You’re finally doing it. You’re turning all those dreams of entrepreneurship into a reality and starting an eCommerce store. With consumers spending over $2.3 trillion on products online, it’s a lucrative industry.
And if you use an intuitive content management system (CMS) like WordPress, the barrier to entry is low. You don’t have to learn to code or train on any complicated software to get started, you can dive right in.
For anyone building an eCommerce site in WordPress, this guide covers all the main information you need to know to get your website up and running.
Phase 1: Start Your Website.
Before you can get into the website building phase, you need to complete a few preliminary steps that provide the basis to getting started.
1. Create your brand.
The first step to starting an eCommerce business is working out the basic details of your brand. A lot of the decisions you’ll make when building your eCommerce website will depend on the choices you make during this stage, so do this part first.
Clarifying your brand includes:
Selecting your products
What are you going to sell on your eCommerce website? Will it be items you craft by hand, or products you buy wholesale and resell through the website? Figure out what you want to sell, and how you’re going to get the inventory that will become the basis of your website.
When choosing your products, make sure there’s a throughline in everything you select. Selling t-shirts for skateboarders alongside dinosaur toys for little kids would make for a weird mix. Choose inventory that makes sense to group under one brand. Amazon can get away with selling a huge variety of products now, but even they started out with a focus on books and grew over time.
Competitor research is important for figuring out how to position your brand and determine your pricing. And it can provide useful inspiration for marketing tactics and approaches to use. Your competitors have already done the work of researching your audience and testing out what works for them, you can borrow some of their insights and start out ahead.
Choosing a name
What’s your business going to be called? Go with something easy to remember that you like the sound of. Bonus points if it communicates what your business does, and includes a popular keyword for it. This step is a good one to combine with our #2, choosing your domain.
Developing your unique value proposition (UVP)
Your UVP is what sets you apart from other brands in the space. It’s a brief statement that encapsulates what you offer to customers, and why they should choose you over similar options. A good UVP is the foundation you’ll build the rest of your website and marketing on.
2. Register your domain.
If possible, don’t settle on a name for your brand until you’ve confirmed the domain for it is available. You can find available domains using HostGator’s free domain search tool.
A .com is ideal if you can get it, but if it’s easier to grab a relevant domain at .net or .biz, that can work too. Once you’ve found the one you like, it only takes a couple of minutes and a few bucks to register it.
3. Sign up for web hosting.
Web hosting is a prerequisite for having any website online. All the files that make up your website must live on a hosting server that delivers them up to each person that visits a web page.
eCommerce web hosting plans cost around $5-$20 a month. When choosing your provider, look for a company that promises consistent uptime, compatibility with WordPress, and reliable customer service. In eCommerce, how accessible your website is ties directly to how profitable it is. A provider with inconsistent service will cost you in lost sales.
4. Install WordPress.
The particular details for this step will depend on which web hosting provider you chose. For HostGator clients, follow our one-click install instructions for WordPress. For other providers, check their support materials and follow the instructions provided.
Phase 2: Build Your Website.
Now you have everything in place to move into the next phase of building your WordPress eCommerce site.
5. Create a design plan.
You have two main options for designing your ecommerce website:
- Hire a professional designer
- Do it yourself
Hiring a professional is a good idea for anyone that has a specific vision for their eCommerce site, but limited skills to pull it off on their own.
Doing it yourself may seem intimidating if you don’t know anything about web design, but using WordPress means you can skip learning code and still create your own website. With a good website builder, you can even create a professional website within hours—and some of the premium themes we highlight below function much like website builders. Even simpler themes give you a good starting point, you’ll just need to change up the text, images, and colors to match your brand.
Whichever approach you decide on, use this stage to figure out what tools, training, or people you’ll need to design your website. Figure out a rough idea of what you want it to look like, and sketch out a plan for bringing your design to fruition.
6. Choose and install your eCommerce software.
WordPress doesn’t provide all the features you need to run an eCommerce website out of the box. For that, you need to install an eCommerce plugin that provides necessary eCommerce functionality. That includes:
- A shopping cart
- Secure payment processing
- Inventory management
- eCommerce themes
- Add-ons that provide any additional functionality you want
- Integration with marketing, accounting, and analytics products
There are a lot of different ecommerce software options compatible with WordPress.
3 Top WordPress eCommerce Plugins to Consider
- WooCommerce – The most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress, WooCommerce is run by the same company that owns WordPress. WooCommerce is free and easy for beginners to use. Because of how ubiquitous it is, you can take advantage of a lot of compatible themes, add-ons, and integrations.
