Before setting up an ecommerce site, it is a good idea to define some baseline parameters for your store. That way, you are able to compare solutions in more detail and also layout a plan of action for how you are going to build the site itself.
But before you begin you do need to make sure that you are asking the right questions about your site before you start working on it. By answering these questions, you will have the answers to a lot of the questions that you will encounter when you start setting up your site.
Things like, how are you going to receive payments and manage shipments and how are you going to manage your stock and so on. So, take the time to ask the right questions and I will be guiding you along.
What, Who And Why?
What are you selling, who are you selling it to and how are you selling it? Here, I want you to describe your product, is it a physical product, is it a service, is it a digital product? How are you going to manage stock, how are you going to make sure you are not over or under selling stock? How are you going to handle the actual product when it leaves on the website?
You also need to define who your customer is. Who is this person who is going to buy the product? Is it someone who is going to buy several products or just one? Do they want to save their information? Do they trust PayPal? All this kind of information should be asked.
How To Sell?
And, how are you selling it? Are you only selling it online or are you also selling it in stores or at events or other things. If so, how are you going to manage your stock to insure that you are not selling out all your products at a renaissance fair while at the same time you are selling products online so you will end up having a back log of products you need to sell?
Next, how are you receiving payments? Figure out how you want the payments to come in. Do you want to use a payment portal like PayPal or do you want to link your ecommerce site directly to your bank and use their payment system? Do you want to take payments by check or money order or direct bank transfer or even in person or do you want to take payment in some other way?
You have to define this right at the top so that you will know exactly how you are going to set the site up. Depending on your payment options you will have to do different things to make it all work.
Then you have to think about how you are going to manage your inventory. This is important if you are selling your product in more than one location. So if you are selling it only online, you are, of course, going to manage your inventory with the online shop, because that’s the easiest.
But, what if you are also selling your product in a store or if you are selling it in a store and at fairs or conferences or whatever? In that case you need to figure out where the primary inventory management is going to live. Is it going to live in the ecommerce solution? So, when you sell a product in person you will go into the ecommerce solution and add that sale in. Or are you going to manage the inventory somewhere else and then transfer the information from the ecommerce system over to that inventory?
That depends on how you run your business and what kind of product you are selling but this is a very important decision that you have to make up front or at least be aware of so that you will know how you are managing what you are selling.
Then we get to shipping. How are you going to ship the product? Get the product from your location to your buyer’s location. This all depends on how far you are willing to ship it, maybe you only want to sell products to people that are in your neighborhood or close by you. Or you may want to sell products internationally.
If so, you need to figure out how the product is actually getting from you to your customer. That could be by mail, it could be by courier, it could be by some other means, but you have to stipulate this.
Do you want people to come to your house and pick it up? I would not recommend doing that. If you want to do delivery or pickup, you should really have a business location but some people choose to do it that way and that is fine. You just have to think about it ahead of time.
If you choose to do shipping, how are you going to charge for that shipping? This gets quite complex depending on what kind of product you are selling because you can charge based on volume, you can charge based on weight. If you combine products the weight might increase without the volume increasing. Or, you may end up shipping a very small component in a huge box to save because there is some sort of deal with the shipping company.
You really have to think about how you are going to package your product and how it is going to get shipped out and how much it is going to cost you. And then, you will have to figure out, are you going to offset that cost in the product price or are you going to add the cost onto the product price. Then, you have to answer questions like, do you charge tax for shipping and do you charge handling fees and all these other things.
So, write that down and really think it through and look at your product and figure out how many of them fit in small box, in a medium box, in a large box and that way you will be able to provide good shipping options for the customers.
Also, and quite importantly, make sure you know how to apply taxes to your products. This gets really tricky when you are working online because different states have different tax laws and a different tax rates within the states also applies. So, in some cases, if you want to sell a product from one region of a state to another, you have to pay one type of tax but if you send it somewhere else, you may not have to pay tax or you may have to pay a double tax. You need to figure out exactly how you are going to apply taxes to your products. The best way of doing that is to hire a tax professional.
