WooCommerce 101: Getting Started with WooCommerce

Do you have questions about what exactly is WooCommerce or how to get started with a WooCommerce store?  You are not alone.  This article will help give you a better understanding of WooCommerce and how to launch your own WooCommerce store.

What is WooCommerce?

WooCommerce is a free plugin for building a full-featured online store on top of a WordPress website.  WooCommerce powers about a third of the world’s ecommerce websites — totaling more than 400,000 retail businesses and ranging from small single person start-ups to large online retailers in all sorts of different verticals. WooCommerce is easy-to-install and configure, even if you are a new user with no ecommerce or website development experience. 

How is WooCommerce Different than Shopify and BigCommerce?

Before deciding on a platform, many users look at alternatives such as Shopify and BigCommerce.  Shopify and BigCommerce are stand-alone hosted ecommerce platforms. These businesses have developed their own proprietary closed ecommerce software ecosystems supported by their own hosting infrastructure.  They offer their hosted software via paid plans that include hosting, the ecommerce software and ability to access paid internally developed or 3rd party extensions through a tightly controlled marketplace.   

In comparison, WooCommerce is a plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to websites built with WordPress, the free and open-source content management system. The main information pages on your business are built in WordPress, while the ecommerce product pages and checkout process is built and managed in the WooCommerce plugin.  Both WordPress and WooCommerce are free to use, and there is a huge community of developers that develop a variety of addons or extensions to these applications.  WordPress extension developers can offer their extensions free or at a low cost given the enormous size of the WordPress user base.  As a result, there is a much larger variety of plugins available for WordPress and WooCommerce vs the paid ecommerce ecosystems.   Unlike Shopify and BigCommerce, WordPress is not tied to a proprietary hosting provider, and there are numerous providers offering WordPress and WooCommerce hosting offerings at attractive price points.

Pros and Cons of WooCommerce

Like any ecommerce platform, WooCommerce has its own pros and cons that are necessary to evaluate before getting started.

Pros

  • Free and open source.
  • Easy to manage and requires no prior technical knowledge or outside developers to launch.
  • Ability to speed the design and look-and-feel of your website by purchasing low-cost modifiable themes.
  • Ability to extend functionality via thousands of free or low-cost plugins.
  • Supported by large community of ecommerce developers and consultants.
  • Regular updates.

Cons

  • Official support for WooCommerce is limited outside of development community.
  • As marketplace is open, updates have potential to create conflicts with the other plugins.
  • Must use WordPress along with WooCommerce.

How Does this Work with WordPress?

Since WordPress owns WooCommerce and it is a free plugin, you can easily add WooCommerce to your WordPress site from the WordPress admin panel once you have started building your website. 

This WooCommerce platform adds all the essential features required to operate a basic online store to any WordPress website, with options for customizing the look and content of your store. Those features include product display pages, shopping cart functionality, and payment gateways. To add more specialized functions to meet the needs of individual store types, users can install a variety of free and premium WooCommerce extensions. These add-ons to the plugin can integrate features such as specific payment gateways, advanced security, and shopping cart management into the overall online store framework.

WooCommerce is compatible with virtually all the many free and premium themes available for WordPress, but users can also install WooCommerce friendly themes designed to support major features in WooCommerce such as product displays, slideshows, and galleries. WordPress and WooCommerce plugins can be configured directly from your WordPress admin dashboard with no coding required, so even inexperienced users can set up a fully functioning online store with little difficulty. But those with more web development experience can also work directly with the WooCommerce source code to design highly customized storefronts and add very specialized features. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur opening an ecommerce site on a budget, or a technologically savvy multi-store retailer, you can use WooCommerce to set up and manage your online storefront and scale your business over time.

How do I get Started with WooCommerce?

To use WooCommerce, you’ll need to register a domain name and purchase a web hosting plan with a third-party hosting provider.  The easiest way to start is to find a ‘WooCommerce’ specific hosting plan.   These plans can include domain registration, a SSL certificate and installation of the core versions of WordPress and WooCommerce – so they are essentially turnkey. There are many providers offering these types of plans at various price points and performance levels, including BlueHost, GoDaddy, Hostinger, Kinsta and SiteGround.

If you want to install WordPress separately, once you have your hosting account set up with a web hosting provider, install WordPress on your domain. WordPress is offered by most hosts as a “one-click” site building option with your hosting account, or the core code can be downloaded for free from WordPress.org and installed manually on your domain.

