Guide to Setting up E-Commerce on WordPress: 4 Things You Absolutely Need to Start Selling Online

Guide to Setting up E-Commerce on WordPress: 4 Things You Absolutely Need to Start Selling Online

Creating an online store is a process that may seem mysterious and complicated when you first look at it. This guide will help to simplify the process and get you selling in no time. If you want to use WordPress to manage your e-commerce operation, then we’ll take you there from start to finish.

There are two ways to sell on your website. The quickest way is to add a “Buy Now” button, which is linked to your account with PayPal or another payment processer. The transaction will then take place at the payment processor’s website and not on your own.

The second way to sell on your website is to use your payment gateway’s API to process transactions directly on your website. This means that when the customer checks out, everything happens on your website. This is preferable to the customer getting redirected to another site for the purchase. It’s this second process that we’re going to focus on in this tutorial. So let’s take the guesswork out of it and walk through the four main elements that you will need for an effective e-commerce setup.

1. Merchant Account

A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows your business to accept payments by debit or credit cards. This is not your own business bank account. You will need to acquire a merchant account. You may be able to get one through your bank, but sometimes this isn’t easy for a small business. More than likely you will need to go through an intermediary for an internet merchant account. When selecting a merchant account provider, you’ll want to research and compare fees among them, make sure they offer a guarantee, as well quality support and policies that suit your business’ needs.

2. Payment Gateway

A payment gateway is an e-commerce service that authorizes payments for online businesses. It handles the technical part of the transaction processing, similar to the way a physical POS (point-of-sale) terminal would do so onsite for a retailer.

Some merchant accounts come complete with their own payment gateways. However, the gateways may not be compatible with your shopping cart, so you’ll need to make sure that you’re not getting set up with some obscure gateway that no cart will support. Also, you don’t have to use your merchant account provider’s gateway. You can select one on your own. You are probably safest selecting from one of the most widely-used gateways, such as PayPal,, Google Checkout, 2CheckOut, or Amazon Payments.

We can’t necessarily recommend which would be best for you because each business will have different needs and varying volumes of transaction. However, we can offer a few tips to help you with the selection process.

Tips for Selecting a Payment Gateway:

  • Easy to Integrate with WordPress – Do a little research to make sure that your payment gateway will be easy to set up with WordPress. It’s helpful to already know which plugin you’ll be working with to provide your shopping cart, as you’ll need your gateway to be supported by the shopping cart you use.
  • Performance and Reliability – You’ll want to choose a payment gateway that is known for rock solid reliability, as you don’t want their service to go down when your customers are trying to make purchases.
  • Security -Your customer’s information must be safe with the gateway that is processing your credit cards. Therefore, you want to make sure that the provider follows industry standards for encryption and security protocols.
  • Support – Select a payment gateway that is known for providing excellent support, because it will be taking a percentage of your sales. Make sure that they will be able to answer any of your questions and swiftly handle support issues if anything goes wrong.

3. SSL Certificate

SSL stands for “Secure Socket Layer”. SSL certificates are used to confirm the identity of a website or server, encrypt data during transmission, and ensure the integrity of transmitted data.

If you’re processing transactions on your website, you will need to have an SSL Certificate. Ordinarily, this is something that you obtain from your host. If you do not purchase it from your host, you can usually get your hosting provider to install the certificate for you. For most sites, an SSL certificate will generally be in the range of $20 to $80 a year, depending on your needs.

4. Shopping Cart

There are many shopping carts for WordPress available and the one you choose will depend on the complexity of the functionality your store requires and what gateway you intend to use to process your payments. You have many to choose from in both the free and premium categories and I suggest that you make a checklist of everything you’re hoping for your cart to do before settling on a plugin.

What to Look For in a WordPress Shopping Cart Plugin

  • Updated for the latest version of WordPress – This is important for security reasons as well as a sign that there is an active development community surrounding the plugin to continue to improve it.
  • Ease of Implementation – If you’re setting up your store yourself, then you’ll want a shopping cart plugin that is basically plug and play, unless you have decent experience with PHP.
  • Payment Gateways Supported – You will either choose your cart based on what payment gateway you’re planning to use or choose your gateway based on what your cart supports. In either scenario, you’ll want to verify which gateways are supported.
  • Design of the Cart – If the shopping cart you select is very unattractive right out of the box, then you’ll need to spend a lot of time theming it and it will take you more time to get off the ground.
  • Documentation and Professional Support -You’ll want to select a cart that has decent documentation and support for customizations you want to add now and in the future. While your store may be a simple setup at first, you want the ability to expand as necessary.


The bottom line is that if you have a website dedicated to selling online and you don’t accept credit cards, then you’re losing massive amounts of business and opportunities to further brand your products and services.

Certainly, the ease of simply adding a “Buy Now” button that redirects you to an offsite payment gateway is probably much less time consuming to set up. However, in this scenario you will lose your ability to keep your branding consistent throughout the purchasing process. Why sacrifice your traffic for a little convenience? This is your website and you want it to be as professional and effective a tool as possible. If you put a a little more effort into how your online store is set up, you’ll have total branding control over your transactions, as well as the ability to steer and retain your customers.