The Complete Guide To Starting An E-Commerce Site

guide-to-start-an-e-commerce-site

A few days back, Megha shared an exclusive guide on launching your first online store. Today, I’m extending the series by sharing this complete guide for launching an e-commerce store.

There’s a ton of work that goes into setting up an e-commerce shop, but it’s worth the effort.

Offering your products online means they can reach anyone with an internet connection. It also means that more people will be able to discover you, maybe from a Google search, or from social media.

Whether you’re selling physical goods (t-shirts, posters) or digital goods (e-books, illustrations), an e-commerce site will help you find your customers.

Thanks to WordPress, building an e-commerce site is easy. With the right tools, your online shop can launch in just a few days — or even a few hours.

WordPress has provided two major e-commerce platforms for creating shops online:

  1. WooCommerce
  2. WP eCommerce

In addition to these two, hundreds of plugins have been created to add extra functionality to each of these platforms.

It can be overwhelming to get started with the technical side of building an e-commerce website, so it’s good to start with the basics. You can figure out later which extra features or functions you want to add to your online shop.

Best E-Commerce WordPress platforms:

Platforms refer to the application, tool, or plugin you’ll be using to run your shop. There are many e-commerce platforms, but only a few are worth using for the long haul.

Each business owner has a different need, so it’s important to understand one’s needs before choosing a platform.

WooCommerce

woocommerce

WooCommerce is the most popular and most user-friendly platform for WordPress e-commerce sites. It’s easy to use, supports both physical and digital products, and has lots of add-ons and plugins.

In 2015, 78.4% of e-commerce sites built on WordPress used WooCommerce.

In addition to its user-friendly interface, WooCommerce is packed with excellent features and constant product improvement. The newest version of WooCommerce is probably the best one yet.

WP eCommerce

wp-ecommerce

With WooCommerce leading the pack, why would anyone want to use something like WP eCommerce?

Because features like advanced checkout and table rate shipping are free, while you have to purchase an add-on to use the same features in WooCommerce.

Some business owners might find that while WP eCommerce is not their primary choice, it may be more beneficial to their selling process.

Easy Digital Downloads

easy-digital-downloads

While the first two platforms allow you to sell both digital and physical products, Easy Digital Downloads focuses on digital products only.

This platform suits artists, authors, and other entrepreneurs who sell non-physical products like e-books, digital art, and music.

Downloading products requires a specific way of purchasing, and this plugin makes that process as simple as possible. It supports multiple and repeat downloads, as well as payment gateways like PayPal, Stripe, and Amazon.

Shopify

shopify

If you want the easiest and fastest way to build an online store, Shopify is your best option.

Not only does it provide you with simple steps to start selling in minutes, it also offers free hosting. This means you only need to buy a domain name for your shop, and Shopify will give it a home on the web.

This service is offered with a monthly subscription, starting at $13/month. With the basic account, you get unlimited product uploads, unlimited file storage, and 24/7 customer support.

E-Commerce Payment Gateways

A payment gateway is the feature that allows payment for your products. This is usually done with PayPal, credit card, or online payment services like Stripe or Braintree.

Not all platforms offer the same payment gateways, so you need to look at this feature when selecting a platform.

Some platforms require an add-on to include specific payment gateways. For instance, you need to purchase a $79 extension to add Google Wallet to WooCommerce.

PayPal

The most common payment gateway for e-commerce is PayPal.

It’s free to use, and anyone can sign up for the service.

Most platforms have a built-in PayPal payment gateway so you can use this feature instantly. If you’re not using an e-commerce platform, you can embed PayPal buttons anywhere on your site with the code provided by PayPal.

If you use WordPress, there are even more variations of the PayPal button that you can set up via plugins.

Authorize.net

authorize-net

Authorize.net is a payment gateway for direct credit card payments — without the need to create a PayPal account.

Payments can be made with a credit card or with an electronic check. The amount is then transferred to the seller via a bank account.

