There are really 3 parts that make a website an “e-commerce” website – product pages, shopping cart, and a checkout process.
To make an e-commerce store within WordPress, you need to add a plugin, which is a separate piece of software that you install and activate within WordPress that adds to what you can do with WordPress. 

In this case, the plugin you will need is WooCommerce by WooThemes.  WooCommerce will create custom product pages, will have a shopping cart to allow customers to add products they want to purchase, and that will also sync up with a payments system to accept payments.  It is by far the best plugin I have found to meet these three parts of an e-commerce website.

The reasons for it being the best plugin are as follows.  It has great functionality, ease of use, a great reputation, strong community, and is very versatile.  From a search engine optimization viewpoint, it is very friendly and fairly easy to use than most other platforms I have worked with in the past.  The biggest advantage to this platform is that it gets rid of most of all the duplicate content which can be problematic for most online store.  It also has a Schema markup built right in, so that is a nice feature. 

This is a plugin that is going to just get stronger over time with plenty of support and versatility.  I found the biggest selling point for me was that it was completely free.  The big catch is that WooThemes makes money through premium extensions such as advanced inventory management, direct credit card processing, and custom themes. I chose to use WooCommerce for its strong developer base, app store and compatibility with a range of plugins and themes. 

How to Install and Create Your E-commerce Website:

  1. To get started with WooCommerce, go to your WordPress Dashboard and find the Add New Plugin button. Search for WooCommerce, and simply install and activate the WooCommerce plugin by WooThemes.
  2. After activating your plugin, you’ll want to Install WooCommerce with the wizard that will be offered after you activate it, which will take care of the initial settings.
  3. WooCommerce needs several pages to function, which include a Cart page, the Shop page (which may need customization but I would save that for later.), etc. The wizard will install all the necessary pages to start with.
  4. WooCommerce Taxes & Shipping:  You’ll need to set your location, units and currency and note your tax rates.  For Shipping & Tax, you can enter in general settings to get the store started. These all can be changed at a later date.
  5. Then you’ll need to enter Payments. I would recommend starting with PayPal so that you have something to start. You can explore other options, such as credit cards, in the settings as needed.
  6. Next you’ll need to set your theme, which is your design and layout. WooCommerce has a lot of unique themes but I recommend using the default Storefront theme as your theme for now, you can always change it at a later time if it is not what you desire, while you set up your products.
  7. Now that you have WooCommerce installed, there are many things you may want to do from this point forward, such as head to a New Product page, return to WordPress Dashboard or Create Your First Product page which will walk you through what you need to do and the information that you will need.  If you click on “Create your First Product”, you’ll be sent to a new product page, take a look around but I wouldn’t actually add any new products yet.  You could do a test product to see how your design and theme looks.
  8. Your next step is to make sure your store URL structure is correct and your WordPress Theme integrates with your WooCommerce functionality. Otherwise, you could create problems for yourself at a later time.
  9. Keep in mind that there are many 3rd party plugins that will sync up with WooCommerce. Make a note to set up those options at a later time, a good one for example would be Analytics.  You can’t take advantage of all the benefits unless your site’s analytics tracking is setup correctly.  I would recommend using Google Analytics by Monster Insights for your Google Analytics integration.
  10. You should go one step further and markup your online store with lots of specialized e-commerce tracking. To do this, you head back over to the Add New plugins and search for WooCommerce Google Analytics Integration, which is also produced by WooThemes, and is free to use. Install and activate it and you’ve just added tracking that many agencies sell for big bucks. You can repeat this process for Yoast SEO and many other plugins.
  11. To Setup Your Online Store Structure , you will need to setup permalinks, which are also known as permanent links. There are so many ways to display products in your online store, and you don’t want to display really inefficient, ugly, and search engine unfriendly URLs for your products and product categories. It’s difficult to change your permalinks, the default ones are usually the best to use,  so I like to confirm them before I move on. To start, go to the new WooCommerce link on your Dashboard –> WooCommerce –> Settings –> Products.
  12. WooCommerce needs a product archive page that’s going to display all your products and/or categories which is known as the Shop page.  You can edit that name or choose to leave it as default name.  Your customers don’t have to see it, or you can make it your Homepage. But it has to exist, and this is where you go to customize it.
  13. After you confirm that page, you should click the link to look at your Product Permalinks.  This page allows you to set your WordPress permalinks and your product permalinks. Permalinks are structured so they never conflict with blog post categories. f you want to customize them, you may.  If you want to customize it, then this is where you do it. I also generally choose the Product option under the Product permalink base, simply for ease of use.
  14. Now your online store setup is finalized. You might want to go to the new Products link in the main WordPress Dashboard . Then create a sample product or category to see how the URLs look to you before going further.
  15. You’ll want to make sure that your WordPress Theme is compatible and setup with WooCommerce.  Now is the time to change that if it is not. Plugins control how your website works. Themes control how your website looks to your customers. It’s important to find a theme that doesn’t produce product pages that a garbled and ugly.  Pick a versatile theme that can be designed, updated, and in general just give you the website you want.
  16. You can choose a WooThemes theme which is not free for a good reason and it is the best option. A WordPress default theme which is free is another good option.  You can also head over to ThemeForest and get a WooCommerce compatible premium theme. Whatever you go with, make sure to install and activate it so that you know it is compatible with WooCommerce.
  17. Time to work on the General Store Settings.  Go to your dashboard, look for the WooCommerce link and then go to Settings and then the General tab.  The first thing to note is all the default settings. These were set up with  the wizard or WooCommerce, which setup most of them. They may or may not be right for your store. You’ll need to click through each section and subsection to check on them.
  18. WooCommerce also has built-in styling for buttons, borders, and the like. You can customize these in your style.css theme file or just match these to your website color scheme. Either way everything will look great.
  19. WooCommerce allows you to enable Lightbox. It’s a code that allows visitors to click on your product images. They can zoom in to see the products up close without leaving the product page.
  20. You’ll  need to double-check the Product Image settings. Look to see what size your product images are, are they square, what do they scale down to. WooCommerce allows you to set the Catalog Images which appear in category pages, the Single Product image which is the featured image on the Product page, or the Product Thumbnails which appear below the featured image on Product pages.  The image setup can get a bit complicated. If the dimensions aren’t quite right, don’t fret since you can regenerate your image dimensions.
  21. Most of the rest of the Settings are easy to understand. The main thing is to pay attention to detail.  Take advantage of all the options that WooCommerce gives you which are very user friendly.
  22. Go through all the settings. Customize every aspect of the experience for your customer, such as what email they receive when they reset their password.
  23. Let’s take a look at the System Status section. This is where you get all your technical information needed, the memory allocated, or what your version number is.
  24. If you ever want to reset your entire store, hopefully you will never need to do this, you can head to the Tools tab. It is there if you ever need it.
  25. You want to take a look at the huge range of extensions that you just “plugin to the plugin” which makes WooCommerce go further. You will have to pay for most of the extensions but the benefits of using them are  they cost way less and start working much faster than a custom solution.
  26. So now your e-commerce store is functional and set. Next is setting up your products.

