Do you plan to build a business online selling products or services to a global audience? Before you even spend a dollar building an eCommerce store for your business, read our Complete Guide To WordPress and eCommerce so you know whether WordPress is a good fit for your eCommerce store and, if so, how to get started!
In just a few short years, we’ve seen a significant change in commerce, particularly in the retail landscape. We’ve witnessed the struggles of many brick-and-mortar stores, the phenomenal rise of successful internet retailers like Amazon, eBay, AliBaba and many others, and the successful transition and transformation of brick-and-mortar stores that are now delivering digital experiences through online shopping.
Electronic commerce has evolved. eCommerce today means more than just accepting payments online or buying and selling digital and physical products and services over the internet using digital product catalogs and shopping carts. eCommerce is completely redefining industry sectors and businesses worldwide with seamlessly integrated end-to-end sales and delivery processes, and digital commercial transactions that will instantly transfer money, funds, and data to and from anyone’s account, anywhere in the world.
In Douglas Adams’ famously absurd five-part trilogy ‘The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,’ funds can be transferred anywhere in the Universe simply by ‘bowing your head in payment.’
This concept doesn’t seem so absurd now when you see everyone paying for things with the tap of a card, signing pre-agreed auto payments for online subscriptions, or even using ‘checkout-free’ methods to walk in and walk out of stores with goods.
According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, 58.3 percent of global internet users purchased products online in 2016. In 2019, shopping online is expected to grow to 63 percent and surpass 65 percent of internet users worldwide in 2021. By 2020, we can expect over 2 billion online shoppers.
Almost a third of the world’s population is currently buying products and services online or transacting digitally. eCommerce is no longer the ‘new way’ of doing business. It is the way.
Although technology can help make setting up an online business easier, launching an online store is not a simple task. There are difficult decisions to make in areas like products, platforms, and all kinds of digital marketing, sales, and eCommerce tools.
In this post, we help you decide whether WordPress is the right eCommerce platform for you, or not.
The checklist below covers everything you need to know to benefit from and take advantage of the opportunities offered by eCommerce today:
WordPress and eCommerce
Your eCommerce Customer Experience
Your eCommerce Business
eCommerce Site Elements
WordPress eCommerce Plugins
eCommerce Plugin Features
WordPress eCommerce Themes
eCommerce Theme Features
eCommerce Tips & Useful Information
eCommerce & Membership Sites
eCommerce & Multisite
Selling Other People’s Products
Should You Use WordPress For eCommerce?
What platform should you choose for your eCommerce store?
I’ll cut to the chase and save you a whole lot of time and money on research. If you want to build a professional eCommerce store for your business, consider using WordPress.
If you’ve never heard of WordPress before, it’s the world’s leading platform for building websites of all kinds, including many fine eCommerce stores. It powers over 30% of all websites driven by a content management system (CMS).
I could give you loads of impressive stats about WordPress, but who cares about stats? The burning question you should be asking right now is this: “why should I use WordPress for eCommerce?”
I’m glad you asked, so let me give you the bottom line. Here’s why you should choose WordPress for your eCommerce store:
WordPress lets you start with nothing and build everything on top of it.
Whoaa… that’s deep. But what does it mean?
It means that with WordPress, you can start building an eCommerce business right now, without any product or service to sell, even without any eCommerce solutions installed, and add everything you need to your site as you grow and when you need it.
In theory, if you build your business online on WordPress, you can start with a simple, plain blog and no idea what to sell online, and turn it over time into an eCommerce powerhouse like Amazon, just by adding new functionality as you go along, which then integrates seamlessly with your existing setup. This lets you grow your business cost-effectively and discover what you need for your eCommerce site as you grow, without having to dismantle, redevelop, rebuild, or start again from scratch. With most situations, all you need to do to expand or enhance your store’s capabilities with new features or functionality can be done for free or very little cost with eCommerce plugins and addons.
This is because WordPress is built using a completely modular, flexible, scalable and just plain “smart” architecture (did I also mention that WordPress is free?)
Anyway, that’s the theory. For practical purposes, however, we don’t recommend starting your online business with nothing, as this is what you will probably end up with. Instead, start by choosing to build your eCommerce store with WordPress and plan your store before you start. This will make it so much easier when we come to the other steps, like choosing eCommerce plugins and an eCommerce theme for your online store.
