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Ecommerce for WordPress has become common enough that it’s often not just enough to have a well-functioning eCommerce site, you’ve also got to incorporate the right plugins and features to increase conversions and functionality on the site.
A few years ago, a large enterprise would have had a hard time building an ecommerce site with WordPress. However, in the last 2 years, WordPress has officially become a complete solution to develop large scale and feature-rich eCommerce sites. Solutions like WooCommerce, WP e-Commerce, and Cart 66 are each well-respected in their own right.
Prior to these apps, using WordPress for ecommerce meant a healthy dose of doing a great deal of customization and hacking together a theme with custom fields to optimize for ecommerce, as well as working for months to build a theme that could stand up to the demands of shoppers on your site, particularly during a rush that arrives during the holidays.
And while eCommerce sites don’t often have as high of traffic as a gossip blog, for example, they are a challenge to build for scale since you cannot cache the unique and dynamically generated pages that must be created for each customer. Things like the “view cart” area can’t be cached. But the longer the site takes to load, the more likely your customer will abandon their cart without making a purchase.
We put together a list of features that have become essential for an ecommerce site, all of which are available either with an individual plugin, or as an add-on to an ecommerce app.
Payment Checkout Solutions
Perhaps the *most* important element of your site. You have to be able to take people’s money! An eCommerce theme like WooThemes does not come bundled with PCI compliant servers where you can transact business with your customers.
When you accept payment information, the servers that accept it must meet a set of security standards to protect customer data. The standards are as stringent as you might expect, and while most managed WordPress hosts will have redundant security measures validated by a 3rd party, when you accept payment onto your site, a payment checkout solution is the most secure way to protect the data, and protect your company from liability.
Stripe and Mijireh are both fantastic payment checkout solutions that transport your customers to their PCI-compliant data centers for transactions, keep customer data safe, and also allow you to maintain your company’s branding throughout the entire seamless process. Both are gaining traction over PayPal with their robust features and ease of use.
Tracking customer behavior is always a lynchpin of every successful website project. As you can view trends of customer behavior, you learn how important actions like adding an item to a cart, viewing similar items are, and adding things to a wish list will be. The data also helps to minimize bounces and increase the likelihood that every visitor will make a purchase on your site.
Google Analytics links your site with Google’s robust analytics platform. Clicky is a killer app that does session-specific tracking rather than group-statistical tracking that Google does. Use Clicky to measure heatmaps, and effectively track all your campaigns. KISSMetrics will also track every user, and their actions on your site historically.
Have you ever shared the full URL of a bestseller on Amazon? The URL can take up several lines of an email, and completely blows out the 140 character limit for Twitter. Long links are a barrier for people who want to share your products on social media. Use a link shortener to generate bite-sized shortlinks that are easy to share anywhere on the web.
Content Delivery Networks (CDN) cache the static content for your site, things like product images, and serve them quickly to your site visitors. Not everything can be cached on an eCommerce site, so you still need to host on an enterprise-grade managed WordPress platform (like WP Engine). You can cache images using Photon, Jetpack’s new image CDN, or cache photos as well as other static elements with MaxCDN and W3-Total Cache. You can’t cache everything on a site, and there are exceptions that your developer can tell you about, but the more you can cache, the faster your site. And the faster your site, the better your Google rankings will be, and the higher your conversions will be too. (ED: If you host the eCommerce site with WP Engine, you do not need a caching plugin. We manage caching for you.)
Pinterest “Pin It” upon rollover
Pinterest is one of the best things that ever happened to eCommerce sites, particularly those with consumer products. The social network can act as a visual wishlist for the products your customers want to buy when they pin them on Pinterest, creating backlinks to your store in the process. Use this plugin to have a “Pin It” button appear on a product image when a mouse hovers over it. Bonus points if your designer customizes the button with your branding.
Gravity Forms will allow you to set pricing options for your products and configure discounts that encourage more sales. WooThemes and others have this functionality as add-ons, but Gravity Forms is a powerful way to accomplish the same thing.
Dynamic pricing means that your customers can purchase items in volume to get bulk discounts, and you can add sale discounts, and member discounts as well. Test out discounts to see what affects your customer behavior, but remember that the best customers won’t buy based on a discount, they buy because your product adds something amazing to their lives or their businesses.
Sometimes people needed to have their order *yesterday,* and they’re willing to pay an arm and a leg to have it shipped. Other times, they’d rather save a few bucks and have their item arrive in a few days. Table Rate Shipping allows you to define shipping rates based on variables like region, weight, and delivery time so that your service can match the needs of individual customers.
I’d love to hear about the eCommerce plugins that you add on your sites. Particularly if you have any hacks or optimizations that you use to add them. And if you’re looking for an excellent consultant that you can trust to build a new eCommerce site for your company, we’ve got a list of WordPress consultants that we’ve worked with and can recommend.
Hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter