Give your customers a superior looking invoice

Friday’s WooCommerce featured plugin is ‘PDF Invoice’ – a marked step up on the default WooCommerce one both in looks and functionality.

Features include:

  • Invoices are generated automatically for each new order
  • Tightly integrated with WooCommerce and its functionality
  • Invoice PDF documents get attached to standard WooCommerce emails
  • Detects currency that is used in your store as well as other settings
  • Works perfectly out of the box – just activate and you are ready to go

You can add your company name and address to each invoice and it comes with a built in numbering systems which makes a lot more sense then the default which jumps around if you add new pages or posts.

Additionally, the developers have spent a good deal of time on the layout options and you can choose to show the net amount, tax rate and tax amount on each line.

WooCommerce PDF Invoice is just $25 and is available here.

Remember you can purchase our WooCommerce theme Captiva today over on ThemeForest. If you’re a WooCommerce newbie we also provide a free installation service to get you up and running with your own WordPress powered online shop in no time!

Starter Child Theme for Captiva released

Using a child theme is the best way to ensure you can easily update our WooCommerce themes when new versions become available. Today we’ve released a child theme for our first WooCommerce theme, Captiva.

For those new to WordPress the concept of child themes can be a bit confusing. You finally find a theme you like and want to make some tweaks to it to personalize it for your requirements. You should just jump in and start making changes to the theme itself right? WRONG! This will cause you a world of pain in the long run. Let’s assume you do go the way of making changes to the theme itself. Let’s then assume that the developer then releases some major fixes a month later – perhaps even fixing some major security bugs that you can’t simply ignore. What then? Your only course of action at that point is something like the following:

  • Backup your current version of the theme that includes your changes
  • Download the latest version with the fixes from the theme developer
  • Merge back in your customizations
  • Re-apply to your live site
  • Pray that everything still works correctly. SPOILER – it probably won’t!

Now imagine having to do that every. single. time. there’s a new release of your favourite theme. Surely there has to be a better, smarter way of keeping your customizations while being able to update the theme painlessly I hear you say?

Enter WordPress Child Themes

WordPress child themes solve the problem scenario outlined above. Simply put, a child theme is a completely separate WordPress theme that allows you to override files in your favourite theme which is known as the parent theme. The child theme inherits all the functionality of it’s parent by simply declaring that it has a parent in the main style.css of the child theme.

A really simple child theme consists of just one file – style.css

Consider a simple example child theme for the Twenty Fourteen theme.

/*
 Theme Name:   Twenty Fourteen Child
 Theme URI:    http://example.com/twenty-fourteen-child/
 Description:  Twenty Fourteen Child Theme
 Author:       John Doe
 Author URI:   http://example.com
 Template:     twentyfourteen
 Version:      1.0.0
 Tags:         light, dark, two-columns, right-sidebar, responsive-layout, accessibility-ready
 Text Domain:  twenty-fourteen-child
*/


@import url("../twentyfourteen/style.css");


/* =Theme customization starts here
-------------------------------------------------------------- */

Simple right? The key line here is the Template: twentyfourteen

This is the magic sauce that tells WordPress that this theme is a child of the twentyfourteen theme. So while our child theme simply has a style.css file, it will actually inherit every single file in the parent theme.

For simple css changes it’s now simply a case of adding your custom css to style.css in the child theme. At load time, WordPress will first load the main styles in the parent theme and then load your child themes CSS file. Now when you need to update the parent theme you can do so safely without having to worry about the messy and time consuming steps we outlined earlier.

Taking child themes a step further with a child functions.php and template overrides

Suppose you wish to extend the parent theme within the child theme with your own custom code – how do we go about doing that? Simples. Just add a functions.php file within your child theme. Your child theme functions.php works a little bit different from the child style.css. It will not override the contents of the parent functions.php – rather, it will extend it. Why is that important? Let’s say for example you have a function in your parent functions.php called get_comments(). If you add a function of the same name to your child functions.php, the parent get_comments() will still be called. On load, WordPress will first execute the parent functions.php file. This can catch out a lot of people when they’re first getting started with child themes. In that scenario where you wish to change or override the parent function you would ideally use WordPress hooks and filters which we’ll explore separately in the future.

