In the last installment of this column, I talked about some of the different “platforms” available to you if you want to build your own website or blog. We mentioned WordPress, which is, of course, massively popular. We also talked about some of the easier-to-use systems that are hosted for you, rather than you handling this side of things yourself: Wix, Weebly and the super user-friendly Strikingly.
A fourth brilliant option that’s hosted for you is Squarespace. If you want a website that looks really, really slick, this is definitely the platform for you. Have a look at the templates here, if you’re not convinced! Of course, the “designer” look offered by Squarespace will mean that it’s not suitable for everyone, but for those who do want to project an ultra-modern, cutting-edge look, Squarespace may be ideal. It’s a sophisticated platform, but works intuitively, making it a breeze to learn, and the platform allows you a great deal of freedom to create whatever kind of website you need, working within its range of templates.
Now let’s look at some e-commerce options. “E-commerce” is simply when a website owner is selling something from their website and the purchaser makes the sale online. The simplest way of selling from your website is to put a PayPal “Buy Now” button on your website that the purchaser can click on and pay for your product or service via the PayPal interface. This works for people who are selling just one, or maybe a few items, from their website. But most people who want to sell a variety of products will want a proper online store-type display to show them off.
Wix, Weebly and Strikingly all offer a built-in e-commerce feature. If e-commerce is your main activity you might find your needs aren’t met by these fairly simple webstore setups. But, alternatively, you may be looking for something straightforward and very easy to configure, in which case, you should certainly take a look at what they offer.
Squarespace offers a much more sophisticated, full-featured webstore system. There’s a massive drawback, though, for those of us living in France. The only payment system you can use with it is Stripe, and at the time of writing, Stripe isn’t available globally; so we in France can’t use Squarespace for our online stores! We can still use Squarespace as a store by adding PayPal buttons or using a “widget” that integrates a different webstore provider with the Squarespace site — but it’s a huge pity that global users can’t take advantage of the full-featured, streamlined, built-in e-commerce system that Squarespace has on offer.
For those of you who want to set up a store using self-hosted WordPress, this is indeed possible, seeing as one can do pretty much anything with a WordPress site! To turn a WordPress site into an e-commerce store you need to install an e-commerce plugin. You may come across others, but the plugin most-used at the moment is WooCommerce, and seeing as it’s recently been acquired by the company behind WordPress itself, it’s likely to remain the best choice.
(You just install WooCommerce (free) from within your admin area — search for it in the “Plugins” section. There are hundreds of beautiful themes you can use that are designed to work with WooCommerce, by the way; you aren’t restricted simply to those made by WooThemes, the developers of WooCommerce.)
At this point I would like to introduce a word of warning regarding setting up your webstore via WordPress. I am not convinced that it’s the best choice for the “Do-It-Yourself” website builder. It’s likely that you may want to purchase extra “extensions” (add-ons) to make WooCommerce function as you want it to (for example, for bookings or recurring payments) and this increases the risk of conflicts causing things to not work quite as they should. On top of this is the extra worry of security and making sure you are PCI-compliant. This means operating according to the law in terms of keeping data you collect from your purchasers secure; you may end up having to install, and pay for, another plugin to make sure you’re conforming to these regulations.
A further consideration is the cost, which is likely to increase as you may have to purchase yearly licenses to continue running any add-ons, and support to go with them. Of course, all this is up to the individual website-owner to weigh up, but there’s my word of warning!
So what is my best recommendation for setting up an e-commerce store? I’ll tell you that next time.
If you have any questions, please write them in the comments box below, and if you have any specific topics you’d like me to address in this column, do go ahead and ask!