eCommerce with WooCommerce and WordPress – What you need to know

Here are some thoughts, ideas and tips that may help you on the way to building your own eCommerce website with WooCommerce and WordPress.

What does it cost? I guess it comes down to the level of game you want to play. If you want to do things on the cheap, then expect to get a similar ROI.

When I say cheap, I’m talking about $1,000 or less. If you cannot budget at least $2,000 to build an eCommerce website, you should wait until you can.

First and foremost, you must have a SSL certificate for your domain and all pages using HTTPS. A certificate is about $50 per year. Although most web hosts now offer this for free.

Let’s talk about web hosting for a minute.

You should have a VPS web host account or better. This means you’ll need to forget about the $5 per month shared hosting plans. Plan on spending at least $80 per month or more.

Your bank or credit card gateway (or other entity) may require you to be PCI compliant. Many are flexible on their definition and depending on the products you sell may not nag you about it. In any case, you need to try to be as secure as possible. This means a shared server is out of the question.

Technically speaking, a VPS is a shared server. But, they are much more secure because of how they are setup. Essentially, you are on a separate part of the server where no other website can affect it. Which makes it more PCI compliant, but not completely. If you’re required to be completely PCI compliant at the highest level, you’ll need to shell out the big bucks for a dedicated server and hire a server administrator. A good SA is not cheap. Plan on spending a few hundred dollars per month for the server alone.

More about security.

Ecommerce sites have dynamic content, take personal info, credit card info, and should be as close to PCI compliance as can be. Security is a priority and WordPress and/or WooCommerce are the most popular targets.

Therefore, everything including the plugins being used need to be researched first. Ideally, we’d be working on a staging site and install the plugin(s) and test, test, test.

I mention this because everyone is tempted when they see a cool (free) plugin to install it themselves and play around with it. It could be a disaster. Same goes for making what appears to be a simple change or checkbox in a setting somewhere else. These types of things should be done by a professional ideally in a password protected development area.

How many products are you going to sell?

If you sell only a few products, then you can probably include the products in the $2,000 budget. If you’re going to sell hundreds of products, be prepared to spend quality time going thru the monotonous process of adding each product one at a time. Or, install a plugin that allows you to upload products in bulk with a pre-formatted spreadsheet which can be very tricky and dangerous.

Please note, that while there are many very competent workers all over the world, if you are in the US and are tempted to pay someone $3 an hour, you’re taking a risk. Many times I’ve been hired to put the pieces back together. It also winds up costing the client more to fix it than starting over from scratch.

A note about free themes and plugins.

I highly recommend skipping any and all themes that are free. Always go with a “premium” theme that you pay for. Make sure the theme developers have a good history of support and ongoing updates. In my opinion, this narrows down the list to only a few. The only one I’ll mention here is Divi by elegantthemes.com. I’ve been a member for almost 10 years and the Divi theme is hard to compete with.

A word of caution. There are stories of free theme developers adding malware in their code. It’s how they can afford to give you the theme for free. If you don’t know what malware is, you should know that it is very bad.

Free plugins can also be a little tricky and can also contain malware. It all depends on the type of plugin and the developer of said plugin. For example, WooCommerce is free and is completely safe to use. However, plugins that run on top of WooCommerce may not be as safe.

Many times a free plugin is made by a reputable company and something you’ll want to install to see if you like it. They will almost always have a premium version that you can purchase which is always recommended. This gives you all the bells and whistles as well as ongoing support usually for 1 year. You then renew the license for another year at the current purchase price.

There are also many free plugins that are completely safe and recommended as a best practice of sorts. For example, installing the SEO by Yoast plugin is something almost every WordPress site has installed on it. It’s free and does a great job without purchasing the premium version. You may get an occasional message in the admin area that may entice you into buying a license. Otherwise, install the free version and keep it updated.

Do you offer paid memberships? If so, this is something that needs quality time to be spent. Things like recurring payments, credit card gateways, user levels and fees, auto emails on credit card expiration, auto email reminders for renewals, custom member pages, etc.

You’ll most likely have a member only area with content that only members have access to. This requires installing at least 1 plugin and setting up the pages access levels for the member types.

Adding eCommerce tracking will require yet another paid plugin and updating the client’s Google Analytics account. An update in their Google Webmaster Tools with a new site map URL may be required and some settings updated.

More bells and whistles to think about.

Customer rewards. Reward point programs can be very successful if planned properly. There is a lot to a reward program and many settings to consider if you don’t want to lose your shirt. Then, the details/disclaimers need to be written and a page made for them. Lots of quality time should be spent on this.

Abandoned carts. You may want to send automatic email reminders to existing customers that have something in their cart but have not checked out. These can be scheduled for something like a day or two after the cart is abandoned. Then, another sent in a few days, etc. This requires a paid plugin.

Integration. Integrating your store with something like MailChimp is a great way to stay in touch with your customers in an automated way. For example, 1 week after purchase an email is sent asking for a review or testimonial for a coupon. Maybe send an email each month only to customers that purchased a specific product that may need a refill. You get the idea.

Product Filtering. Your products may require a way for customers to better sort thru the list by things like price, color, size, etc. This requires a plugin like the WooCommerce Product Filter.

Coupons. Will you be offering coupons? If yes, what type? Free shipping? Percent off? Used for categories or specific products only? Expiration date? A good plugin for this is called WooCommerce Smart Coupons.

Group/Member Discounts. There are plugins that allow different groups or membership levels to have discounted pricing when logged in. Something you’ll probably want to consider if you have a membership area.

More plugins to consider:
Product Comparisons, Social Sharing, Ratings/Reviews, additional search functionality, etc. This list goes on and on.

Let’s not forget about taxes, shipping and payment options.

Taxes: If you’re in a state that has multiple sales tax rates, you’ll need to download and import the rates into WooCommerce.

Shipping: What services will you offer? UPS, USPS, and FedEx all require plugins and configuration keys. The client should create these accounts so they retain ownership.

Payments: What options will you offer? PayPal, Stripe and Authorize.net are the most popular. Stripe seems to be the easiest and fastest to setup.

NOTE: I usually recommend purchasing WooCommerce related plugins from WooCommerce.com. This way it’s better supported and you probably don’t need to worry about the plugin developers disappearing.

Lastly, ongoing maintenance costs should always be considered for eCommerce sites. WordPress, WooCommerce, themes and plugins are constantly being updated. If the website is running a lot of plugins, great care should be taken when making these updates. Yes, it’s a simple click of a button to update these inside the WordPress admin area. But you can break your site. A backup should be made first, ideally at the server level (not a plugin), and then run the updates. You may also want to do this on your staging site first to make sure everything is running smoothly before you update the live site.

I hope these tips will help you understand what to expect when developing an eCommerce website.