Trust me, ask someone who actually knows what they are doing about this and find out how to do it right. The worst thing that could happen is they have a hugely successful online store and then the tax authorities come to you and tell you that you have been breaking some obscure tax law the whole time and you will end up having to pay a huge fine for it. Do the homework up front, hire a tax professional to help you figure out how to charge taxes for your products; you’ll be much better off.
Answering questions like these and writing the answers down now will help guide you through the set-up of your site and will also help your business because as you can see, these are questions you will need to address anyway, so it is better to do it right off the bat than wait until they become pressing.
Getting Started With WordPress
As you can tell by the title, this article is focused with setting up an ecommerce site with WordPress. As such, it is time we address the question of how well WordPress works as an E-commerce platform and what, if any, issues are going to arise when you make this decision.
WordPress is one of the most popular web publishing platforms out there today and its popularity is growing every day. That means there is a lot of information out there. There is also a lot of development and progress being made using WordPress and that include using WordPress as an ecommerce platform. If you want to use WordPress for Ecommerce, you need to do so by adding a plug-in.
It’s true, there are some themes that come with ecommerce built in, but I do not recommend using these because you may want to change the appearance of your site and that is done in the theme.
So, if your theme is also managing the ecommerce component, it gets kind of tricky to work with.
So, having the ecommerce handled by a plug -in and then using themes to style your site makes more sense.
There are many different ecommerce Plugins available, and you have to keep in mind that each of these Plugins handles products differently and in many cases, very differently. That means if you start off with one Plugin and then you build an entire site around it and then you decide down the road that it is not the right one and you want to switch, that might be a really difficult thing to do and it might take a lot of time and effort.
So if you pick a Plugin, you should really do your research upfront and then stick with it for as long as possible. Like I said, there are many different Plugins available and they also vary quite a lot in quality. So before picking a solution, make sure you have done your research and make sure that the Plugin you picking is currently supported and that it has a plan for the future.
There is one important thing to remember when you publish content online and it is also true for WordPress sites. WordPress sites like any website can get hacked and if you do not pay attention and if you do not do proper security setups, it probably will get hacked if it gets popular.
This is easily avoided by doing proper backups, staying up to date, adding the right security features and locking down your site the right away. If you do not maintain your site, there is a good chance you will get hacked. Once you get hacked, getting all that stuff back to the way it should be, can be really challenging. So, make sure that you are up to date and that you are willing to take on the responsibility of managing the website.
Before you choose WordPress as your ecommerce platform, consider alternatives. Managing an ecommerce platform on your own, can be a lot of work. And you have to expect to spend quite a bit of time on this both in setting it up and also in managing it from day to day, especially if you are doing a lot of sales. But that is the case for any ecommerce solution.
If you are not ready to commit 100% to WordPress and setting aside the time necessary to manage an ecommerce site, you may want to look at alternatives like Shopify that provide the complete solution for you. All you have to do is put in the products and they will manage the products. They will give you the money, everything else is handled on their end so you do not have to set it up and you do not have to worry about the server configurations and the security and all this other stuff.
It may have more operating expenses, but at the same time you off set a lot of the frustration of handling aside from day to day. But on the other hand if you want complete control and you want to use a platform that makes sense and that is easy to work with, WordPress for Ecommerce is a great option.
A Managed Solution
And you need to consider this, currently as I speak there are people working on managed WordPress E-commerce solution. That means, just like wordpress.com is a managed solution for having a WordPress blog, there are people that are working on solutions that serve up WordPress E-commerce as a service.
That way, instead of setting up your own site, you simply sign in to that service and pay whatever fee it cost. Then, you can set up your own site through that service and it will be a WordPress E-commerce site, meaning it will work just like WordPress on your server except someone else is managing it. The bottom line is, if you want to build it yourself and you would like WordPress, move forward.
If not, investigate alternatives and make an informed decision. WordPress can be a great ecommerce platform, but it requires some serious work on your end. If you are ready for that and the prospect of building an ecommerce site that is completely under your control appeals to you, jump right in.
