Post about "E-Commerce"

Create Your E-Commerce Store on WordPress

When I decided I was going to open an e-commerce site, my first step was to choose the platform I would create it on. I had experience with WordPress from a blogging standpoint, but both searches and chatting with internet savvy friends led me to believe WordPress was not ideal for my endeaver. The thing I heard most was:

“WordPress was not built for e-commerce. People become familiar with it and try to hack it to force it to do something it shouldn’t rather than learn how to do it correctly, in a platform meant for it. Those do a much better job.”

The general gist was that people were trying to fit a square peg into a round whole simply to stay with what was familiar. That seemed to make some sense to me so I began researching other alternatives.

I watched tutorials on using Jamal and Drupal with Magento, PrestaShop and Zen Cart. Many of them are open source or allow for free trials. So, I tried them all. I found them unresponsive, not user-friendly and generally difficult. That said, I could see the benefit if I was more into coding and launching a giant retail site for which I wanted full and absolute control of every detail.

I was discouraged. These were the “best” options and they had all frustrated me. Hours of work yielded little and unsatisfactory results.

I decided to buck the well-intentioned advice and see what I could do with WordPress.

I was delighted! Using a free and general theme and a simple plug-in, I had a working store in an under an hour. I couldn’t believe I had wasted so much time and energy elsewhere.

Now, this was just a trial run to see if it was a viable option. It did take me longer to find a theme I really liked and customize the site as a whole, as well as adding the products and other information. However, I was able to fairly quickly discern that it would absolutely meet my needs in a much more straight forward way.

My Trials and Decisions
The rest of this article will detail the theme and plug-ins I ended up using, and how I reached those decisions.

Finding a Theme
Firstly, I did not want to pay for a theme at this point. I needed to first make 100% sure I was indeed going to use WordPress and exactly what features I required before I was willing to fork out money for a theme.

Finding a free e-commerce theme to play with that I liked actually took me a good amount of time, trial and error. I finally found Mio by Splashing Pixels. It includes a featured product slider and most of the customization I was looking for. I do plan on upgrading to a paid theme with more functionality and customization at some point, but it gave me everything I needed to get a site I was happy with up and running. Also, the support at Splashing Pixels for the free theme combined with the clean code persuaded me that, when I was ready, I would purchase a theme from them.

Finding a free theme took me way longer than it maybe should have, but I learned some things along the way:
Know what you’re looking for before you start. This can only really be accomplished by grabbing a couple free themes and attempting to set up your site with them. It’s only through doing that you realize what you really want and what is not as important. When doing this, make sure you have one of the e-commerce plug-ins enabled with some products loaded – otherwise you’re not going to get a good feel for the theme and how it integrates with e-commerce.

The thing that became most apparent to me during this process was how well integrated the theme functions were with the e-commerce plug-ins I liked. I didn’t want to have to do a bunch of back end coding to make my site look whole and professional. Stay away from themes that, while maybe attractive, end up looking like a really nice blog site that you just threw a shopping cart onto.

Also very important is if it’s easy to set-up the payment options you require. Some things are optional, this one really isn’t. Payment options are typically covered in the actual e-commerce plug-in (I’ll speak about them shortly), however, I found it super important that my customer’s checkout experience be seamless. Again, wanting to avoid the unprofessional look of an obviously separate add-on. Right before a sell is the last place you want your customer to doubt the security and professionalism of your site.

A few other things that may or may not be important to you include:

Is the header customizable?
Can I change the text?
How many menus does the theme support and how customizable are they?
Is it compatible with the newest version of WordPress?
Is there a support forum and, if so, are they active and responsive?
Can I customize the layout of pages and, if not, do I like the pre-formatted option?

E-Commerce Plug-Ins
In the interest of full disclosure, I only tried two: WP E-Commerce and WooCommerce. They are the two I found to have the most supportive tertiary add-ons and be most supported and integrated with WordPress.

I can honestly say, they both work very well.

I started with WP E-Commerce and was incredibly pleased with how easy it was to enter my product categories and products (complete with variations that was overly complicated in the other open source programs I’d tried.) It took a little work to get the checkout exactly how I wanted it, but it wasn’t very difficult.

I did run into a problem with thumbnail images not being shown correctly, regardless of any settings I used. I struggled with this for some time before I found documentation that this was a known issue at the time for the current version. I’m confident this issue has been or will be resolved, but I found it too important to launch with and didn’t want to wait.

This led me to WooCommerce, which was also fully supported by the theme I chose. It is very similar to WP E-Commerce and shared the ease of use I mentioned, without any image display issues.

Both allowed me the payment, product, category and widget integration I was looking for. In the end, there were some minor things I preferred with one over the other but nothing that was a deal breaker.

If you’re not an advanced programmer looking to launch a giant retail site like Amazon or Best Buy, WordPress can get you up and running, fully functional, in half the time and a quarter of the frustration as the other options I found.

Here is my site made in WordPress with the free Mio theme and WooCommerce plug in if you’d like to see it in action.