8 Must-Haves When Adding eCommerce to Your WordPress Site

8 Must-Haves When Adding eCommerce to Your WordPress Site

Thinking of using WordPress for eCommerce? In this post, we show you what to look for, what you will need, and what to avoid.

WordPress is an all-round solution, offering so much more than a robust content management system (CMS). No longer just the choice for bloggers, you can now add WordPress eCommerce features and build a beautiful, responsive, and functional online store for your business.

Read on to learn how to add eCommerce to WordPress and the 8 must-haves you need to consider.

Must-Have #1… Dynamic Content

Running an online store is a highly competitive business. One way to make sure that your website stands out from the crowd is to think through the user experience and choose a theme that’s eye-catching but also functional. Drawing your customers in and making sure they can easily use your website is a sure route to more sales.

The following trends are great for creating dynamic content, and various themes and plugins will give you this functionality:

Interactive Content

Perhaps you could create an animation or illustration of the product that explains the features and benefits. For example, a sports t-shirt can look pretty on a model, but it won’t show you how the technology works when they go running. Let customers explore complementary items and visually build a set of products. For instance, if a customer goes to buy a tent, of course you’ll want to show them related products. However, if you let them drag-and-drop a groundsheet onto the visual, it’ll build up a camping picture.

A simpler way to add interaction to your store content is to use 360° imaging technology like webrotate360 for your product images.

Webrotate 360 animation of rotating shoe.
Add interactive product images to your eCommerce store.

Product Sliders

As the above animation shows, movement on a page catches the eye of your customer and decreases bounce rates. Animated slides can do this. Visitors will want to see what’s on the next slide, so they will stick around to see it or click through the slides. Sliders also give you the opportunity to display more than one promoted product. If your page is static, you’ll need to update your content more frequently to ensure returning customers don’t get bored with seeing the same thing.

Product slider animated gif
Use product sliders to attract attention and showcase multiple items.

Parallax Design

Websites that scroll while showing new panes of information are the current design trend. The look is very modern and shows all the information in one place. Customers don’t need to leave a page to view other information, which could result in the loss of a sale if they navigate away from a product. If you have a static background image with scrolling panes on top, it adds another dynamic to the design, as it appears like you’re moving the panes across the image. Again, this is useful for catching the attention of customers and making them want to see more. It makes interacting with your site or products more exciting.

WordPress website with parallax effect
Choose a WordPress theme for your store that supports parallax effects.

Must-Have #2… eCommerce Plugins

By far, the quickest way to add eCommerce to your website is to use a plugin. Plugins add to the experience and certain plugins can take your site from a simple web presence to a full-fledged online shop or eCommerce behemoth.

Your eCommerce plugin needs to offer a payment gateway (PayPal is usually a standard payment option, as is Stripe) that works in different currencies, offers the choice of making payments using all the major credit card providers, plus the option to add tax and shipping costs.

You might have an existing WordPress site that you want to expand and sell products or services from, or you might plan to set up a brand new online store and build the site from scratch. Using WordPress to power your site with an eCommerce plugin that takes care of selling and payment processing is a great option, as this will give you an integrated, easy-to-use CMS that lets you blog and promote your store, products, special offers, etc. Plus you’ll be part of a friendly, supportive, and growing community.

WooCommerce is the most downloaded eCommerce plugin for WordPress.

WooCommerce WordPress eCommerce Plugin
WooCommerce WordPress eCommerce Plugin

There are, however, various other WordPress eCommerce plugins you can choose from.

eCommerce Platform Alternatives

We advocate WordPress as it’s so simple to use, has a plethora of themes and plugins to choose from, and an awesome and supportive community of passionate users and developers. Most WordPress eCommerce plugins are reasonably cheap to purchase, making the risk of starting up low and the likelihood of recouping your initial investment through sales sooner. And if you find that the plugin you’re using to power or enhance your online store is not giving you what you need, it’s easy to switch to other plugins (or even customize what you’ve got).

