Ecommerce is something most of us do on a regular basis. Ecommerce is the term used to describe all of the commercial transactions conducted electronically or over the Internet, allowing us to buy everything from medicine and shoes to cars and antiques. It is a word familiar to most of us, even if we don’t often use it. Rather than saying you are doing a bit of ecommerce, you might say you shop online, and according to the statistics most of us do a lot of ecommerce!
Ecommerce Is the Way of Business Today and in the Future
After all, according to Statista, the amount of ecommerce sales worldwide in 2015 was $1,471 billion (http://www.statista.com/topics/871/online-shopping/). In the U.S. alone, there were more than 200 million digital shoppers. Clearly, ecommerce is a preferred way of getting the many things we want or need, but if you want to get in on the world of online shopping to sell products or services, it can feel overwhelming.
Why? The volume of online retailers has created an equal volume of resources for making online sales. Electronic storefronts, inventory managing software, dropshipping services, website designers…these are all issues that might get in the way of opening your own simple and profitable digital storefront. As one web sales expert warned:
If you’re considering launching an online store, you’ll be presented with many software options for building out your storefront. These choices, while initially feeling like a windfall, can quickly feel overwhelming due to the multitude of ecommerce options available.
Additionally, many of us hoping to enter the world of ecommerce as storeowners don’t have a lot of technical know-how, or massive budgets to get a store up and running. This leaves many in need of a low cost, or free, solution that can also address some very serious problems.
The Major Challenges to Basic and Easy Ecommerce
What sort of problems does the startup ecommerce business face? In terms of the actual storefront and website, you will discover it can begin to feel far outside of your capabilities.
For example, your ecommerce solution needs to provide a friendly user experience for your shoppers that makes them want to return. On the other hand, it is often far outside of most budgets to hire a “User Experience Designer”.
You need an affordable solution, but one that can be customized to indicate your brand, style, and overall message. The ability to customize a store, however, typically involves complex coding, or hiring a costly expert to tackle it for you.
Security is another issue, and no storeowner can ever afford any breaches, risks, or threats. Uptime is part of this issue, and you face the loss of return customers when you have to announce security breaches or they arrive at your site to see it is temporarily disabled. In fact, almost all online shoppers never return to a site if they receive an error message at the home page.
Lastly, you need to have access to analytical tools that document every possible statistic – including traffic and conversions as well as inventory and sales. However, many of us are unable to use even the free analysis tools, like those at Google, simply because we are not sure just what they tell us.
What to do about all of these needs and problems? That is actually easier to answer than many realize, and the solution can be found in a single, unusual word: WooCommerce.
What Is WooCommerce?
In a nutshell, WooCommerce is meant to enable anyone to quickly and easily begin to sell services or products through their WordPress powered site. Whether a blog or website, this plugin helps you to create your basic online store, allowing you to offer physical, digital, affiliate, renewable membership products, and more.
It is free, and uses open source code, meaning developers can, and do, introduce new features all of the time. It is one of the most user-friendly options because it has been designed to enable site owners to sell a range of goods, categorize products, design appealing pages easily, and even monitor customer activities. At the user-end, the WooCommerce plugin enables clients to look at their past orders, check on current orders, and make it easy and safe to shop.
Currently, it has been downloaded more than thirteen million times, and is behind roughly 37% of all of the online stores on the Internet. Using this “functional extension” along with your WordPress site and a WooCommerce friendly storefront (also known as a compatible WordPress theme), you can easily handle product management, a shopping cart function, and order processing. It also enables you to deal with taxes, it keeps all of your data in your hands, and comes with support for mobile device and offers easy scalability to grow with each of your business successes.
But just what is it? It was actually built specifically for WordPress. Currently, 51% of the top one million websites on the Internet are powered by WordPress, and this is why WooCommerce is such a smart choice. It integrates instantly with your WordPress pages and as one expert said:
WooCommerce users can build a fully functioning store within a professional website, alongside an integrated blog. All of these dimensions of a business’ online presence are harnessed in one place, and presented together seamlessly, and it’s all thanks to WooCommerce being a WordPress based platform.
Is It Easy to Setup?
As you read above, you need your WordPress powered site or blog, the WooCommerce plugin, and a WooCommerce compatible WordPress theme. Because you may be unfamiliar with these things, let’s take just a moment to understand them, and see how easy it is to get an online store up and running thanks to WooCommerce.
WordPress can be installed in less than five minutes, but before this is possible, you need:
- A website hosting company that gives you space for your site.
- Your domain name or URL.
The top hosting companies can actually help you with the URL, and many have a one-click WordPress installation feature too. Once you get your account setup and purchased, you can use the host’s dashboard to do the instant WordPress install.
