Set Up an E-commerce Site Quickly with a WordPress Plug-in [con't]
WP e-Commerce Admin Module
The best part of this plug-in is that is makes your e-commerce site extremely simple to manage. It doesn't allow you to do as many things as Magento would. This solution is not meant for someone who needs a fancy shopping cart site. In a few hours, you can have a functional e-Commerce Web site up, but styling the front end can take a little longer.
Suppose Jason's girlfriend Lucy loves painting t-shirts. She has been painting free ones for friends, and Jason decides to build a Web site to sell her t-shirts. Jason has already set up WordPress and installed WP e-Commerce. He is using the Crafty Cart theme. He logs into the admin section of WordPress and clicks on Products. He is taken to the Sales report page, which currently doesn't have any orders. When orders for Lucy's t-shirts start coming in, this is the page where all the orders will be listed.
For now, Lucy paints only t-shirts, but if this venture succeeds, she would like to expand to painted hats, pants and God knows what else. Jason clicks on the Categories link in the left sidebar. This is where you define your catalog structure. Products show up under a category. In Lucy's case, she sells three types of t-shirt: for guys, for girls and for children. So Jason defines three categories for the three types.
In the Variations section, Jason will define the variations that are available for a given product. For t-shirts, there are two variations: the size and the color. T-shirts come in large, medium and small sizes and in various colors that Lucy can get from her supplier.
Having defined the categories and variations, Jason is ready to create the products. He clicks on Products. On the right, he finds an empty form that he needs to fill in to add a product. At first he's a little scared of the huge number of fields that he needs to fill in for each product, but he doesn't need to fill in every box to launch the site -- just the important ones.
The first few fields are rather self-explanatory. Stock Keeping Unit is a number/alpha-numeric string that is unique for each product on your site. The difference between price and sale price is that the former is the cost at which Lucy sources the material and her cost of painting it. If she sells the T-shirt below that price, she loses money on that sale. Sale price is the price that is displayed to the visitor and should be above the price. Jason can also choose to display a different price if the user wants to buy the products in Euros instead of the default, which Jason sets to US Dollars.
The box below the prices is where you enter the description of the product. It will show up below the product name. Additional Description will be displayed when the user clicks on "read more" for the product.
A product can show up under more than one category. For example, some T-shirt designs are unisex; they should show up for guys as well as girls. So under "Categories and Tags", Jason will check the categories under which he wants the product to display. For each product, Jason can assign certain tags that will be used when a user searches the site for a product. These tags will be helpful in driving traffic to the product from search engines. The tags for a product should be the keywords that describe the product.
The variations that were defined in the variations tab show up here and Jason can assign the specific variations for this product in the variation box. In the Product Images box, he can upload one or more photos of the t-shirts.
The default shipping details will be defined in the Settings tab, but if a product has a different shipping rate then Jason will specify it here. If the shipping rate is based on the weight of the product, then he will need to specify the weight of the product here.
If Lucy decides to sell digital media like music or graphics on her site, Jason will upload the files in the Product Download box.
Jason is very excited about the e-commerce Web site that he has built for Lucy. After adding the products, he checks the front end of the site and finds that the products are already showing up. Jason has done great work, but before he shows Lucy the site, he needs to understand the settings tab better.
Under the settings tab, you configure several parameters for your shopping cart. Most of the options don't need an explanation, but I will go through the important ones.
Under General, you can set the default currency and the format in which your currency is displayed. The Base country/region and Target Markets will be used internally for marketing your site to the search engines in those specific countries. If you are not sure, select all the countries as target markets.
The Presentation tab is where you set up the UI of the catalog page. Some of the features here (like the search option) are available only if you bought the commercial version of the plug-in.
The Shipping tab lets you customize your shipping options. If Lucy were selling only digital content, then Shipping wouldn't apply, but as she sells painted t-shirts, Jason will have to configure the shipping options. WP e-Commerce provides quite a flexible shipping calculator. You can calculate based on rate slabs and weight slabs. If you are shipping with USPS or UPS, you can tie into their online systems and if you enter the tracking number into your system, a customer will be able to track the status of his or her order from within your site.
One of the great things of using WP e-Commerce is the variety of payment gateways that it supports. It takes only a few minutes to configure the gateway options.
I must agree that entering many products through the products tab can be a pain. To compensate for that, the plug-in allows you to import a CSV file containing all the products. However, you will have to go to the products tab to upload the images for each product.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a few upgrades available at a premium price. The most useful upgrade is the Gold Cart & Grid Module. It lets you display your products in a grid view and upload multiple images for each product. It also adds the all-important search functionality to your shopping cart. I strongly recommend that you purchase and install this upgrade for every instance of the plug-in.
In terms of features, the WP e-Commerce plug-in is no competition for the likes of Magento and OSCommerce, but if you are willing to sacrifice a little bit on the feature list, it is a great choice. The one thing that I really miss in the plug-in is support for multiple languages. The developers do claim to be working on multilingual support for one of the upcoming versions. When that is included, I think WP e-Commerce can become a really powerful e-commerce solution.