Building an Online Business with WooCommerce

Building an Online Business with WooCommerce
May 12, 2014 GB

Building an e-commerce website does require a number of additional considerations beyond what is needed for a non-commerce website. In addition to your website’s brand, design, structure and content, you also need to consider how the commerce aspects of your business are going to work, from end to end.

There are a number of business factors to consider; such as:

  • how your products are displayed and sold
  • payment options and transaction processing
  • order processing and fulfilment
  • shipping and taxation
  • content management
  • marketing and promotions.

We will cover some of the above at least briefly, but our focus in Part One will be on Payment Options and Product Catalogue.

WooCommerce Payment Options

Default WooCommerce payment options:

  • PayPal Standard (customers can use either existing PayPal credit – if they have a PayPal account – or their credit card. A PayPal account is not required to use this option) This is a real-time hosted payment gateway.
  • Direct Debitat check out the customer is given your bank details so they may make a payment directly to your bank account.
  • Chequeat check out the customer is given your address and other details for sending for payment by cheque.

Additional WooCommerce Payment options:

  • Credit card – using a WooCommerce Extension you easily install additional payments gateways that provide various forms of online credit card payment processing.

The following is a general guide to the online credit card payment options available in New Zealand.

Setting Up a Merchant Account

To receive payment to your business by credit card, you need to have a merchant account. Typically this can be arranged through your bank.

Factors to consider when setting up a merchant accounts include:

  • Merchant service fees / ‘discount’ fee
  • Merchant account transaction fees

Merchant service fees vary from bank-to-bank and can include:

  • a one-time set-up / application processing fee
  • fixed monthly service fee
  • transaction fees (often charged as a percentage of each purchase)
  • minimum monthly order fee

Application process

Banks typically require information about your business to process a merchant account application, including: business credit history, product / service description, and market.

Merchant Account / Services Information

The following links are to the websites of New Zealand banks and associated organisations that provide merchant accounts.

Bank-independant Merchant Accounts

There are also companies that provide a combined merchant account and payment gateway service (see below), and are independent of a New Zealand bank.

Examples include:

  • Flo2Cash (formerly PayNZ)
  • WorldPay Payment Gateway
  • PayPal

Payment Processing Models

Once a customer has fully completed check out from your site, including making a credit card payment, there are two main models for how those payments are then processed; they are ‘Real-time Payment’ and ‘Deferred Payment’.

Your merchant account provider should offer one or both methods, and making the right choice depends on your business and the products you sell.

Real-time Payment

With real-time payment processing, funds are transferred to your account when the customer confirms their order. This model suits businesses with large stock-holdings, and who only allow products that are currently in-stock to be purchased on-line.

Real-time processing is often the preferred method when a business is selling virtual products, such as e-books or music (files). The benefit of real-time payment is that an order is only processed / actioned after payment has been made.

Deferred Payment

With deferred payment, you process the credit card transaction ‘manually’ (typically via a web-based terminal), once the order has been filled. This model suits businesses that might need to back-order products, or who carry seasonal stock. Rather than having to manage fund reversals (charge-backs) for products that cannot be supplied when the order is placed, payment can be processed as each part of the order is filled.

Payment Gateways

A payment gateway is a service (provided by a third-party) that authorises credit card payments made from your website to your merchant account.

Factors to consider when evaluating payment gateway services include:

  • one-time payment gateway set-up fee
  • annual or monthly account/administration fees
  • transaction fees (often charged as a fixed rate and/or a percentage of each purchase)
  • alternative payment processing options (for example, the option of processing credit card payment using an EFTPOS terminal)
  • security

Payment Gateway Service Providers

New Zealand payment gateway service providers include:

Note that not all of the above payment gateways have a WooCommerce extension available.

New Zealand Gateway Extensions for WooCommerce

Following are a few of the more popular WooCommerce payment gateways extensions which accept credit card payments (in NZD) to a New Zealand bank.

Payment Gateway Processing Types

Payment Gateways now offer a multitude of different processing types and products. However, when using WooCommerce you typically use one of two common processing types:

“Hosted” Payment Solution

This is the simplest option, and the most cost effective.

This kind of payment is very common on small and medium sized stores, as the transaction costs are relatively low and there is no need for your site to run under SSL.

When a customer checks out they are re-directed to the payment gateway’s website to complete the payment. Once the customer has provided credit card details and made payment, they are re-directed back to your website where they see an order confirmation page.