Once this is done, and you are looking at your WordPress dashboard, you can install WooCommerce. You can access it directly from WordPress, just like all of the WordPress plugins. And once the download is done, it then walks you through the setup, taking you through various points, like:
- Page setup (where you load products)
- Store locale
- Shipping & tax
When you install the plugin, the first thing to do is follow the guide that walks you through the key settings. This allows you to enter all of the relevant details, but you will come back later to tackle things like products, payments and any other settings of importance. In fact, these may be ongoing tasks rather than setup only.
Before you can dig into setting up the store, you need to have a WooCommerce powered theme. This is actually the most important part because it is what all of your shoppers see and interact with, so take your time to choose one that is both WooCommerce compatible, but also a good fit to your products or service.
You can get themes directly from the WooCommerce themes page and in many other spots on the Internet. Keep in mind that the theme is not just for the sales pages but for your whole site, so it is key that you choose a design that really works for you and your products. WooCommerce makes selling online easier, but it cannot overcome a poorly designed or mismatched site.
Once you choose your theme, you just install it to your site and you can then go ahead and setup all of the features.
What are the Features of WooCommerce?
There are “core” and “extensions” features in WooCommerce. The core features include:
- Mobile friendliness – WooCommerce is designed to enable your storefront to look and function as good on a mobile device as a computer. It is even possible to convert a store into a mobile app with some of their third-party tools.
- Checkout controls – You can allow guest checkouts or disable this feature to gather data and ensure security. You can also block out buyers from specific locations and even determine the URLs handling different parts of the checkout process.
- CRM – From the control of how customers register (including passwords and accounts), to refunds, product variables, and more, you will find almost everything you need to manage CRM.
- Selling options – You can sell real products, but this plugin also facilitates your sales of digital downloads or subscriptions, content, and even services or time. As WooCommerce itself says, “simple product, grouped product, external/affiliate product, variable product and virtual/downloadable product” types are available.
- Inventory management – Track levels, hold stock, hide stock that is out of stock, get notices about low inventory, and more.
- Analytics – Reporting on sales and refunds, monitoring traffic, and orders, and exploring product performance are built into the plugin.
- Pre-installed payment options – There are several pre-installed payment gateways that you can choose by simply dragging and dropping them as you arrange your site. They include direct bank transfers, check payments, credit cards via PayPal or Simplify Commerce, and even cash on delivery.
- Scalability – As your business grows, it is amazingly easy to scale your WooCommerce features. You can sell one item this week and one thousand the next, and enjoy ease of use thanks to the design of the plugin.
- Automated features – Geo location enables the plugin to auto-detect buyer’s addresses, ensuring accurate shipping and tax calculation. There is the default currency setting as well, and automated taxes that adjust to a buyer’s location are among the automated features.
- Cart controls – Prevent reloading of pages each time something is added to the shopping cart, and choose whether to redirect to the cart page when something is added.
- Security – We already considered how important this is, and WooCommerce is audited by the industry’s leading security firm, ensuring that coding standards are up to date and that there are no risks in the use of the tool.
- Customer support – The WooCommerce help desk is available at all times, and has videos, ticketing for follow up, and full documentation available to cover all topics as well. Setup, Third-Party plugins, SSL and HTTPS, Cookies, and all of the other important topics are addressed in full documentation, and customer support is always there to help.
- Shipping – One thing that WooCommerce is praised for is the way it makes shipping better and easier. You can use shipping calculations, offer flexible shipping destinations, and provide a range of options.
- Marketing and SEO – Sadly, online selling is not like the famous “Field of Dreams”. You can build the store, but it doesn’t mean they will come. This is a reason that the marketing tools in WooCommerce are so helpful. It comes with features like SEO, product reviews, discount codes and other promotional features. Extensions can really boost this area, though, and should be used.
Although the core features are more than enough for anyone’s long-term needs and success, the Add-ons and Extensions really enhance the product.
What are the Add-ons and Extensions for WooCommerce?
In terms of WooCommerce Extensions, there are hundreds of free and fee-based options. They are available to enhance your store or grow your business. For example, some of the current “popular” and “staff favorites” include:
- The free PayPal Powered by Braintree extension that enables you to accept credit and debit cards.
- WooCommerce Bookings that is a fee-based extension enabling you to sell your time or create bookings. This is a solution for those who use appointments or offer services and/or rentals.
- Product Add-Ons is a fee-based extension that allows buyers to customize products through the input boxes, dropdowns, checkboxes or other tools that you create.
- WooSubscriptions is also fee-based, but allows you to create and manage any of your products that use a recurring payment option.