Authorize.net supports all major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diner’s Club, and JCB. It also supports PayPal, Apple Pay, and Visa Checkout.

The service also offers automated billing for monthly subscriptions, as well as fraud prevention technology.

authorizenet-pricing

While all these things sound great, Authorize.net is a costly payment gateway. It’s great for an established business, but not for small businesses or solo entrepreneurs. It costs $49 to set up Authorize.net for your site.

Stripe

stripe-dashboard

Stripe is a free alternative to Authorize.net since it also allows credit card payments.

It does, however, charge a flat rate per transaction (2.9% + 30 cents). The flat rate is charged only when a transaction occurs.

Stripe doesn’t require a monthly subscription, and it’s a free extension to WooCommerce. But do note that your site needs to have an SSL certificate to ensure that your customers’ credit card information is safe.

Another downside is that Stripe is only available in a few countries (including the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands). You can see if Stripe is available in your country on this page.

Gumroad

gumroad

For $10 a month, you can sell both digital and physical products online, and accept major credit cards and PayPal. More than just a payment tool, Gumroad provides a product page where your customers can see all of your products.

If you have a separate website, you can install Gumroad widgets to integrate payment into your site. While this payment gateway supports both physical and digital goods, the key features benefit sellers of digital goods.

dashboard-of-gumroad

Software developers can use Gumroad’s automated license key generator. Downloads can also go to specific cloud services like Dropbox and Kindle.

Shop Customization

Any shop owner wants their shop to look nice, so it is expected that many plugins for WordPress are created with this purpose.

Customizing an e-commerce store is more complicated than a regular website, as there are many other things to consider.

  • Does the shop look organized?
  • Can a customer easily find an item?
  • Are the products presented in the best way possible?

Here are some tools to help you create a beautiful online store:

Themes

There are many themes designed specifically for e-commerce sites.

WooCommerce offers free and premium themes on their website.

There are also many themes that work with any e-commerce platform.

You can also search the WordPress directory for themes that suit your e-commerce platform’s design. Choosing the right theme helps establish your brand’s image while improving customer experience.

WooCommerce’s Storefront Theme is free and looks clean and polished.

storefront-theme

Product interaction

The stars of your shop are your products, so they should be clear and easy to interact with.

Plugins like WooCommerce Image Zoom and WooCommerce Image Hover allow users to take a closer look at your products. WooCommerce Quick View allows a user to get a bigger image when hovering over an image. Some customers might want to see more products on the same screen, so plugins like WooCommerce Product Slider can give your site this feature.

You’ll discover even more gallery customization options when you search the WordPress plugin directory for a specific feature.

woocommerce product slider

There are also plugins that take care of the overall look of your store. One example is Customize WooCommerce Shop, which allows you to change the design of your shop’s product, checkout, shop, and shopping cart pages.

Extended functionality and advanced customizations

While e-commerce platforms try to offer basic (and some advanced) features, these are sometimes not enough for a shop owner.

For instance, non-US sellers might want a customized shipping rate calculator for their country. Sellers with digital goods might not want to use the default Add to cart button and would prefer a Download button instead. Maybe some sellers want to apply a discount to their products during a specified time.

This is where useful plugins like Booster for WooCommerce and WooEnhancer can help you out.

booster-for-woocommerce

These “boosters” are a way to disable default features found in the e-commerce platform while adding more features. Most of these plugins offer features for free, but some advanced configurations may require an upgrade to a Pro version of the plugin.

Creating an E-Commerce Website

Setting up an online store can be a long and tedious process, but it’s a great learning experience.

It’s important that you are aware of how one platform is different from another, so you can create the shop that you really want for your audience. You want to make sure that you’re creating the best possible store that your customers will find both informative and easy to navigate.

Learning about the many tools available (from design to functionality) will help you decide what you want your store to be. In the end, offering your products online should be a hassle-free experience for your customers. This way, you’ll get loyal customers who will keep coming back for more.

Are you an e-commerce entrepreneur? What tips would you like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

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