How to create your own eCommerce website using WooCommerce

When Etsy launched Etsy Pattern, their eCommerce solution for building a stand-alone store-front, I looked at the solution. My impression of Etsy Pattern  is documented in this post.  I have to say, I was not very impressed, so that got me to wondering about other eCommerce solutions.Shopify is a popular eCommerce platform, used by hundreds of thousands of sellers. It has an easy to use import tool for importing listings (including Etsy) from an existing store.  With very nice features, Shopify allows you to create a beautiful, customized online store, but at an expense. The basic package starts at around $30 per month; this is on top of transaction fees in addition to credit card processing fees.  (However transaction fees are waived under the Unlimited plan or If using Shopify payments).   This may be  worth the price depending on the growth of your business, but for me, I prefer to find solutions with the least possible cost, at least initially.

Since I do have a programing background, I figured there must be a free, Open Source solution available, which lead me to WooCommerce. To use WooCommerce, requires that you have a website built using WordPress. Though typically known as a blogging platform, WordPress is not limited to blogging but can be used to build any kind of web site, including eCommerce. WordPress is free, but you do need to have the self hosted account to take advantage of the myriad of plugins and themes, both free and premium. Here is a link that talks about the difference between the two types of WordPress accounts.  Self hosting does have a cost associated with the hosting service, but this is far less than using platforms like Etsy, Amazon Handmade and Shopify.. requiring a monthly subscription, and in many cases, transaction fees. WooComerce is totally free, but there are fees associated with payment processing.  This article breaks down nicely, the differences between Etsy Markeplace (not Etsy Pattern), Shopify and WooCommerce. Though the article suggests you need to be technical to use WooCommerce, I would say that’s not entirely true.  Having programing skills is helpful as it allows the greatest flexibility for customizing your site, exactly how you want it, but even without a technical background, you can be up and running in about a day with minimal, over-all cost.  I was able to setup a WordPress website with an upfront cost of $100/year paid to Bluehost, my chosen hosting provider, plus a custom domain for .99 cents/year paid to Godaddy.  The following is a list of basic steps for creating your own WordPress eCommerce site using WooCommerce.

How to create an eCommerce website using WooCommerce

1. Create a WordPress website

Because I tend to be conservative about costs when I initially evaluate a product or service, I started with WordPress.com instead of WordPress.org.  The idea of having a personal blog to document my learning adventures and other musings, seemed intriguing. So about 2 weeks ago, I started my blog on WordPress.com.  I’m still learning, but realized that WordPress is a great website building platform with a lot of potential. But to fully take advantage of it you need to be on WordPress.org, which includes a large open source community constantly building useful and interesting tools.  So I needed to migrate my existing WordPress.com site to WordPress.org.  To migrate your existing WordPress.com to WordPress.org, you can follow these instructions.  If you don’t already  have WordPress, you can set up a WordPress.org site very quickly, following these instructions. The instructions assume you will be using Bluehost as your hosting service. Bluehost has an affiliation with WordPress and many others and are therefore the recommended service provider. Regardless of whether the Bluehost recommendations are fully unbiased, their service was relatively inexpensive and included a free domain, plus a 30-day money back guarantee. Note: If you already have a custom domain, you will need to point it to the Bluehost servers, using custom nameservers.  I registered my domain: bellas.jardin.com on GoDaddy, so from Manage Domains | Manage DNS and under Nameservers, I added the following nameserver entries.   nameserversIt took a few hours for the changes to take effect, but then my site was off and running.

2. Install WooCommerce Plugins

Once you have your WordPress site up, you will need to install plugins.  From the WordPress Admin dashboard (eg: http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin/), navigate to Plugins.  Here you can view installed plugins as well as add new ones.  To add, select the “Add New” button and in the “Search Plugins” field, search for the desired plugins.  You will need the following: WooCommerce, Woocommerce CSV Import and WooCommerce Menu Cart.  I would also suggest adding Post Tags and Categories for Pages to include tags in your posts and categories.  If you need to migrate from one WordPress site to another, you will also need WordPress Importer. Also include Jetpack by WordPress.com, which allows you to use many of the WordPress.com features not available in WordPress.org.   It’s straight forward to install WordPress plugins and you can look at this article for detailed steps.  The WooCommerce installation was also easy and included a wizard for setting up your store.

3. Import Your Etsy Listings into WooCommerce

Now that you have your WooCommerce store, it’s time to add products.  If you are an existing Etsy seller, you can import your listings into WooCommerce as follows.  First download your active Etsy listings from Etsy and save the csv file to your local machine. From the WordPress admin dashboard, navigate to CSV Import, select CSV import, then select the Headers tab. Here you will create a mapping of your Etsy csv fields into WooCommerce fields.  Browse to the csv file you downloaded and then “load”. The Header preview will show the csv fields where you can select the mappings. Do your best, leaving fields with no obvious mapping as “skip”. I mapped the following fields post_title, post_content, sale_price, tags, featured_image and left the rest skipped since the rest of the fields did not have an obvious one to one mapping.  Once mapped, give the header a name and “save”. To import, select the Import tab then browse the same csv file you downloaded earlier, selecting the header you created, then “load”.  Once the Import Preview displays, select “start”.  The importer runs and upon completion, returns a message about the number of imported rows.  I have to say the import was not perfect, likely a result of not properly mapping all the fields.  More experimentation is needed to figure out all the mappings between Etsy and WooComerce, and I will give an update once I figure it all out.  But it did manage to import all my listings, with a single image representing the product.  All my products indicated “out of stock” as I was not sure how to map inventory, but this okay since I am not ready to sell on my site yet.  Though there is some obvious tweaking that is still necessary,  I managed to get my WooCommerce shop up and running in a few hours of effort.  You can view my WooCommerce store that was migrated from my Etsy store.

4. Securing your WooComerce Site

All eCommerce sites should be SSL enabled, to protect customers’ sensitive data if stored on your site. Without getting too technical, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a client (eg: browser).  Using SSL requires installation of a valid SSL certificate for your site.  Once configured, your site’s resources can be accessed using HTTPS.   Ideally, you will want your entire site to use SSL, but in the very least, you will need SSL for secure checkout (if you are processing payments directly on your site) and anywhere on your site where sensitive data is collected.  As an added incentive, Google announced that they will be using HTTPS as a ranking factor for SEO.

In WooCommerce you can set up secure checkout from the WooCommerce | Settings | Checkout tab.  Here you can select the “Force secure checkout” setting, but this does require an SSL certificate be installed on your site.  I am still investigating what it takes to SSL enable my site given that I have a custom domain.  With a custom domain, you need to have a dedicated ip rather than a shared ip, as is typically the case with shared hosting services like Bluehost.  Purchasing a dedicated ip comes with added monthly expenses along with the cost of the private SSL certificate.  Bluehost does offer a free shared SSL certificate but to use SSL with your domain, the Bluehost server needs to have a private (non-shared) SSL certificate, specifically for your domain.  This too comes with an added yearly cost.  I’m investigating other alternatives for secure payment processing, which may be easier without the extra cost and requirements of dedicated ip and private ssl certificates and will give an update once I have more details.

Conclusion

Even with the fees required to set up your own WooCommerce site, I think the over-all cost is still relatively low as compared to commercial eCommerce providers, particularly if you expect to be selling in volume.  In addition, the control and flexibility, awarded by using open source is a great benefit.  In the end, it depends on your priorities and needs.  If you are someone who would rather not be hands-on in managing your site, a commercial eCommerce service like Shopify may be better suited to you.  But if you are someone who does not mind getting a little technical and wants full control over your site, I think WooCommerce is a good option.

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