When you’re looking to sell a product online, you may want to get started quick, and may not need all of the feature of a full-fledged eCommerce platform. When you’re in this situation, a simple purchasing form may do just fine.
Most form builders will offer a way to accept payments with forms, along with other tools that eCommerce sites need like email list integrations, contact forms, or surveys. In some cases, using a purchasing form is a more flexible choice than an eCommerce plugin, as you can completely customize which information you get from customers, and determine how price is calculated in more complex ways than “total price = sum of all products”.
CaptainForm is a form-builder app that lets you create and edit any kind of form, and you can use their WordPress plugin to build and manage forms directly within your WordPress admin. Unlike many form plugins, the form submissions and data isn’t hosted on your site, so files uploaded to your forms are not stored within your site’s media folder.
This hosted service makes the plugin a bit different from many form plugins, but this does have added security benefits — as submissions and uploaded files aren’t stored directly on your site, you’re less at-risk for malicious file uploads vulnerabilities that have affected other form plugins. The tradeoff is that you pay a yearly subscription rather than a fee to download the plugin.
In terms of available features, CaptainForm offers lots of great integrations (called “apps”), such as integrations for email services, payments gateways, coupon codes, recurring payments, calendar integrations, polls, quizzes, surveys, conditional logic, and for exporting submissions.
However, in order to use CaptainForm to create purchasing forms, you’ll need to select the Hero plan at $195 per year, which grants you access to payment integrations along with coupon codes. We’ll take a look at using the Hero plan to create purchasing forms today.
The CaptainForm plugin can be installed from WordPress.org, but the forms and all of your submission data are hosted for you off-site. This means that you’ll only get a limited number of form submissions and functionality for free, and you’ll need a license key to use the plugin.
When you install the plugin, you can go to CaptainForm > Change Plan to select the “Hero Plan” so you can access the eCommerce features offered by CaptainForm.
You can also update any of your account information from within the plugin as needed.
Once you have your account set up, and your Hero Plan license entered so you have access to eCommerce features, you can begin with form set up. You’ll get an email from CaptainForm with a whitepaper to get you started with your form creation.
Once your account has been created with a Hero plan license, you can get right into form management. You’ll be able to create and manage forms from the CaptainForm > My Forms menu in your admin.
One thing I really liked about setting up CaptainForm is that it includes template forms to get you started right away. Rather than creating a form entirely from scratch, you can use a template form to get started. This saves you time in set up, and it also helps you to see how the different components of the form work.
I chose an “order form” template to get started with my purchasing form.
However, from the “New Form” page, there are tons of template forms you can choose from instead to get started.
From here, you can get into your form editing and settings.
At any time, you can manage forms from the “My Forms” list, letting you edit forms, view submissions, change form settings, or view reports for your forms on the aggregated submission data.
My template order form had basic details I’d need from my customers: name, email address, and a radio button selector for my “product”. Regardless of whether you use a template form or create your own, there are basic fields you can add such as text, textarea, email, number, dropdown, radio button, and checkbox fields. Listed under basic fields are some additional helpful fields like website or Likert scales.
There are also advanced form fields available, which can support several different kinds of forms. For example, you could use a date field for a delivery service or pickup for local purchases. There are also several other kinds of advanced fields, such as name fields, file uploads, images, page breaks, addresses, and phone numbers.
The one advanced field that can be a bit confusing is the Price field type. This is only used if you want a customer-dictated price, such as on a donation form or to submit a budget. You could use this in a payment form, or just as a placeholder, but any price data for options is set under the form settings instead. (Many other form plugins will have that as a “display” price for customers, but CaptainForm will show the total automatically instead.)
When you add a field to your form, you can then also click on that field to edit its details. Each form field type will have different options or values you can edit, such as the labels, descriptions, or whether it’s required. Some field types have advanced settings, too. For example, radio buttons can let you limit the number of times a particular option can be chosen — in a purchasing form, this can act as a pseudo-inventory for an option.
As you edit your purchasing form, you’ll want form fields for customer name, email, address, and the products being purchased at minimum. Once those are created, we’ll be able to move onto other settings for the form by clicking the “Settings” step at the top, such as the payment settings.
When you’re ready to edit the payment settings, you’ll need to add prices for any options, and also enter your payment gateway credentials. You can accept both one-time and recurring payments with several payment gateways using CaptainForm:
- PayPal Pro
- PayPal Payflow Pro
- Authorize.net DPM / CIM
If you go to Settings > Payments for the form, you’ll be able to set up several settings for the form. First, you can assign prices to any of the form fields you’ve created. For example, if you have a dropdown or radio button so customers can choose a product, you can now assign a price to each choice.
This is where price set up can get a bit weird, but it gives you some flexibility to do some unique pricing. If you want to have a set price for the option or field, you can add it as a value.
If you want to do some math and make the field a display field (ie show the result of a calculation to the customer), you can add the field as a formula into the pricing instead. This lets you do a calculation, and this becomes the field value. For example, if the customer has inputs for width and length, I can create an area field, and make the value of it length x width.
In either case, any values you’ve made available can be used to calculate the form total, and you can set up this calculation. For example, should the choice be multiplied by the quantity? You’ll set up those totals here, along with any discounts or mark ups for price option.