Similarly, if you have an existing WordPress site and want to branch out into selling online, you can easily add a plugin and start making money. You just need to make sure that the plugin integrates with your existing WordPress theme (which is the next must-have we discuss below).

Having said that, there are other options to build an eCommerce site from scratch. An alternative to consider is to download and use apps for other sites that integrate with your WordPress site. Let’s take a look at some of these alternatives:

Shopify

Shopify
Shopify eCommerce platform.

Shopify generates a buy button code you can copy and paste to add products to your WordPress site. Once you drop the Buy Button into place and choose the product you’d like to feature, a standalone mini-storefront is created on your WordPress blog or website that connects directly with Shopify’s secure shopping cart platform to display product images, details, and prices automatically. This can be a good option for those who already have an existing WordPress site and Shopify shop.

And the benefits of using Shopify? Many are similar to the WordPress plugins, such as a secure shopping cart, various payment gateways, controlling taxes and shipping, and the ability to use CSS and HTML to build and style your website to match your brand’s look. It also lets you choose from over 100 professional themes and present your shopping cart as mobile or tablet-ready.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce
BigCommerce.

BigCommerce provides scalable headless commerce on WordPress via a plugin.

The plugin allows you to link to your BigCommerce account and display products with embedded store images within your WordPress site on the front-end while handing things like catalog management, processing payments, and managing fulfillment logistics on the back-end from BigCommerce.

This is a good option for a standalone eCommerce site if you’re not too familiar with CSS and HTML, as the plugin supports WordPress’ standard method of overriding template files so you can modify out-of-the-box designs, customize product cards, lists, and cart without risking plugin updates that will undo your changes. Big Commerce gives you full catalog access, allows you to choose a theme, and use the point and click design features to make it your own. It’s also got built-in marketing and SEO tools, so you don’t need to be an expert in this either. Your site will be securely hosted, PCI compliant, and you’ll get a CRM to communicate with your customers.

So, why do we suggest going with WordPress over these other options?

WordPress gives you a whole lot more control and ownership of your site (and did I mention that WordPress is 100% Free?), whereas other eCommerce platforms don’t give you ownership of your site, provide limited options, and can charge you monthly and transaction fees.

Must-Have #3… An eCommerce Theme

Choosing an established WordPress theme will allow you to build a professional-looking site quickly and without the associated cost of designing and developing an eCommerce site from scratch. You’ll also have a lot more control over your site, particularly if you have some CSS and HTML knowledge.

Because WordPress isn’t just an e-commerce platform, with a WordPress theme, you get all the ease and flexibility of a powerful CMS that lets you quickly add new posts and pages, plus rearrange your page layouts, add new features and functionality, and so much more.

Choosing the right WordPress theme is important, as there are many beautifully designed themes that aren’t built with eCommerce in mind. Having said this, there are many great eCommerce themes available for WordPress-powered online stores. To learn more about WordPress eCommerce themes, see our guide to planning an eCommerce store with WordPress.

Elementor theme
An example of an eCommerce site built using the Elementor WordPress theme.

Must-Have #4… Ramped Up Security 

Security is paramount for an eCommerce site, especially now that millions of people are shopping and transacting online. Your customers trust you to keep their payment details secure. Security is obviously important for them, and it can make or break your reputation, not to mention that it’s a legal requirement if you sell anything online.

Some WordPress plugins offer security as a feature, as payments are processed through them in the cloud. Otherwise, you’ll need to get an SSL certificate and make sure you’re PCI compliant. If you’re not sure how to proceed with this or you just want to get your shop up and running as quickly as possible, then choose an eCommerce security plugin that will take all the hassle away.

Additionally, don’t forget to choose secure hosting for your eCommerce site. WordPress is a safe and secure platform for eCommerce, but when it comes to the security of your business and your customers, you can never take enough precautions, so make and make sure to go through our ultimate security checklist for WordPress when setting up your eCommerce store.

