e-Commerce with WordPress and PayPal

I recently completed work on a new website, Petra’s Jewelry, which is a online store for a woman who sells handmade beaded jewelry.

To create the store, I used WordPress and the the WP e-Commerce plugin. This plugin allows you to add products, maintain your listing of products and product pages, and submit payment through PayPal Express Checkout.

The creators of WP e-Commerce describe it as

an industrial strength elegant easy to use fully featured shopping cart application suitable for selling your products, services, and or fees online.

I found installation a little difficult, however most of my issues came from the fact that in creating the site’s WordPress theme I did not include the wp_head() function (info on wp_head), which this plugin uses to include the Javascript files.

Pages created

Once I had the theme finished and successfully installed the plugin, it automatically created a few pages:

  • Browse Products: This is the main page of the store. As some other people have noted, the URLs that are created for product pages and category pages are not good (for example, http://petrasjewelry.com/products-page/?product_id=2).
  • Verify your Order: This is the page you see when you click “checkout,” and before you are directed to Paypal for payment processing. The page works well and the form is well-designed. It calculates shipping and sales tax based on preconfigured rates by location.
  • Transaction Results: I think this is the page you return to after Paypal.
  • Your Account: This page lists a purchase history. I did not find this page particularly useful. Also, I did not find anywhere for users to create a login.

Javascript shopping cart

The plugin provides a PHP hook, nzshpcrt_shopping_basket(), that inserts what the creators call a “Sliding Shopping Cart”. It uses AJAX so that, for example, when you click the “Add To Cart” button, it appears in the shopping cart box without reloading the page (learn more about AJAX).

I thought this was a nice feature, and I inserted the shopping cart box in the sidebar of the site. However, I don’t know how good this is in terms of usability, as the plugin references quite a few JavaScript files in the header. I would think this would slow down the load time.

Product images

Most of this plugin’s administration interface is straightforward, but something I was concerned about when I was searching for an e-commerce plugin was the image handling. This plugin allows you to upload an image and it uses some server-side resizing to generate a thumbnail at whatever size you tell it. When you click on a product image, the plugin uses an implementation (it appears) of the Lightbox JavaScript technique to display the original version of the image.

Final notes

When I was creating this site, I was designing my own theme for WordPress and wanted something that was simple, usable, and easily maintainable. I was also looking for a free WordPress plugin.

I think that my attempt at creating a functional e-commerce store was successful, and I think the store works pretty well. I will be working with my client soon to add products to the store. I would also like to add a gallery (maybe using Lightbox JS again) that showcases jewelry created in the past (and not currently for sale) to give customers an idea of what is possible for custom orders.

After finishing this project, I have come across several nice alternatives, including Shopify and Big Cartel. If I create an online store in the future, I would like to try these alternatives to see if they are any simpler.