Template overrides

Let’s assume you wish to change some markup in the parent header.php. How would we do that in a child theme? The good news is that it’s as simple as copying the parent header.php file into your child theme directory and boom! you’ve got yourself a template override! You can start making changes safely within the child theme straight away. My advice is to keep an eye on your parent theme changelogs with new versions so as to not miss out on any critical fixes to parent templates that you should be bringing into your child templates. Which is why it’s important to only override the templates you really need.

Captiva Child Theme

Our first WooCommerce theme Captiva just passed the 300 sales milestone on themeforest! To celebrate we’re releasing a starter child theme for Captiva which should help you get up and running with a child theme straight away.

As you can imagine with a commercial WooCommerce theme there’s a little bit more to child themes than with a simple WordPress theme. The child theme makes extensive use of wp_enqueue and wp_dequeue to re-order parent stylesheet rendering order to make your child theme as simple as possible to create. In addition there are a number of Visual Composer templates also required to be bundled in your child theme to ensure your child theme renders correctly.

Download Captiva Child Theme 1.0

 

 

 

Sell subscriptions with WooCommerce

One of the best things about WooCommerce it it’s ability to be extended beyond it’s core functionality to cater for lots of other eCommerce scenarios. One of the most common scenarios is subscriptions.

A common misconception is that WooCommerce is just for selling physical products. While it does indeed do that probably better than any other WordPress eCommerce plugin, WooCommerce can handle pretty much any kind of product or service you might wish to sell online through the use of dedicated WooCommerce plugins. Just like WordPress itself, there is a very healthy ecosystem of WooCommerce plugins that we’ve been covering a lot over the past few months.

Subscriptions and WooCommerce

There are a few subscriptions plugins available in the ecosystem for WooCommerce, but the best one I’ve come across to date is the official WooThemes WooCommerce Subscriptions plugin.

This little beauty will let you setup recurring payments for customers in a matter of minutes. Recurring payments can be charged daily, weekly, monthly or annually. You can also add an initial signup fee. It can also be used in combination with the Groups extension to to allow you to define different subscription levels.

How are recurring payments handled?

Anyone who has built their own recurring subscriptions functionality will know what a pain in the behind this can be to get right. Thankfully this plugin integrates seamlessly with Paypal’s subscription engine. While Paypal might not be everyone’s favourite payment gateway, the combination of this plugin and the Paypal subscriptions engine means that anyone can pretty much setup their own Subscriptions business in a few minutes and probably save tens of thousands in custom software development costs. You can always scale up to a more sophisticated platform in the future if you need it. Let’s keep things lean!

A single site license will cost you $199 which is a steal for what you’re getting. Check it out today.

 

 

 

Fighting fraud with a new plugin from WooCommerce

risk

WooCommerce today launched a very interesting plugin designed to help store owners fight fraudulent transactions on their store.

A recent report from Cybersource, a unit of Visa estimated the fraud cost for online retailers to be $3.5 billion or 0.9% of online revenue in 2012.

An online retailer loses, on average, $9,000 to fraud for every $1 million in revenue – a number that really adds up as your store grows.

This new WooCommerce Anti-Fraud plugin is designed to recognize fraudulent transactions and catch them as they occur by scanning and displaying a score for each transaction made, based on a set of advanced scoring rules.

So for example if the customer’s IP address does not match their billing country this increases the risk and therefore the score.

fraud

Once the score goes over a tipping point you can automatically cancel, hold or get a notification regarding the suspect transaction.

The Anti Fraud plugin is $79 from WooCommerce and you can get more information about it here.

Remember you can purchase our WooCommerce theme Captiva today over on ThemeForest. If you’re a WooCommerce newbie we also provide a free installation service to get you up and running with your own WordPress powered online shop in no time!

New Google Analytics eCommerce plugin from Yoast

The team over at Yoast launched a new Google Analytics eCommerce plugin last week. If you’re serious about tracking your sales with WooCommerce in Google Analytics this is a must have new plugin.

We’ve posted before about how to setup Google Analytics for eCommerce tracking with WooCommerce. Well the very smart folks over at Yoast recently launched a new plugin that extends their open source Google Analytics plugin. If you’ve not yet installed the awesome free plugin you’ll need to get that up and running first (which is really simple to do).

What does this new plugin do?

