Posted on March 27, 2020
If you’re one of the thousands of non-essential retail stores closed right now, you may be looking for what it is going to take to move your sales online. It’s probably an idea you’ve been kicking around for a while but the complexity of how to make it all work has stopped you from going down that path. Regardless of what happened before, this is the time to make the jump to online sales.
Choosing an ecommerce platform
The first thing to solve when moving to functioning as an online retailer is to decide which shopping cart system to use. The number of choices you can make at this point is daunting. I am not going to get into a large pros and cons of the various service in this article. I am simply going to start with some assumptions and give you a good recommendation as a starting point.
You want to…
- Get up and running as fast as possible.
- Sell items from your store on your store’s website.
- Maintain a path for maximum flexibility as you grow your online business.
With those criteria established there’s only one real choice that meets them all, and that is WooCommerce. WooCommerce works for every business whim imaginable. Go to the extensiogns page of their site and you can see over 350 different ways to extend WooCommerce to fit your particular need. There are shipping services, mailers, payment integrations, and customer service extensions. In addition to all those external integrations there are all the extensions that change how WooCommerce actually works. You can turn a WooCommerce install into something to handle bookings, sell subscription services, safely sell downloadable products, and automatically calculate US state taxes or VAT. If you can imagine it, WooCommerce with its library of extensions can probably make it happen.
Over 4 million sites run WooCommerce. This number is important to you because with that many people running the software, they’re always working on adding new features that their customers want. In addition, it means that they are always working to keep that installed base secure with patches and updates to keep your store safe. Finally, that enormous installed base of WooCommerce sites means that when you want to do something fancy there are a lot of WooCommerce developers around to support your ideas.
Another major benefit is that WooCommerce is very simple to get configured and ready for sales. If you can upload a picture of a product and give it a price, you can run a WooCommerce based store.
Finally, WooCommerce has a great pricing model. It’s free! Some of the extensions and more advanced features have costs associated with them but if you are just getting a store up and running it’s nice to know you won’t have to have a huge outlay in capital for licensing and software just to get started.
Getting started with WooCommerce
It is easier to see than to describe so take a look at the simple WooCommerce setup video below to see what it takes to get up and running very quickly.
Once your store is up and running you can now take a step back and look at your next steps. It’s possible you could just stop here. If your store looks the way you want it to and you don’t mind some paperwork to handle shipping and inventory management, you could just stop here. Make sure your Google listing has your store website listed and you’re set.
If, however, you want to automate inventory management, make shipping easier or make your store look a little fancier, here are some additional steps to consider.
Install a WooCommerce Compatible Theme
While WooCommerce makes every effort to be compatible with any theme you are using on your site, the sheer amount of themes out there makes this a very complicated task. The way they make the base plugin the most compatible is by making it display products as simply as possible. If you want your site to stand out a little you will probably want to install a WooCommerce specific theme.
Installing a WooCommerce theme means that you can have a lot of basic look and feel changes right in your admin area and you won’t have to write code or talk to a developer to get your site to look more like the way you want it to.
My recommendation is that you cannot go wrong by choosing a Storefront based theme. Storefront is the official WooCommerce theme and has the maximum amount of compatibility with WooCommerce. They have almost 20 different variations on this theme and one of them would almost certainly get you where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. Another good choice (if I do say so myself) is the Jessica theme. Jessica is a Genesis based theme that looks great right out of the box with very little configuration. Finally, you also may want something a little more custom in which case it might be time to talk to a developer and see about something built to your exact specifications.
Calculating Shipping costs with WooCommerce
Install a Shipping Plugin
Once you start doing any level of shipping whatsoever you are going to want assistance in getting your products out the door and into the hands of your customers. Fulfilling orders by hand and printing labels will make the most stable among us tear their hair out in frustration very quickly. Getting ShipStation is an affordable way to remove these headaches from the get-go.
The ShipStation plugin has an added benefit of being able to automatically calculate shipping prices, in real-time, as your customers are checking out.
In addition to handling your shipping needs, ShipStation also helps with inventory management as an impressive bonus. With ShipStation hooked up to WooCommerce it gives you a single interface to manage your inventory while handling shipping. No more hassle of trying to match orders to labels. It’s all in one place.
Other honorable mentions in this category are Shippo and ShipBob. Both of these also have very tight WooCommerce integrations. They may have extended features or pricing that might work better for your business.
Hooking up a POS system to WooCommerce
The final item isn’t for everyone but to close the loop on inventory and sales and is to install a Point of Sale (POS) system that integrates with WooCommerce. Once your store is open for business again you are not strictly online you are going to want to make sure all the sales data is going into one place. Once again, WooCommerce comes to the rescue with its incredible versatility. This section is going to be a little different than what I have mentioned before because the system you use is going to be very dependent on what POS you are already using. If you are starting from scratch you could do a lot worse than simply starting with Square. Square has long been a favorite for non-traditional POS systems. You can even use your own phones and tablets in a pinch and on the go. As an added bonus the WooCommerce integration is through a free plugin.
Another service like Square is Lightspeed. This is a full featured service with integrated hardware and software, much like Square. Unlike Square, the plugin to integrate with WooCommerce costs $150/yr so keep that in mind. If you already have Lightspeed, however, installing that plugin and WooCommerce is a very quick way to get your online sales hooked up.
Lightspeed and Square can deter some people because of their inherent ongoing costs for both the service and the hardware. The major benefit of either is that your headaches are much reduced by getting an integrated system. The screens, credit card swipe, receipt printing, and cash drawers are all hooked up and connected and you don’t have to worry about any of it. The downside to all this convenience is cost. A full kit for Square starts at $600 and you have to add a tablet on top of that. Lightspeed doesn’t publish their hardware prices which makes me suspicious that they are probably more expensive than that.
If you’re looking to get up and running by simply using hardware you already have, FooSales might be what you’re looking for. The plugin is $15/mo and there’s no sales people to talk to, no hardware to install right off the bat. You can simply sign up and be selling, in person, directly out of your WooCommerce inventory in minutes. You will have more set-up to do in terms of printing receipts and hooking up card readers but if you like that sort of control, take a look at their hardware page and see how you can connect it all yourself. This can be a nice solution for a lot of businesses because sometimes getting something workable, quickly, today, is more important than getting it perfect, later. This also gives you the ability to add the pieces and parts as you go without having to do the entire outlay all at once.
What’s next with WooCommerce
I’ve tried to give a very straightforward rundown of how WooCommerce can help you get your business online with as few headaches as possible. I’ve also tried to cover some more advanced topics that you will almost certainly want to implement if you want to keep the management of your online and physical store inventory and sales in sync, get your site looking just the way you want it to, and to keep your shipping headaches minimized.
WooCommerce can do it all and puts that power into your hands.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful in clearing up some of the mystery about how to get WooCommerce up and running. As always, if you have any questions about this or anything else we’ve written about, please feel free to contact us.