When you start an eCommerce business, it can be a little intimidating looking at all of the software, all of the apps and tech you’re going to need to figure out. Truth be told, this is where a lot of people drop out, give up on their eCommerce site, and go right back to eBay. There’s nothing wrong with eBay and other auction sites, but it can ultimately be limiting depending on what it is you’re selling, what impact you’re trying to have on your industry.
WordPress is one of the easier interfaces out there to learn if you’re trying to build a website. You don’t need to know any code, it’s all drag-and-drop. Building a site in WordPress, once you figure out the UI, it’s easier than building a mockup of the site in Photoshop. But, it’s not built specifically for eCommerce. It’s a blogging platform, so everything it’s good at, that’s geared for bloggers.
This is where plug-ins come in. WordPress is not only easy to learn, it’s infinitely versatile. If you use standard WordPress, you’re going to be fighting against the software to create anything but a blog. But if you add a few plug-ins, you can transform the platform into just about anything you like. You could use WordPress to create a promotional site, you could use it to create a video site, a gaming leaderboard, a restaurant website, or an eCommerce site.
Before we can get into which plug-ins we like best for transforming WordPress into an eCommerce platform, we have to talk about what makes a great eCommerce plug-in.
Here’s how we rank them:
WordPress eCommerce: What Are You Selling?
The easiest eCommerce sites to build are based around digital goods. If you’re selling digital downloads of an eBook or a video game, then it’s all hands-off once you post it. You can work to promote your product, but you could also just forget about it entirely, and let it produce passive income for you.
Selling physical goods means hiring a third party to handle the shipping for you, or it means regular trips to the post office. It also means restocking inventory, renting storage space if you don’t have a garage or a big closet in which to keep your stock, and higher overhead for your business overall. If you’re a painter or a vintage fashion retailer or a bookseller, well, your calling is your calling. If you’re making a living at what you do, then the expenses are worth it.
In any event, here’s why we bring it up: Some eCommerce plug-ins are suited for one, and some are suited for the other. There are plug-ins that do both, but because you can use multiple plug-ins with WordPress and really outfit it to suit your needs, there’s no reason not to build an eCommerce platform around the WordPress base and make sure that it fits your needs precisely. WordPress is just the foundation, and from there you’re really building your own platform.
How Will You Get Paid?
You’ll need some sort of payment plug-in to outfit your platform. All you really need is for the plug-in to be versatile in this regard, and dependable. Not every plug-in is suited to handle all reasonable payment options right out of the box.
You have Paypal, debit, credit cards and so on. Some plug-ins are ready to go right away, while others will require add-ons before they can handle every payment option you plan to accept.
What Kind Of Support Is Offered?
There are a few different types of support you want to look at when selecting plug-ins:
• Is there sufficient how-to documentation? Oftentimes a plug-in won’t come with an in-depth guide, but you’ll be able to find plenty of tutorials on Youtube and elsewhere. Less popular plug-ins might not have this kind of support. Since not many people are using it, fewer people are out there producing tutorials. Even if it’s the best plug-in in its niche, if there’s no how-to material available, then it might not be worth the effort to learn a difficult interface and esoteric menus.
• Who can you call if you need help? If you have a technical issue, you can possibly look that up with video tutorials and so on, but if you have a problem with payment, you’ll want to be able to talk to someone on the phone or by email or text.
• Does it receive updates? Maybe it doesn’t need updates, but you should check and see if there are any unpatched bugs that have been left in the plug-in for years, issues that need to be addressed that the developer is ignoring. Anyone who knows a little coding can release a plug-in, and not everyone who releases a plug-in has the time and resources to keep it updated. If it’s a really great plug-in, maybe you can work around its shortcomings. But in general you’re looking for plug-ins that are updated when need be.
• Are there add-ons available? Few plug-ins will be perfect for you on download. Most of them will need a few tweaks. So, yes, you’re tweaking the tweaks you’re using to tweak WordPress. Every user needs something different from the platform, so being able to customize your WordPress experience is vital to running your eCommerce site.