After installing WordPress, you will need a storefront theme. Choose one of the hundreds of free WordPress themes in the WordPress Theme Directory that’s available from your site’s admin dashboard or install one from the many free and paid options offered by third-party developers around the world through sites, such as ThemeForest. WooCommerce is supported by just about any WordPress theme, but you can also browse the theme directories for WooCommerce-specific themes. Once installed, themes can be customized as needed to reflect your branding and preferences.

 Installing WooCommerce

If you did not purchase a turnkey WooCommerce hosting plan, you will need to install WooCommerce from your WordPress admin dashboard.  This is easy to do by navigating to “Plugins” and selecting Add New.” This opens the official WordPress Plugin Directory that comes with every WordPress install. Search for WooCommerce, then select the WooCommerce plugin and activate it. The plugin will appear in your site’s active plugins list.

Once WooCommerce has been activated, the tools for setting up your web store will become available from the WordPress dashboard.  You can then install the plugins needed for the more complex functions, such as formatting product pages, calculating shipping charges, and configuring payment gateways using setup wizards for these plugins. The basic ecommerce store setup includes tools and widgets for selling different physical products, and you can add specialized extensions to sell other kinds of offerings such as digital downloads, services, and subscriptions.

Customizing Your Store’s Appearance

You can speed the create of the ‘look and feel’ of your website by installing a pre-built theme.  WooCommerce works with just about any WordPress theme, so your WordPress theme typically will also format your WooCommerce pages. Be sure to consider the way a WordPress theme formats your WooCommerce pages into the evaluation of your theme purchase.  The default theme in WooCommerce is called Storefront, and it can be installed for free from the WordPress Theme Directory. For more options, consider purchasing a premium WooCommerce theme from an outside developer.  As more and more online shoppers use smartphones and tablets to shop, be sure to confirm that any theme purchased is a fast-loading, mobile-responsive theme that displays well on any screen size.

Building Your Store’s Pages

The basic version of WooCommerce includes all the code files for creating your store’s core web pages, including product or services, the shopping cart, and the checkout screens where buyers enter payment information.

Depending on the nature of your store, you might also need pages for customer accounts and profiles or a blog. The WooCommerce setup wizards can walk you through the steps to create your basic pages and populate them with products and information. If you have coding experience (or want to hire a developer from a marketplace such as Upwork), you can customize your pages by working with the plugins code and style sheets.

Adding Extensions for More Features

Like WordPress itself, WooCommerce is open -source software that anyone can use or modify. WooCommerce includes the core features needed to run any kind of online store, but you will want to look at the variety of extensions available for WooCommerce to support your online business.  These extensions cover a wide range of needs including enhancing your product offering (galleries, sliders), supporting different types of products and services (digital downloads, subscriptions, services), improving website performance (image compression, CDN), marketing (SEO, email marketing), among others. Most established credit card processors have gateway plugin for use with WooCommerce, or you can quickly setup payments using a default payment processor such as PayPal and Stripe.

Users can access and install a number of quality WooCommerce extensions from the WordPress Plugin Directory, download them directly from the WooCommerce development site, or purchase them from third-party developers.  Support is available from a worldwide community of users and developers and a growing body of WooCommerce tutorials and guides.

Attracting Shoppers to Your Store

Once you have your site live, you will need to attract shoppers.  Listed below are a few suggestions to attract more traffic to your WooCommerce website:

•          Blogging: Maintain a blog dedicated to your ecommerce website to help gain more organic search traffic efficiently. Make sure to write blog posts regularly.

•          Social media marketing: Market your Woo! ecommerce store via social media such as Facebook ads to generate more traffic.

•          Guest posting: Guest posting on other blogs can help attract more customers. Many blog owners are always looking for interesting content.

•          Email list building: Maintain a list of the emails of customers to send out offers via regular email marketing campaigns. This will help keep people updated on activities at your business.

•          Other channels: Unorthodox methods can also be beneficial. Try to participate in marketing forums to talk about your online store and products or being active in social networks such as LinkedIn.

•          Collaborations or partnerships: Build relationships with other business owners or influencers and bloggers. Getting your business mentioned on other posts will improve your brand awareness and engagement from their readers.

Wrapping it Up

WooCommerce is a free plugin designed to make it easy for any user to set up an online storefront on a WordPress site. And with a large variety of mix and match extensions to choose from, WooCommerce has the tools online entrepreneurs of all kinds need to succeed. Hopefully, this article will help you in getting started with your online WooCommerce store.  

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