Adding an online store to your membership site — or even just one or two products that your members can buy — is a great way to add another revenue stream to your project.
Perhaps you want to offer extras to your paying members, such as downloadable files, branded clothing, or some other type of product. Maybe you’d like to give your membership content away for free but give your users the opportunity to purchase items like content upgrades or access to a newsletter.
No matter the topic of your website or the way it’s currently being monetized, there are plenty of benefits to setting up a members-only online store.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to create an online store in your membership site. Provided that you’re using WordPress — or you’re prepared to switch — by the time you’ve finished this article you’ll be ready to list physical products or digital downloads for sale inside of your membership site.
Let’s get started…
Why Create an Online Store in Your Membership Site?
As mentioned, listing items for sale, whether they're physical products like merchandise, books, or equipment, or digital downloads such as software apps, audio and video files, or eBooks, is a popular way to generate more revenue from your membership site.
While giving away content for free is a proven way to market your membership site, you don’t have to make everything freely available. After all, if your membership site isn’t profitable, it probably won’t be viable for long.
So for content that falls outside of the existing pricing structure of your membership site, such as optional extras like supplementary files or fun stuff like branded t-shirts, creating an online store is a straightforward way to make those items available to your members.
As is often the case, if you’re using WordPress for your membership site, adding ecommerce functionality to your website is very straightforward and probably easier than you think. By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly how to create an online store in your membership site and control who can access its products.
Choose an Ecommerce WordPress Plugin
Out of the box, WordPress doesn’t have the ability to sell items online. However, thanks to some excellent free plugins, you can easily add this functionality to your website. When it comes to creating an online store in your membership site, the hugely popular WooCommerce plugin is the obvious tool for the job.
WooCommerce is now owned by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and core contributor to the WordPress software. So you could say that WooCommerce is effectively the official ecommerce plugin for WordPress.
Install an Ecommerce Plugin
If you do decide to use WooCommerce, it can be installed on your website directly from inside your WordPress Dashboard. Simply log in to your admin area and navigate to the Plugins page. Then click on the Add New button and enter WooCommerce in the search field.
Next, click on the Install Now button for the WooCommerce plugin followed by the Activate button. The WooCommerce setup wizard should be displayed to walk you through configuring your store.
One important setting on the wizard establishes whether you want to sell physical products, digital products, or both. You can change this later, but it’s a good idea to choose the right option from the outset.
Once you’ve completed the wizard you can start creating the first product for your membership site online store.
Create a Product
With WooCommerce active on your site, you’ll see that a new post type called Products has been added to WordPress. To create the first item for your online store, click on the Add New item under the Products menu.
From the Add New Product screen, you can enter the details of your product. WooCommerce lets you add a product title and description in the main content area.
If you scroll down the page, there’s a space for adding a short product description that will be displayed on the category pages of your site and other areas, depending on your theme's settings.
You can also upload a product image as well as a collection of images that are displayed as the product gallery. As with regular WordPress posts, you can use categories and tags to organize your products.
Once you’ve entered the main product information, you can move onto configuring your product by locating the Product data box on the same page.
The free version of WooCommerce gives you lots of control over the types of products you can create. For example, you can create schedules that control when a product is reduced in price, set a limit on how many times a digital product can be purchased, and create linked and grouped products.
It’s highly recommended that you explore all the options and settings to ensure that your products are configured in an optimal way for your website and its members.
It’s also a good idea to give each product a unique stock keeping unit (SKU) number to make it more easily identifiable on your website. The SKU field can be found under the Inventory tab on the Product Data panel.
Once your product is ready, you can publish it to make it available to your website visitors. However, in the next section of this guide, we'll cover how to make the product available to your members only.
Publishing Your Products
By default, published products will be accessible on your website like a regular page. You can insert links to the products into the other content on your site, such as posts and pages, or add links to the menus and sidebars of your website.
However, if you want to create an online store inside your membership site that’s only available to your members, you’ll need to adjust a few of the settings.
One option is to click on the Edit link next to the Catalog visibility option on the Publish panel of the product page. Doing so reveals the controls that let you set the status of the product.
A hidden status means that the product won’t be displayed on your site unless a visitor follows a direct link to that product or you insert the product into a piece of content on your site using the WooCommerce shortcodes.
There are a few exceptions, but generally, setting the status to hidden makes it unlikely that a regular visitor to your site will find the product.
You can then make the product available to your members by inserting the product — or a link to the product — into one of the pages or posts on your site that only your members can access.
Alternatively, you can create a rule in MemberPress so that only members or members on a certain membership plan can access the products.
To do so, click on Rules from the MemberPress menu. Then create a new rule and select All Products from the Protected Content drop-down menu. You can then set the access conditions so that only members can access the products.
MemberPress has sophisticated rule functionality, so you can easily restrict access to some products or individual products. This is especially useful if you want to sell products that anyone can buy as well as products that are reserved for your members.
Another option is to restrict access to the checkout pages of your store but make your product pages available. This approach could help increase sign-ups to your membership site, as a user would have to become a member to complete a purchase.
You can find out more about the MemberPress rules settings in the corresponding plugin documentation.
There’s lots more you can do with WooCommerce and MemberPress, so be sure to experiment with these two plugins and explore their settings and online documentation.
Do you Need an Ecommerce WordPress Theme?
If you’re starting a new membership site that will have an online store area, or you just want to offer a few items for sale, then it’s a good idea to choose a WordPress theme that has good ecommerce support (with WooCommerce support in particular).
Although any good WordPress theme should work with WooCommerce and the other leading ecommerce plugins, choosing a specifically ecommerce-compatible theme usually means you’ll get access to purpose-built templates for all the pages your online store will need.
These templates usually include a shopping cart, checkout, and customer dashboard areas. Depending on your chosen theme, you might also get access to extras like one-click checkouts, wish lists, and other features found at popular online stores.
However, if your membership site is already up and running and you’re happy with your choice of WordPress theme, you don’t have to switch to an ecommerce-focused option if you don’t want to.
As mentioned, most good themes should work well enough with plugins like WooCommerce. If you find that you would like to add some extra ecommerce-focused pages to your website but don’t want to change themes, you could try creating them yourself with a page builder plugin like Elementor.
Hopefully, you’re now ready to start listing products on your website that your members can view and purchase.
As both MemberPress and WooCommerce are powerful plugins, whatever you’re trying to achieve with your membership site and online store, you should be able to accomplish it.
If you have any questions about selling items from your membership site, please leave a comment below.