Starting an online store in Trinidad & Tobago just got easier and more affordable now that my first E-Commerce website built on the WordPress platform, using the First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) payment gateway has just launched.
Easier for you because WordPress is very user friendly and requires little maintenance. Easier for me because I’m very comfortable with it, being that I’ve been using it exclusively for business websites for the past six years.
Affordable for you because it brings the start-up investment to set up an online store much lower than that of Magento. It’s also very easy to start selling online if you already have a WordPress website.
The website is NOVEL SPORTS, based in South, operating out of facilities in Naparima College in San Fernando.
In the grand scheme of things, this shouldn’t be a big deal, we should have been able to do this in our sleep a long time ago. But big deal, small deal, it’s still a deal so here we are.
What's the big deal with WordPress?
When I was first introduced to the First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) payment gateway in 2013 the first sites integrated were Magento. The WordPress platform at the time was to problematic for integration, which was a blow for my plans to really push local E-Commerce with a platform that was affordable and easy to use. This left the majority of small, medium businesses out in the cold as only larger companies with deeper pockets could afford Magento.
Magento is also harder to use, easier to break, requires more maintenance and of course, more expensive. It’s more suited for what I call ‘hardcore E-Commerce’, when a company really wants to go all out. For small and medium businesses, and individuals, Magento is overkill and over budget.
Last year however, it seemed that the technical obstacles were overcome bringing it back into play. Fortunately I had a client immediately available so the timing was perfect.
Features of the payment gateway with WordPress
All the business websites I’ve ever built for clients have been on the WordPress platform. It started out as primarily a blogging platform that evolved into mainstream business websites. Functionality that wasn’t available by default was integrated via extensions or ‘plug-ins’ written by independent authors, that provided added features seamlessly.
One of them is E-Commerce, and there are many plug-ins that turn regular WordPress business websites into an online store. But the one that pulled ahead of the field is called Woo Commerce, enough for WordPress’s parent company Automattic to buy the company. Now Woo Commerce belongs to WordPress so that should tell you something.
Cost of Woo Commerce plug-in integration
Of course the first thing you’ll want to know is the cost before any other technical details. Unfortunately it’s still expensive, about $500 USD for integration and testing. I’m trying to see how I can get that cost down. I have competitors with their own plug-in costing less that $300 USD, but though it’s a plug-in it’s not a simple matter of uploading it to your site and activating it, though I wish it was.
There is also an additional cost of an SSL Certificate which costs around $149 USD per year
Merchant Account required from local bank
You will still need to apply for a merchant account at either First Citizens Bank (FCB) or Republic Bank and there is a qualifying criteria. If you don’t qualify they normally ask you to post a security deposit to be held for some time. This shouldn’t affect existing bank customers with an established relationship. My client Novel Sports was already with Republic Bank so there process was just the formal paperwork.
How the payment gateway works with WordPress
Very well actually; as I said the integration is seamless. The good thing is that WordPress business templates nowadays usually come with Woo Commerce enabled. By enabled I am referring to two things:
- ‘Declared Support’, which means the coding of the template supports Woo Commerce by default and usually comes with files that override the default Woo Commerce files.
- Look & Feel: the is an additional refined design element that makes the shop look like a natural part of the site.
The payment gateway itself works the way you expect, nothing really to explain. You browse, add to cart, checkout and pay like you’re accustomed.
About the Novel Sports payment integration
Novel Sports happens to be one of my earliest clients from way back in 2012. The WordPress template used, though updated by the author and supported over the years to present day, didn’t declare Woo Commerce support, nor designed with a shop in mind, so all we could get is functionality.
Being the first integration of the FAC payment gateway with WordPress, I did have some unexpected surprises along the way, starting from the get-go.
Hosting requirements for payment integration
The first issue I met with was with Novel Sports’ hosting plan at Go Daddy. It was an older plan that lacked the necessary environment to support the plug-in, and the server settings couldn’t be modified to accommodate. The only solution offered was cancelling the plan and buying a new one. Unfortunately that was a lot more work as Go Daddy wouldn’t have moved the site from old plan to new plan automatically.
I decided to switch the hosting to back to my Dreamhost account where the site resided before moving to Go Daddy (early sites from 2011/2012 were added to my shared hosting plan but I’ve since moved all to their own hosting). But it didn’t stop there, I had different issues at Dreamhost.
To make a long story short I had to move the entire site to a brand new host that my developer had already tested the plug-in on, else it would have taken too long to troubleshoot.
Given this experience, I plan to thoroughly confirm the proper hosting configuration before I make a client financially commit. This definitely won’t happen again.
Republic Bank's additional 'Kount' fraud protection
The next headache, er, learning experience, was with Republic Bank’s version of the First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) payment solution. They had an additional compulsory layer of security checks called ‘KOUNT’, that gave my developer some beans, and it also cost more to integrate because of the additional coding.
Personally I find that it’s overkill and not necessary as FCB’s version was just fine without it, and I let Republic Bank know. Only after Novel Sports’ integration was completed I learnt that they now have it as optional.
About the Novel Sports company
Permit me to promote my client in this article as they’ve been kind enough to allow such a detailed account of their integration process and the challenges. As I mentioned, Novel Sports and Forward Multimedia go back a long way starting in 2012 when I built their website and they’ve remained a very loyal client.
Novel Sports Ltd, is a local, technology-driven company which provides products and services for training, research and development of sports, and more recently, using sports in the corporate world as a means of team development via their TEAMBUILDING services.
Already established for their cricket services like bowling and batting analysis, their Multi-Sports Indoor Facility at Naparima College in San Fernando has been used by many local cricket clubs and national players. and even to nurture our youngsters via their camp program.
This year, 2017, the company is promoting their Teambuilding Services which has been very successful, having been used by many prominent local companies and this service seems to be really catching on.
Learn more about Novel Sports and all that they do, and tell them I sent you. Tell them ‘Aye boy, Zaf say to give mih a discount!”
Despite the economy and bleak outlook, any businessperson worth their salt knows that down cycles are no reason to bawl oh gawd ah deadin!. Yes, be more cautious, measure twice, thrice if you have to. The thing about guava season is that it’s a season and seasons change, and after guava is, I don’t know, pommerac? And who doesn’t like pommerac?