard
- Cash On Delivery
Simplify Commerce and PayPal are probably the only ones that you will use. The different options can be enabled or disabled via WooCommerce -> Settings ->Checkout
Simplify Commerce will allow you to accept credit cards but there are a few restrictions: you must be situated in the US or Ireland, your web host must: provide CURL support and be using PHP 5.3+, you must be using WooCommerce 2.0+ and it’s recommended to have an SSL certificate.
If you don’t meet all these requirements there are many other payment gateways that can be installed with WooCommerce most require a valid SSL certificate. All the different gateways have their own terms and fees, you will have to choose what’s best for you.
PayPal is a good alternative although the fees will probably be more expensive than some of the other payment gateways.
In theory, the plugin is compatible with all WordPress themes, but to prevent some design problems it is probably easier to choose a theme that is specifically designed for WooCommerce.
You can choose a theme from the selection of e-commerce themes at WooCommerce. They have 34 themes of which 5 are free, the others are in a price range of about $39 -$100. In addition to these themes, you can also choose from one of the many themes offered by WordPress or third-party developers that are compatible with WooCommerce.
You will be able to find both free and paid themes. There is a good selection of premium themes at ThemeForest.
Once your theme is installed you can customize via the built-in theme options, add widgets or if you’re tech savvy edit the CSS or HTML codes.
Remember before purchasing your theme always check out the live demos if possible, to see if your new theme will function as you require.
Here are some of the features that are included with the WooCommerce plugin.
- Payments – the plugin comes with four different payment methods:
- Simplify Commerce if you’re located in the US or Ireland
- PayPal – for accepting credit card and PayPal account payments
- BACS – for bank transfers
- Cheque – probably not relevant today
- Cash on Delivery – again probably not very useful today
- Shipping – you have the choice of setting different shipping rates and rules
- flat rate, free shipping, international delivery, local delivery
- you can choose which countries you ship to
- Tax – different tax options
- display prices inclusive or exclusive of tax
- calculate tax based on customer or shipping address
- define tax rates for countries or states
- Checkout Process
- enable coupons from the cart or checkout pages
- enable customers to check out without creating an account
- email notifications for store owner and customer
- Manage Inventory
- Reports – see how well your store is doing. Generate different reports such as new sales, new customers, list of customers or stock level
- Marketing – you can run different types of promotions – discounts, coupons or free shipping.
WooCommerce provides you everything you need to set up your store, nonetheless, if you want to add additional functionality to do things like handle subscriptions with recurring payments, have more payment options, incorporate a wish list, have a product slide show or have an image zoom for your product images. All this and much more is possible with the extensions.
The biggest drawback with using extensions is the price. The prices range from free to $249. Consequently, if you use a few extensions your costs can escalate quickly.
Pros and Cons
- Free Plugin
- Easy to install into WordPress
- Software is updated regularly to include new features and functions
- Good for large and small shops
- Large number of compatible themes
- Good selection of extensions to increase functionality
- Wide knowledge base
- Easy to use if you’re familiar with WordPress
- No dedicated support
- Can get expensive if you use a few extensions
- May not work with all WP themes and even some WooCommerce themes may not be well coded. Always choose themes from reliable developers
- Can take a long time to set up your store, there are many settings and decisions regarding functionality to be made
Help and Support
As WooCommerce is a free plugin, there is no dedicated support team. There is a knowledge base that has many written or video tutorials and other documentation.
A community of customers is also available for you to search previous questions but unfortunately is no longer open for new submissions.
If you are using the free plugin and you cannot find an answer to your problem you can go to the WordPress.org plugin support forum and post your question there.
If you buy a theme or an extension you are entitled to support from WooCommerce, but there are many who complain about the quality of the support.
How much does it cost?
One of the best things about the WooCommerce plugin is that it’s free to download and install. Initially, you can use one of the free themes from WooThemes and buy a premium theme later if you so choose.
You will need a domain name about $10 and hosting about $10 per month, so you can get started for very little. With my site builder recommendation, SiteRubix you could even start for nothing, you obtain a free siterubix.com domain name and free hosting. This would be the ideal way to try Woocommerce.
Additional extensions for more functionality cost from $0 to $249, there are 35 free extensions out of the total of 339. The cost of extensions may add up quickly, however, you should remember this is a one-off cost, the only recurring charge will be for your hosting.
What are their customers saying?
The majority of their customers seem to be satisfied and like the plugin.
Great, but extensions too expensive.
Easier than expected.
Better than some other e-commerce platforms. Very flexible and easy to customize.
Great selection of extensions, but costs too much if you use a few.
Support does not respond quickly enough.
Problems with support
Most people are happy with WooCommerce, however, the main critics are the price of extensions and the support being very slow or non-existent.
My final opinion
WooCommerce could be a good choice for building an online store, especially if you are already accustomed to using WordPress. Nevertheless, I have two main reservations which are the same as highlighted in the customer comments:
- If you use several extensions to get the most from your store the costs will quickly rise
- The quality of the support
Having said that if you’re thinking of creating a store, as it’s free you should check it out. You will need a domain name and hosting. These are both available for free at SiteRubix, you choose your domain name below and then install the WooCommerce plugin. You will also benefit from some free training in setting up your site.
If you like what you find, it will probably be a good idea to upgrade your membership, buy a dot com domain and get the full training. Fill in a domain name below, install the WooCommerce plugin and you can try it out!
There are other e-commerce solutions that are perhaps more powerful than WooCommerce with more features built in, but these are in general more expensive.
Whatever platform you use, as you have seen in the article, creating a store is a lot of work. So be prepared, a store can be very lucrative, put in the work and I’m sure you can be successful.
One of the advantages of this plugin is the ease of use. If you’re already a WordPress user you will be able to find your way around WooCommerce, which for me makes it a great choice to create an e-commerce store with WordPress.
Have you any experience with WooCommerce or any other store builder? If so I would love to hear what you think is the best solution for an e-commerce business.
E-commerce solution for small business
Description: WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce plugin for WordPress.
My opinion: The Woocommerce plugin is a great solution for creating an online store, especially for anyone who is accustomed to using WordPress. The main downsides are the cost of extensions and the lack of good support.
Ease of use: easy – intermediate