Small businesses are scrambling to figure out how to adapt in the new world. Businesses that depended on customers visiting a storefront now face the need to shift to an entirely new business model to survive. But it’s not hopeless.
If you run a business that sells physical products, it is possible to transition to an eCommerce business to keep things afloat in the coming months. And for most businesses, adding an eCommerce store to your existing website is surprisingly easy.
The exact details of how to do so will depend on how you built your website to begin with. But if, like most small businesses, you either have a WordPress website or used a website builder to create your site, adding eCommerce functionality isn’t complicated.
This post will cover how to add an online store to an existing website in WordPress and with the Gator Website Builder. If you don’t already have a website, here’s how to build an eCommerce site from scratch. And if you used a different website builder, check the site of the vendor you chose for instructions on adding eCommerce functionality.
How to Add eCommerce Functionality to Your WordPress Site
WordPress is by far the most common content management system businesses choose for building websites. If you have a WordPress website for your business now, you’ve got a number of free and easy options for adding an online store.
1. Choose and install your eCommerce plugin.
WordPress functionality is all about plugins. To add eCommerce features to your website, you simply need to pick your plugin. There are a few popular options to consider:
- WooCommerce – WooCommerce is owned by the same company that owns WordPress itself, which makes this plugin an obvious choice for many. It’s free to use and easy to get started with.
- WP eCommerce – WP eCommerce is a free, open source plugin. As such, developers regularly work to update it with new functionality and improvements. It’s intuitive for beginners to use. But if you expect to need some help, you also have the option to invest in their dedicated support plan for a fee.
You’ve got a wealth of good eCommerce options with WordPress. Peruse the features available with each and determine which you feel is the best fit for your business and needs.
2. Follow the plugin’s directions to set up your store.
Whichever eCommerce plugin you choose will provide instructions for getting it set up. Since WooCommerce is the most popular, we’ll walk you through how to get started with it. But if you opt for another, simply look for an informational resource that provides details on each step to get started.
With WooCommerce, once you’ve downloaded it, click the button to Activate.
You’ll be taken to the WooCommerce wizard that walks you through each step of getting your store set up. Fill in all the information requested.
The app has a couple of default payment processing options they suggest. Choose which to add now, and you can add more later if you’d like. Both Stripe and Paypal are secure processing options, which is crucial when you’re accepting payment information through a website.
Shipping is one of the biggest and potentially most complicated parts of running an eCommerce business. By default, WooCommerce lets you choose between offering free shipping or a flat fee. If you want to choose another route for how you charge shipping, there are WooCommerce extensions that provide additional options.
Before you finish the setup process, WooCommerce will make a few recommendations for additional plugins to help power your eCommerce store, such as Jetpack. Then it will provide you the option to start making product pages.
3. Create pages for each product you sell.
Click on the button to Create a Product.
As with the setup wizard, WooCommerce walks you through how to fill in your Product page as well. If you’re at all familiar with creating pages or posts in WordPress, then the process of adding a product page will look familiar.
For each product, fill in:
- The product name
- The product description
- Inventory status
- Shipping information
- Product tags and categories
You can load product photography on the right side of the screen where there’s a box labeled Product Image. And WooCommerce makes it easy to encourage upsells by using the Linked Products option to note products that are similar or complement each other.
And that’s it! Well, that’s it for creating an online store. Promoting it and running it well is a whole other story (but more on that later).
How to Add eCommerce Functionality to Your Business Site in Gator
If you used the Gator website builder (available with all HostGator web hosting plans!) to build your site, you can add an eCommerce store in four simple steps.
1. Upgrade to the eCommerce plan.
The Gator eCommerce plan is $9.22 a month. To upgrade, when you’re logged into your Gator account, click on Edit Site, then look for the Store option in the left-side menu. Clicking it will give you the option to Upgrade Now. Select the eCommerce plan and fill out the form to check out.
2. Add your products.
Now go back and click on that Store option again, and this time select Manage Products and Orders.
The welcome page will include the option to start adding products.
Click to add your first product, and start filling in the details requested, including:
- Product name
- Pricing information
- Product description
- Product photo
For each product you create, you can later add it to all the relevant pages you want to feature it on across your website by going into Elements in the left-side menu, choosing Products, then dragging the selected product box to where you want it on each page.
3. Set up your payment processor.
Gator automatically provides Stripe and Paypal as options for payment processing. Choose which you want to use to process orders, select Activate, and follow the instructions provided to get set up.
4. Decide on and fill in shipping details.
In the Settings section, you can set up your preferred shipping details. Decide if you’ll offer free shipping, a flat rate, or another option. In this same section, you can supply additional order information such as your company’s tax ID, and the email address that will receive order details.
And that’s it! You now have an online store as part of your Gator website.
eCommerce Tips and Steps to Follow
Setting up an online store is a big first step, but it’s just the beginning. You have to make sure you have everything in place to supply the orders you receive—and ensure you get orders to begin with.
1. Have a plan for order fulfillment.
How will you handle packaging and shipping? Do you already have packaging materials? Do you have an account with a carrier you can use to create and print out labels yourself, or will you need to set one up? Are you prepared to get your packages to the post office every couple of days, or will you schedule pick-ups with carriers?
Before your website receives its first order, you want to know the answer to all those questions.
Customers will expect prompt service for their deliveries. Currently, they’ll be willing to give some leeway on slow delivery times, as the delivery system is more backed up than usual. But they’ll still want to see evidence that shipments are going out promptly, and information on when to expect their order.
Pro Tip: Add a FAQ page to your website warning customers of potential shipping delays and low inventory.
2. Talk to your lawyer and accountant.
Contact your lawyer and accountant to discuss any new documentation you need, and any steps you need to take to make sure your online store is on the up and up.
3. Promote your new online store!
Now for the hard part. You need to get your website in front of people in a competitive space. The internet is vast—driving visits to your small section of it is a tall order.
Consider investing in online advertising options like Google Ads and social advertising. Look into online marketing tactics and put together a strategy to build up your website’s authority and visibility online.
Online marketing is a long game, so a lot of the best tactics won’t drive people to your website tomorrow (online ads are better for that). But lay the groundwork now, and you can expect to get your eCommerce store to a place where it brings in regular business down the line.
And when things do start to go back to normal and you can reopen your storefront, your eCommerce store will remain as an additional source of income, and may even help drive more visitors to your physical location.
Expanding to eCommerce Is Just Smart
Times are hard, but people still have a need for a number of different products. If you can pivot your business model so that the customers who want what you sell can still access the items they desire, you can keep your business running—albeit in a different form than you’re used to. It may not be what you had in mind, but it could be just the lifeline you need.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.