Are you looking to build a website or have you already got one built? Do you plan to sell any products or services online? Where do you plan to sell to? Who do you plan to sell to?
You’ve probably heard the old adage… “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
Everything in your eCommerce store, from how you intend your business to operate, source, sell, and ship products, and collect payments to web design, page layout, site navigation and web content requires planning.
Whether you are a developer building eCommerce sites for clients or a website owner looking to add eCommerce to your own site, it helps to do a little planning before you go and spend time and/or money building your online store. Even if all you want to do is figure out a way to accept payments online for your services, planning can help.
Essentially, you need the following to get an online store up and running:
- Products or services that you can market, represent, or sell with confidence.
- Pages to display product information, product images, descriptions, and other important business information.
- An inventory management system to handle product and stock quantities.
- Shopping cart and payment processing software to handle and process orders and online payments.
- Reliable web hosting.
You could start the planning process by thinking about the products or services you want to sell, but we’re going to do something different. We’ll start with the end in mind by thinking about the people we want to sell our products and services to and imagining the customer experience you would like to create for people who visit your store.
Your eCommerce Customer Experience
If you know your business and have done your market research, you should have a clear(er) idea of your ideal customer.
Imagine that someone looking for the item, service, or information you sell lands on your home page. What is the first thing they will see on your site? Will they see a catalog of items surrounded by banners advertising the latest deals and special offers, or a single salespage with a relatable story matching the benefits of your products to their needs?
How will you give customers who are ready to purchase, a fast and convenient checkout experience? What about people who are only researching and comparing products at this stage? How will your site and content support their research and help influence their buying decision?
If you plan to sell multiple items, how quickly will customers be able to find the items they want? How will the sales, checkout, and purchase process look and feel like? If there are any upsells, how and when will these be introduced into the process and will they be presented as a hard or soft sell? How will you encourage prospects and customers to subscribe to your latest news and updates? How many hoops will people have to jump through before they can get back to whatever else they plan to do with their day? How will you leave customers feeling satisfied with their online interaction and eager to return?
Your customer’s eCommerce experience doesn’t just happen online. If you sell physical products or services, there are many other operational processes to consider, including manufacturing, ordering, suppliers, inventory control, pricing, picking, packing, shipping, distribution, fulfilment, etc. And don’t forget all the other areas of your business that will affect your customer’s eCommerce experience… financial, legal, customer service, customer training, and so on.
All these processes need to be integrated into your eCommerce plan if you want to give your customers a positive experience that will keep them coming back and referring others to your site.
One way to start with eCommerce, then, is to create the “big picture” from your customer’s perspective, i.e. their experience of your store and how they will feel doing business with you. But don’t dismiss the amount of planning required and the level of detail involved in building a successful eCommerce store that can deliver your customer this experience. The more automated and online the customer experience that you want to create, the more details and potential problems you will need to plan for and address.
If you need more help with “big picture” planning or great ideas for your eCommerce business, we have written an excellent guide on selling products online.
A practical way to classify different types of eCommerce businesses is to look at who is involved in the transaction. Here are the basic types of electronic commerce models:
B2B eCommerce models encompass all forms of electronic transactions between companies buying and selling goods or services. Typically, this involves only businesses in manufacturing, wholesaling, and retailing, where end-consumers do not participate. B2B eCommerce businesses typically require more startup cash, as they have to invest in custom platforms and closed environments.
B2C eCommerce models sell goods and/or services directly to consumers. Consumers browse sites for products and information, place orders using various methods, and get goods shipped or delivered directly to them. An example of B2C eCommerce are sites that allow users to find and buy products or book services in their local area, like lawn-mowing service directories, or ordering food from online restaurant menus.
C2B eCommerce is the reverse of the B2C model. In C2B, consumers provide goods or services to companies. An example of a C2B transaction would be a freelancer or sole proprietorship who develops, demos, and sells apps or WordPress plugins to a software company, or provides services to a freelancing directory like Upwork.com or Freelancer.com.
C2C eCommerce puts consumers directly in touch with each other and allows them to sell personal goods, assets, or services directly to one another with no company involved. Examples of C2C eCommerce include eBay, Amazon, and Etsy.
Additional eCommerce models include:
- Business-to-Administration (B2A) – B2A involves online transactions between companies and public administration for a variety of e-government services (e.g. fiscal, social security, employment, legal documentation, etc.)