First of all, the installation process is a breeze – just buy, upload and activate the plugin and you’re done! If you’ve spent time configuring eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics with WooCommerce you’ll realize how cool that is. The plugin takes advantage of a new Google collections API that allows the plugin to send calls directly to the Analytics API from the server side instead of purely relying in Javascript which makes the process of tracking eCommerce conversions much more reliable. I’ve seen in the past on high volume sites that the numbers don’t always add up in Google Analytics when compared to order numbers in WooCommerce and this is generally down to the odd server error which means the JS conversion tracker doesn’t fire. This plugin will resolve that which should make the numbers in Analytics much more accurate.

It’s great to see the Yoast team creating these cool little addons for WooCommerce and I hope to see more clever WooCommerce plugins from the folks over there in next few months. You can get the new plugin from $49 for a single site license today.

 

How to build a successful eCommerce empire through Private Labelling

Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast is a veritable goldmine of wonderful information about doing business online. Chances are that if you’re in the business of selling anything to anyone online you’ve probably stumbled across the SPI podcast before. Normally the subject matter is a little bit more geared towards Internet Marketing in general but a recent episode is a must listen for budding eCommerce merchants.

Today I’d like to bring your attention to SPI Episode #127 which is an absolutely fantastic episode for anyone involved in eCommerce. The episode tracks the story of Ryan Coisson and Daniel Audunsson who have also launched RyanandDaniel.com (which you should also check it!).

Ryan and Daniel are turning over in excess of $1 million dollars per month selling private label good mainly via Amazon. I had a little chuckle when Ryan and Daniel revealed their revenue numbers to Pat who did a double take to ensure he heard the guys correctly that it was indeed $1 million per month 🙂

While the episode is mainly about how to get started with private labelling on Amazon I think there’s some wonderful tips in here for any eCommerce merchant with regard to the importance of customer service, pricing and the importance of branding online. The episode covers:

  • Exactly how Ryan and Daniel are making millions by buying existing products overseas, branding them and selling them online.
  • The wide-range of industries that Ryan and Daniel are currently targeting.
  • The unique selling proposition and strategy they are using to serve their customers and set them apart from their competitors.
  • The importance of packaging and the customer experience beyond the product itself.
  • How to get started using this business model.
  • The niching and branding strategy you should use going forward.
  • The importance of research, and what specific things you need to look at before you begin.
  • A step-by-step hypothetical example that I use to start this kind of business.
  • How to communicate with manufacturers and wholesalers to ensure quality in your products.
  • The packaging and fulfillment process Ryan and Daniel use for this process.
  • The common mistakes that people doing e-commerce tend to make.
  • Plus a whole lot more!

Seriously folks this episode is not to be missed!

Keep Captiva up to date with the Envato Toolkit

We try to keep our WooCommerce theme Captiva up to date by regularly releasing updates which include bug fixes, compatibility resolutions and new features.

Here is a quick tutorial on keeping Captiva and indeed any other theme on ThemeForest up to date.

1. Download the Envato WordPress Toolkit

git-envato

We’ve included this with Captiva so you probably won’t need to worry about this step – it will be pre-installed. But if you are looking for it you’ll need to download it from GitHub as it’s not available in the regular WordPress Plugin Repository. Then go to Plugins > Add New and upload the zip file.

Activate the Envato Toolkit Plugin and an option for it should appear on the dashboard left hand side menu.

2. API Key

api-key

Next you’ll need to create an API key to connect your WooCommerce site to your ThemeForest account. Login to ThemeForest, hover over your username and click on “My Settings” and click on “API Keys” on the left hand side menu. Generate a free API key from this screen.

3. Update Captiva

envato-plugin

Now when you click on the Envato menu item you can enter your ThemeForest username and API key you’ve just generated.

On the following screen there should be an option to automatically update Captiva to the latest version.

And if you want to do this manually?

You can of course simply unzip the latest version of Captiva and upload it, overwriting the old. But make sure you’re using a child theme! If not, modifications you’ve made to any files will be lost.

Captiva Theme Options are saved to the database so don’t worry – they won’t be overwritten with any update.

Speeding up checkout with an address autocomplete plugin

It’s vital in eCommerce to ensure a customer can quickly enter their billing details and get through the payment process with as little fuss as possible.

That’s why I’m interested in this address autocomplete plugin for just $11 which uses Google’s Places API to quickly return location results as soon as you start typing.

The idea is primarily to save time but it’s also useful to prevent typing errors, e.g. a zip code entered incorrectly in a rush.

address-complete

It works like this:

  1. The plugin regroups and hides the components of the address : address_1, address_2, city, state, postcode, country.
  2. It adds a new “Address field” based on Google Places API.
  3. The user begins to type the address and Google completes it.
  4. The user chooses the correct address among Google suggestions.
  5. The hidden field appears, automatically filled with data.