“Direct” Processing

With direct processing your customers stay on your website to complete the payment, there is no re-directing to another site and the payment process is usually faster and a little easier.

It’s important to remember that – even with a direct processing payment gateway – credit card details are not stored anywhere in your WordPress database at any time, but they are transmitted from your website to the payment gateway, and this requires – at a minimum – SSL encryption. Generally, using a direct gateway does require a higher level of server security be implemented on your website, and it may also require a level of PCI compliance. If you want to avoid this, then use a hosted gateway which handles the payment process for you. For more information on PCI compliance see:

Choosing the right Payment Gateway provider and Payment Processing Type depends on your type of business, products, budget, sales volume and other factors.


SSL is an encryption technology used on the web to enable the transmission of sensitive data. Running your website under SSL is only required if you use a direct  processing gateway on your site, however — we recommend that all e-commerce sites run under SSL regardless.

Whilst not strictly necessary, this does provide an added level of security and boosts customer confidence. Even if you are not processing payments on-site, you are always capturing, transmitting and storing customer personal information (their name, email, address etc.) – therefore, SSL is  recommended for every WooCommerce project. Depending on your business, you may also need to consider PCI compliance.

Customers and Accounts

WooCommerce allows both guest checkout and membership checkout. This allows you to easily set up your shop in three common configurations:

  • Guest checkout
  • Guest checkout with optional membership sign up, or
  • Forced membership sign up at checkout.

Guest Checkout

A customer simply provides their address and payment details and checks out. No specific customer account is created, this is similar to doing a “cash sale”.

Membership Checkout

A customer can opt to create an account at check out. The customer can then login to their account at any time to check order history and change address details. With an optional WooCommerce extension it is also possible for customers to re-order past orders from their sales history.

Note that regardless of the customer account type, credit card details are never stored within these WordPress based user accounts, in fact WordPress never records any credit card details.

WooCommerce Pages / Templates

The actual site map varies depending on the project and type of store, but the following are a list of default WooCommerce pages, and also some recommended standard content pages.

These should all be taken into consideration when building your site map, and your website designer and content manager should refer to these also.

WooCommerce Pages

  • Shop Base Page
    This is the shop ‘Homepage’, this usually shows either a list of all products, or a list of product categories.
  • Cart Page
    This page shows the current contents of a customers cart
  • Check Out page
    This is where the customer finalises their order, adds their address and other personal details, or optionally log into their account if they already have one
  • Check Out Payment page
    Depending on the payment gateway in use, this page may or may not be used.
  • Thanks / Order Received page
    This is the page where the customers see the confirmation message about their transaction.
  • My Account page
    For members this is their Account “homepage” they see when they login.
  • Edit Address page
    Where members add and edit their billing and shipping addresses
  • View Order page
    Where members view current and past orders
  • Change Password Page
    Where members can update their account password

Other Recommended Pages

  • Home Page – pretty obvious this one. Most WooCommerce themes include a nicely customised homepage.
  • About Page
  • Contact Us Page
  • Store Policy and Customer Information Pages*
  • Shipping information, options and costs
  • Payment options
  • Product warranty and returns policy
  • Privacy statement
  • General terms and conditions
  • Other content pages as required by the project.

* These are essential to provide your customer with important information about shopping on your site. Research has shown that sites which do not provide clear and easily accessible information have significantly reduced checkout rates. The more informed and the fewer surprises your customers encounter – the higher your check-out rate.

Product Catalogue

To start selling your products online, you need to build a product catalogue with all your data for the products you wish to sell. The best approach to building your catalogue will vary depending on the type of products you sell and the number of different products you have.  With WooCommerce there are essentially two ways to create and edit your product data: you can use the WordPress Admin, or you can import product data from a spreadsheet (.csv).

For completely new product catalogues, its often best to start building your product data in a spreadsheet, import that into WooCommerce, and then fine-tune the data using the WordPress Admin.

If you have an existing website you should be able to export that data, which can then be used as a starting point for the new WooCommerce product catalogue. We can provide you with a template spreadsheet file with all the columns set up to help get going.

There are also some superb WooCommerce extensions available which greatly enhance the built in WordPress Administration features, giving you even more powerful stock control and the ability to edit product data in bulk.

