Steps to Building your Online Store

Ecommerce PaymentIt’s so easy to make money online, and really, its just a matter of finding something to sell! Well, that is the first layer of this onion, to use a poignant metaphor here will cut through a lot of the flowery words I would otherwise be using to describe this massive undertaking.

Building a functioning business online has so many layers and complexities to it that it can almost seem like an impossible task.

Recently, some clients decided to take their very successful business online and they came to me with their ideas and their vision.

The process seemed simple enough; Design a pretty website, pay attention to Search Engine Optimization, choose a payment gateway, a shipping module and then you were set. All the was required now was to upload the products.

Have a Product to Sell

It was certainly not as simple as that. It did indeed begin with Having a Product to Sell online. Once you have a product you need to begin cataloging the product with codes, especially when the product has variations. But what if the product was a once off? Or the design of the product only lasted so long as the fabric design was in stock? Now this aspect is really tricky. For instance, if you have a product but you only produce 5 of each kind and then you change up the design, you will quickly discover how much work it is to keep your ecommerce website current with your product.

In this instance I advised my clients to take it one step at a time. Let’s upload the products that are current and that are popular, and just upload 15 of them. So our journey began.

The challenge that all ecommerce businesses should keep in mind are naming conventions for products, product codes and naming of images. You may have so many different products that you struggle to keep up with the different SKU or product codes. These codes identify each product and with each product variation the code will also change. SKU means Stock Keeping Unit.

I realised that building an ecommerce site for my clients was not all I need to do…what was vital was that I help them manage their systems. Some businesses may come to you with perfect systems in place, but translating this to an online business is an entirely different animal. Business on the ground can be quite different to business in the cloud of what we jokingly call the “Interweb” (said with a thick Afrikaans accent).

So the first system I put in place with my clients was cataloging their products and creating product sheets as none of this was part of their on-the-ground business. These we then imported into Woocommerce and separately uploaded all the images.

Herein lies one of the biggest challenges. If you have a small business with a couple of products then you can manually create each product item as you go. Once you have hundreds of products you will need to batch import them. Woocommerce requires certain extentions to do this for you accurately.

Woocommerce Product Importer

We used Woocommerce CSV Import variable products add-on by Allaerd Mensonides. This is a premium plugin, which means it is not for free, however it is worth what you pay in light of the headache it saves you. However setting up the product sheets to run properly with all the fields and variations was a challenge, as the instructions were more simplified on the plugin website. Here is an example of the product sheet headings that we used to import multiple products and their variations. You are welcome to use this as a guideline but you will need to test this first.


Products and Variations

If you are unclear about what variations are they are the alternative options for your product. A T Shirt variation might be a variation of Size and Color. Tshirt A has size Small, Medium, Large and colors Red, Green, Blue. These variations need to be configured so that they form their own product field in the product sheet and have their own product code. They need to be treated as an individual product. So altogether in this example their are 9 variations of the Tshirt product, being: Small Red, Green, Blue; Medium Red, Green, Blue; Large Red, Green, Blue. Suddenly not so simple and many options to add to the product sheet.

I will go into further detail regarding the product sheets in a future post.

For now, it would be important to add that emailing the product sheets back and forth between my clients and I became a task in itself and required a simper system. For instance if I made an amendment to the product sheet and mailed this to the client, they would have already setup more products on the original product sheet, and explaining the changes and fields became a messy process.

Google Drive

I set up Google Drive for my clients. Now this is not, one would think, the task of the web developer, however it became pertinent to me that without my assistance this online store of my client’s would become overwhelming if I did not dive in and assist them with tools to more easily relay information between myself and them.

So I setup Google Drive for them using the gmail email and password. It is vital to keep all your Google Tools under one roof so to speak. Google analytics, gmail, google drive, google docs etc should all be hosted under the same gmail account simply for easier access and ease of use. Try to set up your business gmail account and related tools separately to your personal gmail account.

In Google Drive I setup their Google Doc Woocommerce Product Sheet. Now they or I could add to the product sheet without emails and version changes and updates to headings to detail the amendment or draft thereof.

This is setup as an excel spreadsheet. You would need to download the spreadsheet and convert it to a .csv file extention to import this into woocommerce. Fortunately you can import the same product sheet with new additions as you go and Woocommerce will not create duplicates of your products.

Payment Gateways and Shipping Modules

Once all the products were uploaded and we were happy with the design the choices became about the best Payment Gateway and there are a number of great ones to choose from for South African e-commerce websites and the easiest would be to google these and read up about them. It is best to go with a payment gateway that can integrate with your shopping plugin. Lots of the major payment gateways have become add-ons for Woocommerce, or you can pay for the extension.

Post Office or not to Post Office, that is the question…whilst really affordable they have not been very reliable and websites that rely on the Post Office for shipping products could find themselves in a pickle.

Once all these elements have nicely come together and your site is live and of course you love your client’s products, it is a wonderful feeling to make the first online sale and see the process seamlessly evolve.

Wishing you the best of luck with your Ecommerce Website.

The First Step