- Consumer-to-Administration (c2A) – C2A involves online transactions between individuals and public administration using information and communication technologies (e.g. distance learning, filing tax returns, providing health information, etc.)
- Mobile commerce (M-commerce) – M-commerce refers to selling goods and services and making payments or other financial and business transactions over a mobile phone using Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) technology. M-commerce is huge in countries like India, where nearly 70% of online transactions occur over mobile phones and it’s a growing industry (700+ billion dollars).
Your eCommerce Business
What will be specific to your business in terms of things like products, payment options, shipping locations, etc? Will you sell digital or physical products, or both? Single, multiple, or bundled items? Will you charge one-time fees, subscriptions, and offer installments and payment plans? What payment methods will you accept? Will you ship parts of an order to different destinations?
Knowing the answers to these questions before you begin can save you a great deal of time, money, and heartache later. Invest time into thinking, planning, and doing research about your specific eCommerce business, especially if you plan to build your online store yourself, and write down all the questions you can think of if you plan to use a website developer.
eCommerce Site Elements
There are specific elements an eCommerce store needs to run effectively. Here are just some of the components your online store should have:
In addition to commonly found web pages like an ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact’ page, your eCommerce store needs special pages, such as a store page, product pages, product categories page, product search page, store policies, FAQs, customer accounts, shopping cart, checkout page and more.
Fortunately, many great eCommerce themes for WordPress already include these page templates, and some themes allow you to fully customize options within these pages.
A blog lets you promote your store and advertise your products, services, and special promotions, educate and train prospects and customers on the benefits of using your products or doing business with you, publish the latest specials or newest arrivals, add customer testimonials and videos, make important company or store announcements, and so much more.
WordPress provides an ideal platform for blogging with eCommerce, because you can seamlessly integrate your marketing blog with your online store (same WordPress installation on a separate installation in a subdirectory folder) and all other pages on one site under your domain.
For example, say you want to generate sales for a special time of the year, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Cyber November. You could easily schedule posts to automatically publish on specific days, so as the sales day aproaches, you are ramping up your marketing and promotions ahead of time to get customers excited for the big day. Your posts can direct customers to the store, specific product pages, or a sign up page to receive email or text notifications, creating a perfect synergy between sales, marketing, purchasing online, and customer service.
The aim of a successful eCommerce site is to help your business generate more sales online. To achieve this, your site’s design needs to take customers through an optimized conversion and sales experience.
We have created a separate post on how to design an eCommerce site to increase conversions and boost sales.
If you plan to accept payments online, your site will need features like ‘add to cart’ buttons, shopping cart, payment processing facilities, shipping options, currency conversion, and more.
Check out these guides to help you with this section:
Additional (and optional) elements that can help to improve your online store include:
- Add a community forum where customers can interact with you and ask questions about your products or services.
- Use Heatmaps to help you understand visitor behavior on your site.
- Set up feedback tools to capture site visitor feedback.
- Install survey tools to help you monitor and measure customer satisfaction, create polls, etc.
If adding all of the above to your site is out of your budget, start with free tools like Forminator, an all-in-one WordPress form plugin that offers payment options, contact forms, polls, quizzes, and over a thousand integrationsto help you increase user engagement and build a following and Hustle, which lets you set up email opt-in forms, popups, social share bars, and generate leads.
Rules and regulations apply for all kinds of businesses, including selling products and services online. Some of the legalities you need to take into account when planning your online store include:
If you plan to sell or distribute products online from other vendors, make sure to have all the necessary licenses to promote, distribute, or sell someone else’s goods. Even if you plan to set up an affiliate store, there are terms and conditions you must adhere to. Many companies take breaches of their vendor agreements seriously and may cancel your license or terminate your account or distribution agreement for failure to comply with their T&Cs.
If your site uses stock images or other forms of outsourced content creation, make sure that you have a license to use this content on your site and understand how the content is to be used or attributed in your content.
Check out our guide on the best places to find free stock images for your website.
In addition to adding legal documentation to your website, make sure that you understand all legal requirements and obligations, including copyright, trademarks and consumer law as it applies to all the countries or regions you plan to sell to.
Security is vital to an eCommerce site. If customers don’t feel safe being on your site, they won’t transact and one security breach can bring your entire business down. There are many security aspects to consider when setting up an eCommerce site, from SSL and secure payment processing, to the way you handle customer data.
