WordPress as e-commerce platform
July 25, 2012
As Internet became accessible to almost every household in US and around the World, every business owner, artist, merchant can sell their goods or services to any person or company in the World directly avoiding big costs setting physical store, all the legal paperwork, etc.
Wikipedia says: Electronic commerce, commonly known as e-commerce or e-comm, is the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks. US eCommerce and Online Retail sales projected to reach $226 billion.
More and more businesses are setting up their own online mini stores either using third party services or building their own web apps.
So, what do you need to have you own online store?
Very simple. Domain name, web hosting, SSL certificate, shopping cart software (or plugin) and payment gateway. I will not list any legal, tax documents as they vary state to state and country to country.
- Domain name and web hosting are simple.
- SSL certificate (Secure Sockets Layer) is protocol that provide communication security over the Internet. Basically, SSL encrypts credit card numbers, so they are not visible to third party services. You can get SSL from almost any web host provider. IT price ranges from $50 to $400 (or more)
- Shopping cart software (or plugin) - script that calculates total of ordered items, shipping, taxes, discounts and passes this total value to payment gateway. Also it provides user friendly way to manage orders, receipts, returns, notifications related to an online store
- Payment gateway - your bank or services like PayPal or Authorize.net that can transfer money from buyer's bank account to your bank account.
Third Party services VS self-hosted
Usually third party services are great for quick and cheap set up. Services like Shopify will get you a store in about 5-10 minutes. But it is good only if you have very few items to sell and don't expect that many sales. They do charge their own transaction fees and plus monthly fees on top of that, so it can get very expensive in the long run.
Self hosted solution may be more expensive to develop but more flexible and cheaper to maintain (if it's built right). Market for self hosted e-commerce platforms is very competitive. Magento and WordPress are the best open source CMS's. Magento is full-blown e-commerce CMS, and because it's very powerful and flexible - the learning curve is steep. WordPress on the other hand is more generic CMS, but more user friendly and easier to develop and maintain.
WordPress is open source and is the most popular CMS, year ago it powered almost 15% of entire web. It is very well maintained and secure, over 15000 plugins are available to extend the CMS to your needs. And e-commerce is one of them. Some are skeptical about its scalability, but if it's developed right - WP can handle big traffic (example websites are TechCrunch, Mashable, WordPress.com)
There are number of e-commerce plugins for WordPress. Free and premium. Wp e-commerce, Cart66, JigoShop, WooCommerce to name a few.
The best e-commerce plugin in my opinion is WooCommerce. It's well maintained, has a lot of extensions (payment gateways, shipping, upsell, tracking inventory etc). It has all the features that any online store needs and very good documentation. And it's completely free and open source. Although most of the extensions cost some money, you can set up basic store without buying extra.