You can also use extensions like Amazon Payments to enable clients another payment option, a USPS API that gets shipping rates and handles parcels, and an Order/Customer CSV Export that enables you to export customer data and order information in a simple CSV file. The list goes on and on, and this has to be seen as one of the benefits and features of the plugin.
One of the most impressive extension elements is the ability to offer customize your product types. For example, if you have niche products, it is likely that there are extensions to accommodate you. The current list includes, add-ons, bookable products, bundled products, chained products, composite products, force sell, measurement based products, pre-order products and subscription products. You can also get dynamic pricing apps, create group extensions, name your price, and more.
Marketing and SEO with your extensions is a tremendous plus. The options include social media integration, follow up emails, wish lists, newsletters, rewards programs, cart notifications and more.
Analytics is also boosted via extensions, and you can use a lot of third-party service integrations as well as the extensions themselves to better understand all areas of your online business’ performance.
Enabling you to create a customized solution based on all of your needs, it is remarkably user-friendly with one-click functions and instant add-ons. The extensions give you applications that relate to all areas of business, including your payment gateways, marketing, accounting, reports, and so much more.
The core features and extensions available to those who use WooCommerce provide you with a comprehensive set of tools and solutions, and none of it is difficult to use. It takes only the time needed to create the WordPress site, choose the right theme, and integrate the WooCommerce plugin. After that, you can begin adding any extensions that facilitate your business needs.
What Are the Pros and Cons of WooCommerce?
To summarize the many benefits and pros of WooCommerce:
- It is free and open source
- It installs easily and seamlessly with your WordPress blog or website
- There are abundant options for compatible WordPress themes
- There are hundreds of extensions that make it easy for you to customize your software and make it remarkably functional and effective
- It features the familiar WordPress dashboard. As one enthusiast said, ” past users of the platform will benefit from being able to recognize the user-friendly WordPress interface. That kind of familiarity when building an online store could easily save time and confusion, whilst bolstering creativity.” (https://www.cmscritic.com/10-reasons-why-woocommerce-is-perfect-for-ecommerce-startups/#)
- It has far more positive feedback and reviews (evidenced by the fact that more than 35% of all ecommerce sites use it)
- It is constantly updated or enhanced, and WooCommerce is very communicative about new features or additions
- There are many developers ready to offer assistance, and the WooCommerce Help Desk is remarkably comprehensive
And what about the “cons”? We’ve looked at WooCommerce as a nearly flawless entity, but there are a few downsides that we should consider:
- The extensions are abundant, and most stores need them. They are not all free, and some of the most popular are in the hundreds of dollars to purchase. They also need annual licensing to be renewed.
- Setting up is easy, but it can take tremendous amounts of time to get the inventory loaded and displaying properly, to choose the settings for customers, orders, taxes, shipping, and more.
- You may choose the wrong theme and it may not be as robust as you want or need. This is why you must dedicate a lot of time in the selection process and purchase you theme only from the top and most highly rated developers or from Woo itself.
- Though the Help Desk is always available, it is known to have some lag times, and there can be lengthy periods when support tickets remain unanswered.
What does this all tell us? The reality is that no ecommerce software solution is perfect. It is impossible to expect that, and looking at something like this review is helpful, but only if you already understand what you need.
The best approach to determining if WooCommerce is for you is to begin with a list of your unique requirements.
What sort of extensions might you need?
What sort of fees might this add on to your operating expenses?
How much time do you have available to tackle the setup of your WooCommerce site?
These are the only “cons” of choosing WooCommerce, but for some, they could be a reason to avoid the use of the plugin.
However, if you are eager to begin selling anything, anywhere in the world; ship anywhere without a lot of difficulty in calculating fees and printing appropriate labels; accepting many kinds of payments; having total control of the look and function of your online store; choosing your specific style and customizing it all; and being able to add extensions and grow the site easily, WooCommerce is the right choice for you.
WooCommerce core includes all of the core features required to run an online store, with none of the bloat. From the simple action of adding and managing products, to advanced stock controls, tax rates calculations, and order management, WooCommerce handles all of this swiftly.
If, after all of this information, you still feel a bit confused, just take some time to visit the WooCommerce site and see what they have to say. Also take a look at the different galleries of themes, always narrowing down the options to those that are WooCommerce compatible.
It is likely that you will soon recognize that this plugin has a great deal going for it, and that you can start small and grow along with it. You don’t need to invest in lots of extensions or third-party services to begin with, and soon you will feel comfortable enough to get creative and enjoy customizing your eCommerce site powered by WordPress and WooCommerce.
Check out some fantastic WooCommerce themes in this collection.