Selling with WordPress – Bookswarm’s guide to e-commerce

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Bookswarm has built its business around WordPress, the Open Source Content Management System (CMS) that began life as a simple blogging platform. One of the things we’re increasingly being asked by clients to work on is e-commerce, and with the range of options widening we thought we’d provide a quick tour of some of the solutions out there.

Quick and cheap

If your requirement is simply for ad-hoc selling, maybe of a limited edition product or event tickets, this can be achieved without any fuss using GravityForms and its PayPal add-in. GravityForms is a brilliant form-building plugin for WordPress, and once you have a PayPal Payments Standard or Pro account, you can make any form an order form.

PayPal handles the money and GravityForms can generate the order acknowledgment to the customer and the e-mail to your team with details of the new order. Great if you need e-commerce in a hurry, but still perfectly professional.

We have set up these kind of forms to sell event passes and short-run publications, but with the power of GravityForms you could sell almost anything, including providing product customisation options.

WooCommerce for the win

woocommerceWooCommerce is the daddy of WordPress ecommerce plugins – and since its acquisition by Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com, it’s now more than ever the leading choice.

The first thing to know about WooCommerce is that the core software is free. Out of the box it provides a full, searchable catalogue, basket, checkout, customer account, stock control, support for virtual and downloadable products, a range of approaches to shipping costs and many more features besides. And if you only want to use PayPal to process payments, that’s built-in too.

Some extensions do cost: a wide range of payment processors are supported – for example SagePay, WorldPay, Stripe – but typically an extension costing around $79 is required to use them. A vast array of premium extensions is available, both from Woo themselves and from third parties. Want to offer ‘buy two, get one free’? There’s an extension for that. Want to sell memberships which offer discounts on products? There’s an extension for that too. Almost any kind of promotional pricing scenario you can think of has been catered for already. You can even sell DRM-protected eBooks directly from within WooCommerce using EditionGuard (and yes, the dreaded MOSS regime is covered too).

And because WooCommerce is grown-up software with its own Application Programming Interface (API), it can be integrated with all kinds of external systems. Bookswarm has built plugins to import product data from retail system Merlio and from bibliographic data providers BooksoniX and Biblio, and to send details of completed orders to Combined Book Services and Gardners; integrations with Macmillan Distribution and other UK book distributors are currently underway.

Bookswarm has built WooCommerce-based shops for Grub Street, Robert Hale, and retailer Belgravia Books, and we currently have three more in the pipeline. If you’re looking to sell a meaningful inventory of products, and especially if you need to make your shop talk to other parts of your supply chain, WooCommerce may well be an option worth exploring.

Snip, snip – shortcode-based solutions

logo-snipcartWe have been very interested to see the emergence of a new type of e-commerce solution in the last year or so. These ‘shortcode’ based solutions are designed to be easily and quickly integrated in to existing websites, and would work extremely well with WordPress, especially if integrated in to an existing product catalogue.

What is a shortcode?
A shortcode is a WordPress-specific code that lets you do nifty things with very little effort. Shortcodes can embed files or create objects that would normally require lots of complicated, ugly code in just one line. Shortcode = shortcut.

In essence they rely on the insertion of a couple of lines of code in to an existing site: one snippet (in every page) adds support for a basket and checkout to the whole site; the second (one shortcode per product) handles the creation of the ‘Buy’ buttons.

One such provider is Shoprocket and another is Snipcart. While Shoprocket requires you to add details of each of your products to its system, Snipcart doesn’t need that extra step – so a website built on a database of products already (title, ISBN and price) could be up and running as a shop in very little time indeed. For publishers wanting to dip a toe in to the waters of e-commerce, such solutions could be an excellent, and speedy way to find out what the appetite for direct sales is from their audience.

We’ve even heard tell of a startup who are creating a shortcode-based retail solution especially geared towards publishers – so we look forward to being able to say more about that in the future.

More than one way to sell

Of course these three approaches aren’t the only ones out there – but they represent a spectrum from ad-hoc to fully-featured that will cover the needs of a great many publishers and even authors who wish to sell directly – perhaps selling signed stock or limited editions.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss any of these options.

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