Small businesses with big ambitions are often intimidated by the idea they must clear major hurdles to become successful online merchants.
Enter WooCommerce, an online marketing platform that provides the secret sauce to convert WordPress websites into ecommerce stores. By integrating the platform with shipping information supplied by service providers such as Canada Post, any business can promote, sell, and ship globally.
"According to independent tracking, WooCommerce now powers about 37% of all online stores," says WooThemes brand manager Marina Pape.
One of the reasons for that level of market penetration: the core WooCommerce software is free to businesses of any size. By using the platform, any business with a PayPal account can begin accepting payment for online orders.
"A Canadian business of any size can efficiently open its markets to customers across the country and around the world,” says Pape. “WooCommerce is open source and completely customizable. You can dive as completely into the code as you choose."
Pape says how sellers decide to deliver products to global customers is a critical business decision.
"Fulfilment can make or break a business,” she says. “An e-merchant needs to think about shipping efficiently, tracking orders, and how to offer returns. You can’t just limit yourself to expensive courier services — you should offer postal services as well to give customers a full range of choices. Canada Post is our Canadian mail partner and allows us to integrate shipping quotes into the ecommerce platform, whether the delivery is domestic or international."
Here’s how it works. A Canada Post plug-in designed to work seamlessly with WooCommerce allows online customers to receive immediate and accurate shipping quotes that are incorporated into automated billing.
The Canada Post plug-in is used by developers across the country, including SAU/CAL, a developer specializing in optimizing WordPress and WooCommerce integration.
"Shipping is critical to ecommerce," says SAU/CAL Chief Executive Officer Mitchell Callahan. "Most businesses opt to use the Canada Post plug-in. However, sometimes people opt for free or cheaper plug-ins not endorsed by Canada Post or WooCommerce. That's where problems tend to occur, as these plug-ins are often buggy and aren’t built to the same standards."
SAU/CAL has written a simple user guide to installing the Canada Post plug-in.
"Most customers can do it themselves,” says Callahan. “We've only had requests to do it after they've installed poorly made plug-ins."
Steve Clarke, co-founder of creative technical agency Sevenview Studios, has been working with ecommerce for more than two decades, launching his first online store in 1994. Clarke has recently began marrying the Canada Post plug-in with the websites of customers using the WooCommerce platform.
"It was easy to configure and I’ve tested it successfully with shipping to various Canadian addresses, American addresses, the Middle East, South America, Asia, and some more obscure parts of the world," he says. "The plug-in talks to the Canada Post server in real time and gives you an accurate shipping account. Just set it and forget it."
Covergalls Inc. of Sudbury is building a successful business around workwear designed exclusively for women. Creator Alice Woods started the company with a coverall product line that survived a trial by fire on television’s Dragons’ Den.
"We realized we couldn’t rely on a single skew, so with feedback from our customers and distributors we started to develop a product line that now includes shirts, pants, gloves, accessories, cargo work pants, and a line of camo wear for women who want to play after work," says Woods. "There’s a lack of workwear on the market designed for women, and customers now understand that proper fitting workwear is a safety issue, and will also help them to attract and retain women in their workforce."
Covergalls ships large orders directly from the manufacturer, but fulfils most smaller orders from its headquarters using WooCommerce and the Canada Post plug-in.
"In the beginning we used a flat mailing price to cover any location inside Canada," says Woods. "But if it was a local customer, we didn’t want to be charging them $25 to ship a pair of coveralls because the reality was it probably cost closer to $12. On the other hand, you can’t underquote shipping because it would quickly eat into your margins."
Woods says the Canada Post plug-in provides quotes with pinpoint accuracy — no matter where the product is being delivered.
"We selected Canada Post primarily because it provides delivery to so many remote locations," says Woods. "A lot of mining, oil and gas companies have operations in remote locations, not an address in the middle of Toronto. So not only are we getting the product to those customers, but we’re also invoicing that delivery at an accurate price."