Learn more about WordPress safety for eCommerce sites.
WordPress eCommerce Plugins
As mentioned earlier, the easiest way to build an eCommerce store with WordPress is to start with an eCommerce plugin. After installing and activating the plugin, all that’s typically left to is configure your store settings, add product information and pricing details and you are ready to start selling online
WordPress offers a number of eCommerce plugins. Here are some of the main plugins you can use to build your online store with WordPress:
WooCommerce is the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress (and owned by the same company that owns WordPress). It includes many features that will instantly turn any WordPress site into a professional online store. The plugin is free and comes with store management tools, reports, security features, marketing, promotions, coupons, tax options, shipping options, and SEO.
If you’re willing to shell out a few bucks, there are many extensions available that you can use to expand your store’s capabilities with a broad range of features including subscriptions, table rate shipping, payment gateway fees, product documentation, returns, warranties, product add-ons, PDF invoices, and products of the day, to name just a few. These extensions range in price from about $29 all the way up to $299 per year.
Still another choice is WP eCommerce, a free plugin that establishes an online store on your site in just a few clicks. It works for physical products, services, and downloads, and includes coupons, discounts, free shipping options, widgets for highlighting new products, search engine optimization, shipping rate calculators, multiple payment gateways including PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, PayLeap, PayPal Pro, Braintree, eWay, Sage Pay, and more, and customization options. WP eCommerce integrates seamlessly with WordPress and works well with WordPress themes and plugins, plus it has WordPress widget support and a very similar dashboard to avoid having to learn a new one. If you know your CSS and HTML, you’ll be able to customize your site within WP eCommerce.
Should you choose to upgrade to the pro version, you tack on additional features thanks to premium plugins. For instance, there’s the Gold Cart Plugin, which adds multiple product images and live search, and Members & Subscriptions, which allows for product subscriptions.
These add-ons vary in price but typically hover around $99.
Another eCommerce solution to consider is WP EasyCart. This plugin is easy to install on your existing site and adds a straightforward shopping cart. You can sell a variety of products, both physical and digital, and play around with the settings to achieve the look you want. It is compatible with most themes and can be set up within minutes.
It comes with several widgets, menus, and more to manage features like store search, vertical and horizontal menus, price and manufacturer filters, categories, specials, and more. Other features include payment gateway integration, internationalization, advanced product settings (tiered pricing, B2B pricing, featured products, etc), live shipping, coupons, promotions, Google Analytics, social sharing, administrative software, and more.
WP EasyCart is also free.
eCommerce plugins provide many features designed to improve all aspects of your online store. This includes:
- Improving the online shopping experience for customers – Frontend features and enhancements include product search filters, banner widgets, image galleries, customer reviews and ratings, related products, gift cards, wishlists, related products, etc.
- Improving store admin and management – Add new functionality to your store with addons and extensions that let you optimize site SEO, configure advanced product settings, offer flexible payment and shipping options, add multicurrency, integrate with 3rd-party services such as email marketing services to build customer lists and send our newsletters, manage product inventory, generate detailed reporting dashboards, set up sales funnels, coupons, custom shopping carts, etc.
3 – Install a WordPress ecommerce plugin that provides all of the features you need and performs all of the functions required. This could include the following:
- Bulk/Individually add, edit and delete products, product descriptions, images, pricing, quantities, variations, tax, etc.,
- Handle ordering, customize settings and options, set up purchasing rules (e.g. discounts, coupons, etc.),
- Add “Buy” or “Add To Cart” buttons for single and grouped items, shopping carts, etc.
- Integration with online payment processors (e.g. Paypal, Stripe, Square, etc.)
- Send notifications, invoices, etc. to customers and administrators,
- Handle product deliveries, shipping & inventory, tracking, sales reports, etc.
Make sure to read our post on the 13 things every eCommerce product page needs for more conversions to learn more about additional eCommerce plugin features.
WordPress eCommerce Themes
WordPress themes are available to suit all kinds of websites, including online stores and web shops. The benefit of using a WordPress theme designed for eCommerce is that you can create an integrated look and feel for your store simply by installing and activating a theme, then customizing its settings and options to create something unique to your business that matches your brand.