When you build your product data, you typically begin with:

  • Product Title
  • Product description
  • Price
  • Sale Price
  • Image(s)
  • Product Categories
  • Product Attributes
  • SKU code
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Stock level
  • Shipping information

Other common fields are

  • Up Sells
  • Cross Sells
  • Tax information
  • Product Tags
  • SEO information

Product Types

There are a number of different product types available in WooCommerce. The most common two are:

Simple Products

Simple Products can be used for physical products, services and subscriptions (“Virtual”) or e-books and other software (“Downloadable”).

Variable Products

Product Variations are important for any products which require different pricing and / or stock levels, based on a Product Attribute.

For example …

Let’s say you have an Acme Office Desk for sale, available in 1m, or 1.4m length. The 1.4m ones are $250, while the 1.4m are $295.00. Rather than creating multiple products, you create a product called “Acme Office Desk”, and then create two variations, based on the Product Attribute ‘Length’. You then modify the price, stock level and other details for each Variation as required.

When a customer views the Acme Office Desk product page, they see a drop-down menu labelled “Length:”, from which they can select either 1m, or 1.4m. Once the customer make their selection, the price and other details are updated on the page, and the customer can add the product to their cart.

Product Categories

These are broad, top level categories, like ‘Desks’, and ‘Chairs’ and ‘Book Cases’. A product can be in multiple categories. Browsing categories is a common way for people to search your store.

Product Attributes

These are definable additional attributes you can set up, which all products can use. Typical Attributes are: ‘Size‘, ‘Colour‘, ‘Material‘, ‘Brand‘, ‘Country of Manufacture‘ etc.  When you create an Attribute – such as “Size” – you then define the options available in that Attribute – such as “S”, “M”, “L”, “XL”.

Product Attributes are very flexible. Product Attributes can be used to define Variable Products (see above), or they can simply be used to define additional product meta data.

It’s important to realise that when customers browse your online store – it is Categories and Attributes that are the most common ways to search and filter products.

Stock Levels

With Stock Management enabled you can set a low-stock threshold, and set whether out-of-stock items should be visible in your store.

WooCommerce won’t allow you to sell a product that isn’t in stock and will highlight products that are running low on stock in the WordPress Admin.

Recommended WooCommerce Product Extensions

Through the addition of a few WooCommerce Extensions, it’s possible to add some superb, enterprise-level features to your online store:

Taxation and Shipping Options

When you configure your WooCommerce website there are three options that must be set:

  • Base Country / Region
    Where your business is located. Tax rates will be based on this country.
  • Currency
    Sets the currency that prices are displayed in, and the currency that the payment gateway will process the sale in.
  • Allowed Countries
    These are the countries that you ship / sell to.

The particulars of your taxation and shipping options will vary depending on the type of products you sell, the regions you ship to and other factors.

For consumer product sites with relatively small and inexpensive shipping costs – it’s often best to offer free shipping (perhaps for sales over a certain amount).

Tax Options

Assuming your business is based in New Zealand and your products attract GST on sales – you simply create a single Tax Rate in WooCommerce called “GST”, and set a value of 15%.

If you sell overseas, you can then use the included Tax Rate “Zero Rate” for all countries except New Zealand.

You can also ensure that your Tax Rate is applied to shipping costs.

Much more complicated Tax Rate configurations are possible, based on countries / states and also on post / ZIP codes.

Shipping Options

By default WooCommerce supports the following shipping options:

  • Flat Rate
    Flat rates let you define a standard rate per item, or per order.
  • International Delivery
    Specific options for International sales
  • Local Delivery
    Local delivery is a simple shipping method for delivering orders locally.
  • Free Shipping
    You can enable free shipping to some or all countries. Optionally you can allow this only to orders over a given value, or to those customers with a coupon code.
  • Local Pickup
    Local pickup is a simple method which allows the customer to pick up their order themselves.

Shipping Classes

In The WordPress Admin, you assign one or more Shipping Classes to each Shipping Option. You can define the Shipping Classes based on the products and services you use from your shipping company, for example you might have two Shipping Classes: “Normal Delivery”, and “Express Delivery”.

A number of WooCommerce Extensions are also available to add further options and features to the shipping and handling aspects of WooCommerce.

There are also some extensions available to auto-calculate shipping costs at checkout by using the shipping companies web service to retrieve costs in real-time, based on the weight and dimensions of the products in the cart.

I hope this article has been of some use, if you need more information check out the WooThemes website or contact us and we’ll try to help.