In order to make an e-commerce store within WordPress, take a look at the different parts for your products:

The Product Categories – self explanatory, but you can add them directly from the product page

Your Product Tags – add additional categorization that doesn’t need to be a product (like colors, etc)

The Product Gallery – pictures that appear as thumbnails on the product page. As the customer clicks on them, they cycle to become the “big” featured image

A Product Image – set the main feature image

Product Data widget – this is where you set your product type, price, shipping and more.  Once you figure it out, you can do all sorts of things and sell nearly anything.

A simple product – a product with no options, no changes, and isn’t a part of a collection. 

Grouped products – allow you to put a product as part of a collection. An example would be a dining room set where you have the table and the chairs that go with it.

Variable products – allow you to add attributes to a product such as small,  green, so that you can sell one product. This allows customers to choose the exact variation they want.

External Products – allow you to list and sell products off your site with your retail partners such as Amazon, etc.

Other points to consider are the Inventory and Shipping options can be also customized as well.  You can organize your products directly from the Product page or the Products menu.  The category level pages also allow the creation of subcategory pages. Shipping classes, allow you to customize your shipping policies and rates based on distance, weight, bulk, etc.

If you have finished all the steps listed above, you should have a good working e-commerce site. Please come back often as I add more postings related to WordPress, WooCommerce and all the other parts that go with creating and maintaining a website.

Making an e-commerce store within WordPress!
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