Update: as of Aug 21, 2012, the Scandle Candle site below is no longer using WooCommerce so I removed the link since it is no longer an example of a WooCommerce Site. Due to a number of Woo issues including the fact that I was never able to successfully upgrade to WooCommerce v2.0 so we moved it to BigCommerce.
Original Post form May 30, 2012
I’m a big fan of tools such as WordPress that enable entrepreneurs. I was excited to learn about Woocommerce, an updated version of the popular WordPress ecommerce plugin by Jigoshop. It just so happened that a few friends needed a new site for their massage candle business so I offered to rebuild the site using WordPress, Woocommerce and a slew of plugins. My goal was to get this new site live within 30 days working an “hour-or-so” per day.
I’m not a developer, designer nor a system admin but I know enough of each to get me in trouble. In order to stretch myself further I decided to get this out on the amazon cloud. You can read about my challenges with the Bitnami WordPress AMI. While this added a bit of complexity to the solution, I learned a great deal about the cloud, WordPress AMIs, etc..
I decided to leverage a WordPress multisite install that was already using for several other sites. Looking back, I should have probably installed a separate WordPress instance for this site, just to keep it clean and minimize the complexity. Also not all plugins support multi-site WP installs so that created an additional challenge.
After installing and configuring a few themes I ultimately landed on the Shelflife Woocommerce theme with a blue background.
- Take some time to understand the taxonomy of woocommerce – products, categories, attributes, variations, etc… This can become very complex if you have products with many options. One product originally planned to sell had 3 options with 14 variations each – over 2700 separate skus. Ultimately I decided to simplify that product.
- Do some research upfront to locate plugins for all the features you need. It can be a bit maddening to get 95% into the product and realize there is no plugin to handle a key feature. Then you’ll need to find a developer to create it.
- Make sure the site speed is good before you start adding all your products, posts, etc.. I assumed that I could go back and optimize stuff later only to find out its much more difficult at the end of the project. Since the site is too slow for my taste, I’ll be basically rebuilding it on a new wordpress ami.
- Keep all your featured images the same aspect ratio. This ensures that the images for product lists all line up appropriately.
WordPress Plugins Utilized
Store Locator Plus – I needed to support a retail locator for several hundred outlets and Store Locator Plus fit the bill. I ultimately upgraded to the pro pack for $30 in save myself time by uploading hundreds of stores from a CSV file.
Google XML Sitemaps with MultiSite support – Submitting every page to the Google search engine is important so I used this Google XML sitemap generator and uploaded it into google webmaster.
Peter’s Login Redirect – One shortcoming of WordPress and Woocommerce themes are the logout and password resend features that send you back to the main wordpress login and password resend pages. This simple plugin redirects the user to a specific page on logout so I just redirect them back to the main page of the site. I still need to find a solution for the password resend.
W3 Total Cache – The new site was dog slow – and it still is. I used the popular W3 Total Cache plugin to help a bit. Unfortunately, the woocommerce engine isn’t too “cache friendly” so it didn’t help much. Ultimately I have another solution to speed things up.
BC Forms – One goal for the new site was to automate some of the back-end processes. While I’m not a big fan of Big Contacts, the team was already using it so I needed the contact forms to integrate directly into BC. This plugin has some fairly significant issues but I was able to make it work eventually.
Woocommerce – Obviously I needed to utilize an commerce plugin to create a store based on WordPress. WP-Commerce and Jigoshop are two other options. I’ve tried neither and both have mixed reviews.
Woocommerce Paypal Pro Gateway – I prefer to use paypal for all my business ventures and this was no exception. The Woocomemrce Paypal Pro gateway served all my needs and the integration was fairly simple.
WooCommerce Print Invoice/Packing list – Our fulfillment partner preferred print an invoice directly form our admin and send it with the order. I found this nifty plugin that handled the task.
WooCommerce Wholesale Pricing – As well direct-to-consumer sales, the site is also utilized by retailers who purchase products at wholesale prices. This plugin enabled me to create wholesale pricing for each product and product variation.
WooCommerce Google Product Feed – As of today I haven’t been able to get this to work but supposedly it’ll allow me to create an XML feed of the products for the Google marketplace.
Configure SMTP – Amazon cloud servers typically block all email from sending directly off the server. Therefore, I needed an SMTP plugin to send WordPress email through another server. Initially I set up Amazon Simple Email Send (SES) with this plugin but oddly enough the Woocommerce emails wouldn’t go through it. I attempted to solve via Woo and the Configure SMTP developer but they both pointed me to Amazon as the issue. Ultimately I just used GoDaddy as the SMTP relay.
Contact Form 7 – One of the best “contact us” forms but it might have been a bit overkill since I used BC Forms for my more complex integration with Big Contacts.
Simple 301 Redirects – Moving from an older established, non-wordpress site with hundreds of links requires redirects to ensure that the old pages redirect to the new page on the new site. Ultimately these should probably reside in the htaccess (or nginx equivalent) but this was a quick and dirty solution.
Simplr User Registration Form Plus – To support the wholesale purchase accounts I needed a simple solution to create and activate these accounts. I uncovered an issue with the standard wordpress user account creation, email send and activation process. Clicking the link in the activation email just displayed a blank screen. This may have been an issue with the theme but I located this simple plugin that allowed users to create their own standard account. Then just change the role of the account on the back-end.
WP Super FAQ – I needed a good FAQ plugin and this did the trick!
Update on 9/13/12
- I finally got the abodycandle.com site moved to a new Amazon Machine Instance (AMI) optimized for WordPress using nginx. This is our home-grown AMI that we’ll be making available through RipCloud after further testing. The site is now about 4x faster on a micro instance than it was on the bitnami small instance. Also saved me about $50/mo.
Check out the latest update to my Woocommerce journey with my WooCommerce v2.0 post.