So, with all of this in mind, here are our two favorite eCommerce plug-ins for WordPress:
For Physical Goods: WooCommerce
The most popular plug-in on WordPress for eCommerce, WooCommerce has truly earned that honor. Simply one of the most versatile plug-ins available for sellers using WordPress, here’s our take: Everything else on this list, you can take or leave. It might be right for you, it might not. But if you download WordPress in hopes of building an eCommerce site, download WooCommerce along with it. If WordPress is the foundation of your eCommerce site, then WooCommerce is the principal post.
The best thing about WooCommerce is the wealth of extensions, add-ons and themes. Most eCommerce plug-ins don’t actually feature any themes, they’re strictly utilitarian, designed to help you to create a better site and a reliable way of getting paid, but they don’t have a lot of options for the presentation and appearance of the site. With WooCommerce, you can build a site that looks how you want it to look.
The extensions and add-ons mean that you might not even have to download a second plug-in. This might be all you need. It comes with affiliate selling built in, it can work just as well with digital or physical goods, there is a wealth of payment and shipping options, and you have inventory management, so if you are selling physical goods, you don’t need an additional platform to manage all that. The support for the plug-in is unbelievable. Help desk and community forums make it easy to get your problems addressed directly, and there’s a ton of how-to material out there, from video tutorials to guides and FAQs.
If we had to pick out a negative, WooCommerce is a little overwhelming at first. There are so many options built right into the plug-in that, no matter how well you know WordPress, it’s like learning it all from scratch again. You’ll want to disable probably 95% of what’s there. It’s built to be just as useful whether you’re selling eBooks or antiques, which is probably why they’re so popular, but there’s a lot to dig through before you get it down to just the features that you want.
Some users have also complained that standard WordPress themes might not work with WooCommerce. If you’re already attached to your current theme, you might want to prepare yourself to search for a new one or get one specifically designed for WooCommerce.
For Digital Sales: Easy Digital Downloads
A must-have for a digital marketplace. If you’re selling anything that you don’t actually have to wrap up in a box and ship out to the buyer, then this is one we would definitely recommend.
The whole thing is pretty much ready to go right away. There’s plenty of documentation available, but you probably won’t even need it. You can add the plug-in to WordPress and figure it out on your own in an afternoon if you’re at all technically inclined. You’ll be ready to sell digital goods right away.
There are plenty of add-ons and extensions available, and it’s worth sifting through these to find what you need to customize your eShop. Whether that means covering all of your payment options or tweaking the plug-in to match your specific service or industry.
This is a great platform for anyone who works as a freelancer. Allowing people to place an order directly is a lot easier than having to go through the whole contracts-and-half-up-front deal. There are add-ons that will allow you to have customers place a deposit before you start work on their order as well as options for coupon codes and so on.
The downside: It’s only designed or digital sales. It might be the only plug-in you ever need to download to help you with your digital sales, but that’s all it’s for. If you ever want to add physical products or even affiliate sales to your site, you might need to dig into WooCommerce and essentially redesign your site from scratch.
WordPress eCommerce Plug-ins: Are There Any Other Great Ones?
The plug-ins listed above are our favorites, but, again, it’s all about building the platform up to suit your own needs.
Here are some other great plug-ins for your eCommerce site:
• iThemes Exchange: This plug-in has one of the most intuitive, easy-to-learn user interfaces out there. It’s easy to set up, and it offers support for digital and physical goods.
• Shopp: Multiple product types and some of the best security features available.
• Shopify: If you’re just getting started, this is a great plug-in for beginners. Easy to use, easy to learn, easy to install, easy to get all set up. Supports physical and digital good, covers a wide range of payment options, and comes with Facebook and Twitter buttons for quick sales.
WordPress eCommerce: How To Build Your Platform
Building WordPress into your own personal eCommerce platform takes a bit of intuition, experience, and learning on-the-job. You won’t really know which plug-ins and extensions are perfect for your site until you actually dig into WordPress and start playing around.
Our advice: Start with a soft-launch. Show your website to a few friends, ask them what features they would like to see you add, and find the appropriate add-ons and plug-ins to fit. Find the ones that you’re comfortable using, that feel intuitive and easy-to-use for you, and that meet your needs.
Take your time and be willing to experiment. Most plug-ins offer free trials, and many add-ons are totally free, so you have some room to play around and develop the perfect eCommerce platform on your own time.