WordPress themes for eCommerce let you customize and configure global design settings like color scheme, logos, page layout, store navigation and menus, typography and styles for content and images, and so much more.
Many excellent, professional, and well-designed WordPress themes are available for your eCommerce site. We recommend choosing premium themes from established design houses and theme marketplaces, as this will ensure you get support and updates from theme developers.
Here are some examples of WordPress themes and places you can look for:
Learn how to find the best and most trustworthy WordPress themes.
eCommerce Theme Features
Many WordPress eCommerce themes today come jam-packed with features and customization options. Here are just some of the main features to look for in a theme for your online store.
By far, the most important feature to look for with any eCommerce theme you choose is to make sure that the theme is fully responsible. More people today are browsing online using their mobile phones, so it’s important to make sure that your theme will look great on all devices and browsers.
Look for features that will let you control all aspects of your site layout, such as boxed, wide, or full-width page layouts, site-width control settings, page backgrounds, finetune design settings for elements (e.g. offset values, page scroll modes, content padding) and layout options for sidebars (e.g. no sidebar, single, dual or multiple sidebar layouts).
Headers & Footers
You will want to control settings such as header/footer content, styling, and background images. The option of sticky or floating headers is also great to have.
Additional Theme Features
Check for additional important features such as option settings that let you upload and change your logo (and set different versions for light and dark styles, Retina, etc.), add custom navigation menus, configure page title bars, sidebars, backgrounds and image lightboxes, add maps to the contact page, and configure settings for the blog, social media sharing, and typography and custom CSS styles.
The more features and flexibility offered by the theme, the more unique you can make the site look and customize it to suit your needs without the need to pay a web designer or web developer to modify code.
eCommerce Tips & Useful Information
eCommerce Store PreLaunch Checklist
After installing WordPress and the theme and plugins you will use to run your online store, remember to complete the following steps:
Create pages and content for your product information, sales pages, support, contact, FAQs, testimonials, legal pages, etc.
Configure your theme settings.
Configure your plugin settings.
Configure order buttons and shopping cart, enter information into your payment processor account, get approval from merchants, test payment and Buy buttons, links and make sure the ordering process works without a glitch.
Make sure that all business systems and processes are in place so that when customers checkout and complete their purchase, you will receive a notification about it and they will receive access to their products and purchase information, invoices, etc.
Make sure that all offline systems (operations, financing, etc.) are also in place, and that your staff are trained to process and fulfill orders, handle customer inquiries, etc.
WordPress & eCommerce Variations
Once you open up the door to selling products and service online, there are so many additional ways to expand with eCommerce. Here are just some of these:
eCommerce & Membership Sites
WordPress lets you easily integrate powerful eCommerce functionality and features into membership sites, discussion forums, directory listings, and more, allowing you to automate payment collection before allowing new members to register and access your services.
We have written a guide to the best free WordPress membership site plugins.
eCommerce & Multisite
Would you like to set up a network of online stores or an eCommerce marketplace quickly and easily? With WordPress Multisite you can!
Learn how to set up eCommerce on WordPress Multisite in under 10 minutes.
Selling Other People’s Products
You don’t need your own products to start an eCommerce store, you can easily set up online stores to sell other people’s products through methods like affiliate marketing and dropshipping using WordPress-powered store builders & datafeed sites.
Learn how to set up an affiliate or referral program on your WordPress site.
Sell Your Products In Different Languages
One last tip… if you plan to sell products online to a global audience, why not offer information in the language of the country you’re selling your products to?
Check out our easy guide on how to create a multilingual online store with WordPress.
Building an Commerce store to sell products or services online with WordPress has many benefits, including relatively low startup costs to open a business, the ability to check your store and work flexible hours from home or from any remote location and avoid traffic jams, work in a safer environment, and operate a business even if you have physical or health disabilities. Additionally, if you plan to sell digital products, you start with little to no inventory and build financial security part-time or full-time.
(WordPress lets you build beautiful eCommerce stores)
You can use WordPress to sell a single item online or tens of thousands of products, digital and/or physical products, calculate complex volume pricing discounts and collect payments for services automatically, allow your customers to track shipping and delivery of products, and a whole lot more.
Make sure your site complies with all security best practices and legal requirements and complete our pre-launch list before going live.
Implement the above processes and recommendations and you should be well on your way to building a successful online store with WordPress.
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