Note: As of 18th September this plugin currently isn’t compatible with WooCommerce 2.2 so if you’re running this, it would be better to wait for an update.

You can checkout the Google Address Autocomplete for WooCommerce plugin here.

Best WooCommerce Hosting Plans – Part 2

In Part 2 of our Best WooCommerce Hosting Plans we take a look at the different options that you should give consideration to before selecting a hosting provider.

A brief primer on various hosting flavours

The first thing you must realize is that not all hosts are created equally. There are all sorts of different types of hosting providers that you should have a grasp of before making a decision as to where to host your eCommerce website. We’ll briefly explore each of these today.

  • Shared WooCommerce Hosting
  • VPS WooCommerce Hosting
  • Cloud WooCommerce Hosting
  • Managed WordPress and WooCommerce Hosting
  • Dedicated Servers for WooCommerce

Shared WooCommerce Hosting

In Part 1 we pretty much ruled out shared hosts for WooCommerce. There are a tiny number of exceptions to this. We’ll come back to that a little bit later. To summarize what we touched on yesterday, with all types of hosting you pretty much get what you pay for. If some host is promising you unlimited sites, disk space, databases, domains etc. it’s pretty much bullshit to start with. You just go ahead and put a high traffic eCommerce website on one of those hosts and see what happens 🙂 If your site doesn’t crash (which it probably will) you will most likely get an email from your unlimited host telling you you’ve breached some acceptable use threshold and that you need to update to a more expensive hosting option. Safe yourself the hassle and avoid shared hosting for WooCommerce unless you’re prepared to live with the consequences.

VPS WooCommerce Hosting

The next level of from Shared hosting is a Virtual Private Server or a VPS as it is more commonly known. A VPS is definitely a big step up from a shared host. There are also different types of VPS packages which broadly fall into 2 categories:

  • Managed VPS hosting
  • Unmanaged VPS hosting

Nearly all shared hosting packages are effectively managed hosting packages where you have some access to technical support at the hosting provider when you run into trouble. With a VPS hosting package that isn’t always the case. Hence the differentiation between Managed and Unmanaged VPS hosting. Managed VPS hosting is a necessity for most people unless you have really well polished server management skills. Unmanaged VPS hosting tends to be a good bit cheaper but then you are on the hook for all sysadmin tasks. Avoid this option unless you know what you’re doing.

Cloud WooCommerce Hosting

Cloud hosting is essentially the same as VPS hosting. We do treat it as a separate category as there are a number of hosting providers who we can group together into what would be considered true “cloud” hosting providers. Although nearly every hosting company on the planet has jumped on the cloud bandwagon and are rebranding all their hosting plans as cloud hosting plans. For our purposes, we will define pure cloud hosting providers to be large scale hosting providers who provide unique scaling capabilities through their own proprietary cloud platforms that have defined the industry rather than rebranding generic hosting plans. Cloud hosting is very appealing for merchants who have large seasonal traffic spikes. It means you can operate most of the year with reasonably cost effective hosting and then ramp up as demand requires during peak busy periods like Christmas.

Managed WordPress and WooCommerce Hosting

Managed WordPress hosting is a relatively new phenomenon compared to the other types of hosting included on our list. WPEngine pretty much pioneered the market but since then a plethora of really impressive competitors have emerged and I would now clearly classify this as a hosting category in of itself when we talk about WordPress and WooCommerce hosting. Managed WordPress hosting has huge benefits for WordPress site owners, in particular when it comes to site speed, performance and overall stability. Most Managed WordPress hosts operate highly tuned devops stacks that usually incorporate nginx, Varnish, Memcached amongst other tech to deliver superior performance. Again if you’ve got the skills there’s nothing stopping you from doing this yourself but trust me don’t even go there if you do not know what you’re doing. The disadvantages of Managed WordPress hosting primarily are down to cost and perhaps a slight lack of control over the fine tuning of your hosting environment. But these disadvantages may not really be disadvantages for those who value superior stability and performance.