- WP eCommerce – Another free and popular option, WP eCommerce is also open source, which means developers are always working to create improvements and add-ons that extend the functionality. It’s easy to use, but they also offer dedicated support for a fee for any website owners that could use the extra hand holding.
- Easy Digital Downloads – For any infopreneurs planning to sell digital products rather than physical ones, Easy Digital Downloads is the primary eCommerce platform designed for that express purpose. Since it pares down features to just those you need for information products, it’s simpler to use for that purpose than the other options.
Since WooCommerce is by far the most popular option for setting up an eCommerce store in WordPress, most of our instructions below will cover how to use it to build your website. If you opt for another eCommerce plugin, the vendor should provide clear instructions for how to complete these steps within it.
7. Choose your WordPress eCommerce theme.
WordPress themes are the basic design template you build a WordPress site on. And because WordPress is such a popular CMS, you have thousands of eCommerce theme options to choose from. Some are free, and some come at a cost.
When perusing themes for your website make sure you find one that’s compatible with the eCommerce software you chose, responsive, and well suited to the website you have in mind. If you work with a graphic designer to build your website, they’ll likely have favorite themes to recommend.
Where to Find WordPress eCommerce Themes
The easiest place to find WordPress themes is within WordPress. Click on Appearance in the menu on the left side of the screen, then on Themes right beneath it. You can search for “ecommerce” to limit your options to themes built for ecommerce stores.
If you want to go with a free WordPress theme for your website, it’s imperative that you choose a theme from within the WordPress library. All of these have been vetted to ensure they’re legitimate and secure. Choosing another free option could put your website at risk of getting hacked.
In addition to the many themes available within the WordPress library, a number of companies offer premium themes. Some of the best places to find premium WordPress eCommerce themes are:
3 Great Free WordPress eCommerce Themes
If you’d like to skip browsing, here are a few popular options to consider.
The Astra theme has a perfect 5-star rating, with over 2,000 votes from users. It’s WooCommerce compatible and touted as the “fastest-growing theme of all time.”
OceanWP is free, has a perfect 5-star rating from nearly 2500 users, and provides WooCommerce compatibility.
The Rife free theme offers 7 demo layouts to choose from. It works with WooCommerce, and has a perfect 5-star rating from over 70 users.
3 Great Premium WordPress Ecommerce Themes
Divi from Elegant Themes is one of the most popular themes in the world due to its intuitive visual editor. It has drag-and-drop functionality and makes it easy to build a responsive web store. Customers get access to ecommerce layout packs that provide specific templates for different types of stores.
Shoppe from Themify comes with a drag-and-drop website builder and useful ecommerce features, like a wishlist function and gallery option. You can choose from different “skins” that provide a particular look and feel to start you with.
Avada bills itself as the #1 selling theme of all time. While it’s not exclusively for eCommerce websites, it can absolutely be put to that use. It comes with a number of pre-made web page designs and a website builder that makes customization easy.
Those are a tiny sampling of the many eCommerce themes available, so if they don’t meet your needs, get out and do some browsing. But if you’re overwhelmed by all the options available, they’re a good place to start.
8. Determine your site structure.
A well organized website is important for providing an intuitive experience to visitors. And that counts extra for eCommerce websites. You want it to be as easy as possible for visitors to find the products they like—since that’s the first step to buying them. Developing a good site hierarchy also helps with search engine optimization (SEO), which increases the likelihood of people finding your website in Google when they search for what you sell.
By defining your site structure from day one, you can keep it simple and straightforward. Figure out the main categories and subcategories (if needed) to divide your products into.
Decide which pages and categories are the most important, and should be highlighted in your main menu. For an eCommerce website, that may include your Home page, About page, top product categories, and possibly a blog or Resources category for content you create.
9. Create your main pages.
The theme you chose will supply a basic look and feel for your pages that you can customize for your brand. Two of the most important pages to create for your eCommerce website are Home and About.
Your Home page should quickly communicate to visitors what your brand is and the types of products you sell. This is a good place to put your UVP, alongside high-quality images that communicate something about your brand. It can also be used to promote your best products and highlight any promotions you have going on.
The About page is your chance to humanize the brand. You can share information about the people behind the brand, and why you do what you do. It gives you a way to connect with customers, which makes them more likely to come back and keep buying from you.
Pro tip: Optimize both pages for SEO. Give particular attention to your Home page, since it’s the most important one to rank.
10. Create your store.
The specific steps to take here will depend on which eCommerce software you chose. For those using WooCommerce, the plugin wizard takes you through the setup process step by step.