I’m not too sure why discounts and markups are used here, as they’re not responding to quantity or anything; you could just change the price value to get the same thing. However, if you want to show pricing as full price and then advertise a discount, this could be helpful.
Now that the pricing and total cost of the form is configured, you’ll want to add at least one payment method. I like that CaptainForm allows you to use more than one payment method so your customers can have the choice of credit cards, PayPal, or their preferred processor.
The only thing I don’t like about payment method set up is that the processor name is shown to customers if you enable more than one method. For example, my customer may not know what Braintree is, but if I accept Braintree and PayPal, I may want to just name Braintree “Credit Card”, which isn’t possible. The options will show as “Braintree” and “PayPal”.
Since payment credentials are entered on a per-form basis, you also have to re-enter gateway credentials for any form you want to enable a gateway on. While this could help you route payments to different accounts easily, it can make set up redundant for using several forms that should leverage the same payment information.
Once you’ve entered your credentials for any payment gateways and enabled them, you can set up notifications and some final payment-specific settings.
You could check out other form settings if desired, but at this point, my purchasing form is ready to be tested, and I can hit “Publish” at the top to get a shortcode and template tag to display my form on a page, in a widget, or elsewhere on my site.
You can now embed your form, add a widget, or add it directly into your theme.
Submissions for your purchasing forms can be managed from the “My Forms” list. You can view all submissions for a form at once, then you have some options for exporting forms. You can both print and export submissions to a CSV file on an individual basis or in bulk.
Printing will give you a simple printout of form fields. If you’d like a PDF of the entries, you can get one by viewing a submission individually. There are two PDF options:
- plain PDF: You can use the plain print layout as a PDF of the submission values
- Form Layout PDF: for a “nicer” PDF, you can use credits to export to a PDF of an individual submission in the form — more credits are available for purchase as needed
You can also edit form submissions yourself while viewing them. Even better, I like that you can send customers a public link to edit their form submissions, which is handy if they contact you about mistakes on a form submission.
Even though the form is hosted externally by CaptainForm, it will blend in pretty well with your site’s content and styling. For example, font styles and sizes are adopted by the form when it’s embedded.
For a purchasing form, customers can select choices, and they’re shown a price preview (depending on your form settings). To complete a purchase, they’ll need to first click “Preview Submission”, which shows them an overview of the data that will be submitted, then click “Purchase” to view the purchasing form. This lets customers fill in an automatically generated (hosted) payment form.
Customers will then receive an email with submission details automatically.
While using a form builder on your site is great for purchasing forms, chances are eCommerce sites will need other kinds of forms, from contact forms to event registration or booking forms. There are several other useful features that CaptainForm offers in addition to payment capabilities.
Your forms can leverage conditional logic to determine when certain fields are shown or hidden. After you’ve added all possible fields to your form, you can go to the “Rules” settings for your form, and set up rules to hide or show other fields depending on what’s been selected.
CaptainForm has email list apps, like a MailChimp integration, that allows you to subscribe customers to an email list when submitting a form, or offering customers the choice to opt into different email lists. The email integrations available help you keep purchasers informed. For example, if you sell event tickets, you can email all purchasers if you opt them into a list in case of any changes. There are other integrations like AWeber and GetResponse as well.
Feedback is a valuable tool for any eCommerce site, and you can use CaptainForm to create polls or surveys to get information from customers that you can use to improve your store. For example, you could set up an email in your email marketing tool of choice to send a week after the form is submitted. This could link to a feedback form on the purchasing process, polls, or other forms to gather feedback from your customers.
Along the same thread, you can set up quiz forms in case you’re running a coaching or learning site.
There are also calendar integrations so that you can accept simple booking and reservation forms via CaptainForm and keep them synced with your calendar.
If you end up needing support or help with the plugin, there’s a support dashboard built into the plugin itself under CaptainForm > Support:
This lets you reach out with support questions or bug reports without leaving your own site.
One thing I would like to see are improved documentation resources. There are several documents available, but they don’t go into great depth in terms of using advanced features. For example, I’d love to see more detail on setting up recurring payments, as this is possible with most gateways, but there aren’t really detailed set up instructions.
I did reach out to the CaptainForm team with this feedback, and the knowledgebase is something they’re actively working on.
CaptainForm provides an interesting alternative to the popular WordPress form builder plugins. As a hosted solution, it does have some pros and cons:
- form templates make set up fast / easier
- higher plans are feature-packed (ie email / calendar integrations)
- improved security by hosting file uploads off-site
- supports advanced features like conditional logic
- can allow coupon codes for forms
- supports several payment gateways, not just those popular in the US
- supports recurring payments
- provides other helpful eCommerce tools like surveys
- emails are reliable as they’re not sent through your site
- submissions can be exported / printed easily
- yearly fee required to access form data
- forms are hosted off site, which means they could take longer to load on the page
- payment credentials need to be entered for every form
- recurring payment set up is a bit confusing
- payment gateway display names can’t be changed
- prices and logic rules are de-coupled from the fields themselves, which can be weird to use at first (though this is a preference)
- forms and fields have a lot of configuration settings, which provides flexibility but a steeper learning curve
If you’re coming from the experience of using plugins, using a hosted app for forms can be a bit of a different UI to get used to, but you do have a lot of flexibility in terms of what integrations and form tools are available. I also love the email service apps and other tools like polls and surveys that can be used on almost any eCommerce site.
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