Dedicated Servers for WooCommerce

The final type of hosting is generally the most expensive. Dedicated servers are what high traffic websites and applications HAD to use before some bright spark designed cloud infrastructure. Dedicated servers are machines 100% dedicated to you normally in a top class data centre. As a result, costs tend to be quite a deal more expensive than any of the other types of hosting on this list. In addition, it’s more than likely that anyone going the dedicated server route will also have access to technical resource to configure and manage servers. For the purposes of our later reviews we’ll not be spending too much time looking at dedicated servers. There really are very few reasons why someone would want to start an eCommerce website on dedicated machines in 2014 unless you need total control over your tech stack or are looking to compete with Amazon 🙂

I think for me the most interesting things are happening in both the Cloud and Managed WordPress hosting categories – which is where we intend to spend most of our time in upcoming reviews. Tomorrow we’ll briefly look at our preferred VPS hosting provider.

See you tomorrow!

Ahem – psst… tomorrow became 4 months 🙂 Part 3 is live – enjoy 🙂

Best WooCommerce Hosting Plans – Part 1

Hosting is a minefield. Everyone has an opinion on who’s the best and who’s the worst. Downtime for a website is bad enough. But downtime for an eCommerce website means lost revenue. Today we kick off a new series on the best WooCommerce Hosting plans that money can buy.

Some background

Over the years I’ve used more hosting providers than I care to remember. I’ve spent countless hours reading reviews and listening to experts telling me why their preferred host is the bees knees. I’ve seen good hosts go bad and I’ve seen mediocre hosts get their shit together and come good. The simple fact of the matter is that there are almost an infinite number of hosting options available in 2014 and that it’s more difficult than ever to know who to trust with your hosting business. We hope that this series helps WooCommerce store owners to make better hosting decisions.

Scope of our hosting reviews – shared hosting be gone!

I’m very very close to a 100% ban on shared hosting for WooCommerce. Why is that you may ask? There are tons of what I like to call “middle of the road” shared hosting companies out there who specialize in low cost, low quality, average speed hosting which might be just about acceptable for a brochure based website or a simple blog. But any website that is primarily an eCommerce website with it’s primary purpose being the sale of goods and services online needs something more reliable and more robust than shared hosting. Then there’s also security. Do you use an eCommerce payment gateway which processes credit cards directly on your website? Have you heard of PCI compliance? If not, well, sorry to be one to inform you but 99% of shared hosting providers won’t be PCI compliant which could end up costing you tens of thousands.

The curse of WooCommerce hosting

I think WooCommerce suffers a little because of it’s simplicity and low barriers to entry. Because it’s so easy to get up and running with WooCommerce on your existing shitty middle of the road hosting provider – it might appear at first use that that’s all you need. I’ve seen many people new to WooCommerce learn this the hard way when they start to add thousands of products to their database or when they suddenly discover that their host doesn’t allow dedicated SSL’s/IP addresses etc. Then there’s also the fact that you’re now potentially responsible for custom billing data. You do not want this sitting on the same server as Many Jane’s blog about breeding Peruvian hamsters* (which is in effect what will be happening on a shared host).

* no offence intended to any hamsters or Peruvian readers for that matter.

I am willing to make one exception which we’ll explore in a later part of this post series. For now I’d like to close off this short introduction post with my ideal WooCommerce hosting feature list:

  1. Dedicated IP addresses available – important for SSL’s and for SEO.
  2. No restrictions on the number and type of SSL’s that can be configured within the hosting environment.
  3. SSH/Shell access available and enabled by default.
  4. Minimum of 24h/nightly backups with 30 day rotations. Ideally more regular, recurring backups could be configured to allow for much smaller windows of transaction loss.
  5. Simple process for restoring backups from archive. Backups alone are not sufficient. A rapid, well tested and highly visible restore process is essential.
  6. Support via email, live chat and knowledge base. Ideally phone escalation would be nice. Deep subject matter expertise (e..g. WordPress and WooCommerce) would be ideal.
  7. Top class security/firewall/threat detection infrastructure. This is even more essential on an eCommerce website.
  8. Performance – this almost goes without saying – but overall machine and network performance has to have been validated elsewhere first.
  9. Stellar uptime record.
  10. Nice to have – seamless staging area which can be used to rollout new features with minimal impact to live production systems.
  11. Nice to have – CDN integration.
  12. Nice to have – Git/SCM integration.
  13. Trustworthy. Ethical.

Right now I can count on one hand the hosting companies who come close to meeting everything on this list. To date, I don’t know of any hosting that can fulfil the full list and do it at scale.

Continue with Part 2