Simply provide the requested information on each page of the setup process. This will include:
- Choosing your preferred payment method. The main options are PayPal and Stripe.
- Providing shipping details. You can choose between offering free shipping or charging a flat rate within the WooCommerce app. If you want to charge full price for shipping, an additional extension is required.
You’ll also get the chance at this stage to easily link your WooCommerce with some recommended integrations, including an automated tax calculation app, MailChimp (for email marketing), Facebook, and Jetpack.
11. Add your product pages.
Each product page on your website has an important job to do: it’s where your customers decide whether or not to click that “Buy” button (or more likely, an “Add to Cart” one, but same idea).
Within WooCommerce, as soon as you finish setting up your store, the plugin suggests creating product pages as your next step. If you have your product information already saved in a csv file, you can import them. Otherwise, click the pink “Create a Product” button.
That will take you to the backend of your product page, where you’ll find fields for:
- Adding your product name
- Loading images (the “Add Media” button)
- Filling in the text of the page
- Price information
- SKU number
- Stock status
- Shipping details (weight and dimensions)
If you’re already familiar with WordPress, the page to create a product will look similar to what you use to create a new page or blog post, with an added section toward the bottom for specific product details.
Fill in all the relevant information for each product.
- Optimize for SEO – Figure out the best keyword for each product and optimize the page to rank for that keyword.
- Write customer-focused product descriptions – Find out what your customers care about by reading reviews of similar products.
- Add high-quality images – In eCommerce, people can’t see and touch items in person before buying, so a photo is the next best thing. Always include at least one high-quality image for each product. More is better.
12. Cover your bases.
Also work on a shipping and return policy to add to the site, so your customers know what to expect anytime they want to send an item back.
And absolutely invest in the proper tools to keep your website secure. Get an SSL certificate (they come free with many hosting plans). Purchase security software, such as Sitelock, that adds an extra level of protection. And make sure the payment processing option you choose delivers top-notch protection.
Any website that accepts sensitive data from customers like credit card information is a potential target for hackers. Do what you can to protect your business and the customers that trust you.
13. Set up Google Analytics.
Running an eCommerce business is an ongoing learning experience. Each new visitor and purchase tells you something about what works. In order to learn and improve as you go, you need access to rich analytics. Luckily, Google Analytics is entirely free and provides extensive data on how people interact with your website.
Adding Google Analytics to a WordPress site is simple. Simply set up your Google Analytics account to get your tracking code, install a Google Analytics plugin like MonsterInsights, and make the connection.
Phase 3: Launch!
The first two phases involve a lot of work, but you’re just getting started. Running an ecommerce website can be profitable and rewarding, but only if you’re prepared to put the time and effort into it.
Once you publish your ecommerce store to the web, making it successful means committing to a whole new list of steps.
- Stay on top of WordPress updates – Both WordPress itself and most of its plugins release new versions every so often. These usually provide security updates, as well as new features. Make a habit out of updating every time a new version’s available to protect your website.
- Do price testing – Pricing is one of the hardest parts of a new eCommerce business to get right. But there are a few different testing strategies you can try out to see what pricing level produces the most profit.
- Figure out the best shipping options – In the age of Amazon, finding the right shipping strategy is also important. If your shipping costs look too high to customers, it can lead to cart abandonment. Test out different shipping options to find the right combination of affordability and speed that keeps customers buying, but still leaves profit margins.
- Create an online marketing plan – Selling online is competitive. People will only find your website if you do online marketing. Put together a strategy using tactics like SEO, PPC (pay per click), social media, and content marketing to ensure your website reaches the right people.
- Provide customer support – Making the sale isn’t the end of your job—you want that customer to keep coming back. Make it easy for customers to get in touch when they have questions or problems and hold yourself to a high standard for customer support.
- Use your analytics to improve – A great benefit of eCommerce is that it’s easy to track things online. Regularly check Google Analytics, along with the analytics of any marketing tools you use. Use the insights they provide to improve your website design and refine your marketing strategy.
Start Making Money with Your WordPress eCommerce Site
Being an entrepreneur used to require a much bigger investment in upstart capital. The rise of eCommerce, combined with the accessibility of tools like WordPress and WooCommerce has lowered the barrier to entry.
That doesn’t mean running a successful eCommerce business is easy. You have to be willing to do your research and put in the work required to get your new business off the ground, then keep it successful over time. But if you have the gumption, work ethic, and at least a little money to invest to start out with, you can build an eCommerce website with WordPress and start selling.
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.