How to Start a WooCommerce Store

By Matthew Guay - Published August 30, 2018 -

You are reading: Chapter 6 of 8

When you want to build an eCommerce store store, there are two main ways to run your site: with a hosted service or a self-hosted service. A hosted eCommerce service like Shopify makes running a store site much like using any other app. You'll pay a bit more each month, but will have little to manage besides product listings, order fulfillment, and customer support. Starting a store and getting your first sale only takes five steps, and there's little you have to worry about getting right with security.

Self-hosted eCommerce apps like WooCommerce are cheaper—WooCommerce itself comes for the low price of free. But it's traditional software you have to install and run on your own website's server. You'll need a bit more technical skills and will have to manage your site and keep it secure on your own. In exchange, you get more flexibility. You can tweak everything on your site, changing your checkout experience and catalog layout any way you want.

It's a tradeoff that many find worthwhile—and if so, WooCommerce is the simplest way to get started with the self-hosted eCommerce adventure. It's a free WordPress plugin that you can install onto an existing WordPress site, and only takes a few more steps than Shopify to start selling products.

Here's everything you need to start your first WooCommerce store.

Install WooCommerce

To use WooCommerce, you'll need:

  • A server or hosting account
  • A domain name and SSL certificate
  • WordPress
  • WooCommerce
  • Extensions for your payment gateway and an account with the payment service

If you already have a WordPress blog, you could install the WooCommerce plugin. First, though, make sure your site has an SSL certificate which you can get for free from Let's Encrypt (and that your site shows https:// in your browser address bar), as that's a requirement for selling products from your site.

WordPress digital ocean
You can start with a pre-installed copy of WordPress in Digital Ocean

If you don't have a WordPress site yet, you'll need to get that set up first. Sign up for a hosting account—Digital Ocean is a great option that we'll use for this tutorial. They offer VPS (virtual private servers) with WordPress pre-installed starting at $5/month, which makes it easy to get started.

Create a new Droplet (Digital Ocean's name for VPS servers), select the One-click apps tab, then select WordPress. Select the location and server size you want (the defaults are fine unless you have a preference), then create the Droplet. You can add your SSH key (or an encrypted way to identify yourself without a password—see GitHub's SSH documentation for more details) to log in directly—or Digital Ocean will email you a password for your site, and you'll need to login via SSH and change that first.

Set up WordPress

Now it's time to set up WordPress. Visit your site, select your language, then add your store's name, and create an account in your WordPress site. You can then log in and add pages and blog posts to your WordPress site—that's all you'd need to do if you want a basic site.

WooCommerce setup

For a store, though, you need to also install WooCommerce. Select Plugins -> Add New in the left menu, search for woocommerce, then click its Install button. Click Activate once it's installed, and WooCommerce will open its setup screen.

Here, click through the options to set your store's location, currency, units, and payment services. You can pick from PayPal, Stripe, Bank Transfer, and Check payments by default—and if you use PayPal, enter your PayPal email account to add it to your store automatically. For Stripe payments, you'll need to add your Stripe account key to the WooCommerce settings; for any other payment gateways, you'll need to install their extensions and set them up later.

Manage Products and Orders

Add product to WooCommerce
WooCommerce product listings include all of the standard WordPress page features...

WooCommerce includes all the tools you need to list your products, organize them with categories and tags, and manage your orders and customers. But remember: your site is a WordPress blog first, with WooCommerce added on.

As such, the top Posts and Pages sections are where you'll add your About and Contact pages, and publish blog posts with news about your store. Then, further down you'll see a Products menu entry, where you can add and manage product listings. Each product includes a standard WordPress style page, with as much text and info as you want.

WooCommerce extra fields
...along with a ton of other fields to manage inventory, shipping, related products, and more.

The most important part of the Product listing, though, are the fields further down. There, you can add a Short Description, which is what customers will see first when they visit your product page. You'll want to add the essential info and sales copy for your item here—then, in the top post box, you can add further details about the product. In the same way, the Featured Image will show up first on your page and in your catalog, while the Product Gallery images will show up inside your listing as additional images of the product.

WooCommerce includes other fields to help you manage your products. There are the standard price fields, along with inventory, shipping weight and size, and custom attributes. You can link products, for a simple way to build Shopify-style product collections of items people might purchase together. Or, add tags to group your products by manufacturer, color, and more.

Orders work much the same way: you can see orders by going to WooCommerce -> Orders, and can view each on individual WordPress-style pages. And, being WordPress, you can add comments and extra info to the orders to track anything you want.

Customize Your Store

WooCommerce Storefront theme
WooCommerce's Storefront theme is a great base theme for your store

Your store still looks like a blog—so you'll need to install a WooCommerce theme to make it look and work more like a store. And the best one to start with is free: Storefront. It's a base theme from WooCommerce that includes all the core store features and lets you customize it to fit your style.

Select Appearance -> Themes to open WordPress' theme selector, then click Add New and search for storefront to find the theme. Install and activate it, then click Appearance -> Customize to open the theme editor. There, you can tweak colors and fonts, change your store's title and copyright, and add widgets to showcase your new products, blog posts, and more.

WordPress theme editor
WordPress lets you quickly tweak the code in your site's theme

For a fancier theme, you can purchase Storefront Child Themes, which use Storefront's core features with custom designs. You can also download and buy other WooCommerce themes. Or, you can edit your store's code by hand to design your store.

Click Appearance -> Editor, and you can directly edit your site's CSS in seconds. Or, select any other file from the theme to tweak its layout and design in code. It's a more advanced way to build your site—but you'll get exactly the design you want.

Set shop page as front page

Then, there's one more thing to configure before launching your store: your front page. By default, WordPress puts your blog on the front page, but you'll likely want your store front-and-center. To do that, open the General -> Reading settings, select the option to have your front page be a static page, then choose your Shop page.

With that done, your store is ready for business. You can add and organize product listings, accept payments via PayPal, and manage your orders right inside of WordPress—all on your server. And, if you want to blog, your store is running on top of one of the most powerful blogging tools.

Add Extra Features and Integrations

WooCommerce Plugins
You can add dozens of plugins to WooCommerce for the features you want in a store

Need more features in your store? Like Shopify, WooCommerce also includes extra tools, this time called Plugins. You'll purchase each plugin for a one-time fee, install it in your store, and then set it up to work the way you want.

You can get started right from your store. Select WooCommerce in the menu and choose Extensions, then browse through the plugins available or click the price button to jump to its page on the WooCommerce site. There, you can buy the plugin and download it. Back on your store site, you'll go to Plugins -> Add New, and upload the plugin manually.

Each plugin comes with its own documentation, so be sure to check that to make sure you install and set up each plugin correctly. It's a bit more work than adding a Shopify App, but with WooCommerce you can customize the plugins if you want with the same tools you'd use to customize the themes. It's a powerful way to build the store you want.

WooCommerce Zapier
Add the Zapier extension to WooCommerce for integrations

Or as with Shopify, you can use Zapier's WooCommerce integrations to build powerful automated workflows for your WooCommerce store. You'll first need to install the WooCommerce Zapier plugin into your store.

Then, you can connect your store to any of your favorite apps. Zapier could add your new orders to your accounting app, send out emails to customers and staff, and much more. Here are some integrations to help you get started:

You've seen how to build a Shopify store and how to do the same in WooCommerce. Still don't think you've found the eCommerce platform you want to use for your store?

In the next chapter, we'll look at more of the most popular eCommerce platforms to help you make your decision.

Go to Chapter 7!

Published August 30, 2018

Written by Matthew Guay.

Image Credits: Shop photo from Alicia Zinn via Pexels.


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