Not A Free Option
WordPress is open source and free by definition. Based on this people often hold two misconceptions about working with WordPress. A, that everything associated with WordPress is free and B, that WordPress services should be free or at least really cheap. Though it would be awesome if these were true? They are not.
If you think about it, it makes sense that you have to pay for WordPress services. After all, someone built all this stuff and they have to eat. When setting up an E-commerce site with WordPress, you have to expect to invest a lot of time and some money to make it all work and work well. It is a worthwhile investment but it is an investment you should be aware of upfront.
Looking at the infrastructure, there are three things you need to invest it, an SSL Certificate, Secure hosting, and backup and security. The SSL Certificate is a must. If you are setting up an ecommerce site, you need to get an SSL Certificate. Now I know a lot of people want to avoid getting this extra expense because they feel like it is not necessary or not that many people are going to visit the site, but it is incredibly important that you have proper security for the transactions that are happening between your customer and your server.
If you do not have proper security, anyone can snoop in on those transactions and get information out of it. This becomes even more important if you’re using a payment portal that does not have SSL built in like, for instance, Stripe that builds into your site so that if you do not have SSL Certificates, people can actually see the credit card information being passed back and forth.
You also need to invest in secure hosting. Here are some companies that provide secure hosting.You can look into getting hosting from sites like DreamHost, Site5, Bluehost, Rackspace, or WPEngine.
These are all well established WordPress hosts that specialize in hosting WordPress and that also contribute to the WordPress community. There are many, many, many other options and I am not saying that this is an exclusive list. What I am saying is that these five hosts are well established in the industry as great and secure WordPress hosts. So, they are options you should consider.
They have services that range from relatively inexpensive to extremely expensive. You have to really look at what they are offering and what it is going to cost you and how much you are willing to spend. Then, do the research and figure out which service fits best.
Backup And Security
Finally, for infrastructure, you have to invest in backup and security. Yes, you can get free backup options and they may work really well for you. In that case, by all means, use them. Investing in a backup service and a security monitoring service for your site will take the load off of you and hand it off to someone else. Then, someone else is responsible for backing up your site. When something goes wrong, you can go to them and say, “Hey, I’m paying you money, so you need to give me what I’m paying you for.”
The same goes for security. You can do it yourself but if you hire someone else to do it and something goes wrong, you can turn to someone else to get your site backup again. When we look at the solution there are a couple of things that kick in that will cost you some money.
While the E-commerce plug-ins them self are usually free, the extensions cost money. Extensions are things like adding new features to your cart or adding new features to your site or adding a shipping module or a new payment portal, things like that.
The extensions usually vary in price from anywhere from $20 to $60 and sometimes they are even more. You have to look through the extensions that are available for the solution you have chosen and see what you need for you site and add them on as you go. I recommend starting with adding very few extensions and then start adding them in if you really feel you need them. You can easily get it into a huge thing where you have tons of extensions and you are spending a lot of money upfront and then it turns out, you do not need all of it.
You also need to take into consideration that payment portals cost money. Just like if you have payments through your bank, it will also cost money. You have to find out the cheapest option and what is the more secure option and how much are you willing to spend on taking payments.
If you are building a professional site and you are not a theme developer, you may want to either buy a premium theme from the same company that’s made your E-commerce solution or is a specialized theme for that ecommerce solution or even getting a professionally built theme.
This can easily cost a lot of money, but you are setting up a website for your company, so investing in making that website work properly may be a good idea. Chances are, if you find someone to professionally build your theme, they will also be able to do all this other stuff, do the security and the extensions and hook everything together.
Just be sure that the person you are hiring actually knows what they are doing and that they are not ripping you off.
Just as when you open a real life store, you have to factor in a significant investment in time and money when opening a WordPress store. Yes, WordPress is free but running an E-commerce solution in WordPress and making an online store successful is a full time job. Investing in the right components and sending things up right off the top will cost you a bit extra but will also pay for itself down the road.