Must-Have #5… Optimized Digital Downloads

Selling digital downloads or access to digital information products like video courses or ebooks can be a very lucrative business. If this is the type of business you plan to build instead of selling physical products, you may need a more specialized plugin (although most eCommerce plugins will work just fine with virtual downloads).

Options like being able to re-download a digital file and allow users to download multiple files are a must-have for a successful digital download store.

Easy Digital Downloads

Easy Digital Downloads
Easy Digital Downloads is designed for selling digital downloads with WordPress securely.

Easy Digital Downloads is designed specifically for selling digital products. There are no other confusing options. This plugin is free to use with the option to buy extensions and themes.

EDD integrates with many kinds of services like email marketing, cloud storage, payment processors, and business productivity tools and is fully supported by an active community of developers. It also comes with built-in features like discount codes, full shopping cart, unlimited file downloads, file access control, download activity tracking, full data reporting, customer account page shortcode, and REST API. Just like the fuller eCommerce options, Easy Digital Downloads allows your customers to input discount codes and see their purchase history, download multiple files, purchase bundles, and re-download files. It also lets you see your sales log to manage your business effectively.

Must-Have #6… Leverage 

Growing an eCommerce business involves coordinating many moving parts, including sales, marketing, and promotion. The key to getting ahead in this area is to create leverage.

Marketing Blog

Adding a marketing blog to your eCommerce site not only gives a friendly voice to what could otherwise be a faceless website, but it also gives you a dynamic and interactive presence. Your eCommerce store blog can include all kinds of useful content, from informal topics, such as what your staff have been up to or industry trends, to education and training for your products, how-to videos, before and after pictures and customer stories and testimonials.

Blogs are usually written, but you can also add videos, create imaginative infographics and pepper your writing with striking imagery. Blogs can also be used to be informative, such as providing how-to guides. What’s important about informative content is that it establishes you as an authority in the industry. Showcasing your knowledge about topics that are influenced by your products means you’ll become the go-to business to enquire about those products.

man drinking coffee and blogging on his laptop
Leverage your eCommerce business with a marketing blog and regular content.

Regular Content

Whatever the topic, the important thing is to continually provide your customers (and potential customers) with valuable content. When someone visits your site, they don’t have to get hit with products and a hard sell. There are so many ways to provide users with additional value and give them something more that they can take away and remember you by. Users can share links from your blog with others if they find it useful, entertaining, or interesting. Sharing, as we all know, leads to more customers.

Content marketing is providing content of value that users can appreciate and share. It also keeps search engines happy. One tactic of SEO is to get your website linked to other websites. So if your blogs are shared, this will link them up—hopefully to websites that are getting high impressions and can refer you more traffic. Also, if you’re an active business constantly publishing and updating content on your site, Google will pick this up and push you higher up its rankings than static sites.

You can also easily integrate a WordPress blog with your social media networks and your eCommerce store (and a business directory, and a calendar of events with bookings and registrations, and a membership site, and an affiliate program, and, and, and…). All this leverage and interactivity allows your customers to get to know your business better and develop a relationship that will see them returning for repeat visits… even promote your site and products for you.

So, publish valuable stuff on your blog to maximize your leverage. Don’t just regurgitate what everyone else is saying. Plus, share your content on your own social media channels to encourage others to read and share it too.

Must-Have #7… Monitor Your Analytics

Most WordPress themes and eCommerce plugins integrate with reporting and analytic tools. Google Analytics is one of the best (and free) ways to find out what your customers are doing. You can track their journey across your site and see if there any stumbling blocks preventing them from making a purchase. Perhaps certain products are being clicked on but aren’t selling. Your next step from this information is to work out why.

KISSMetrics

Kissmetrics
Kissmetrics provides deep insights and analytics about your customers.

Another option is KISSmetrics, which will take some of your budget, but you can get started with a 7-day free trial. It’s a popular choice for many websites – eCommerce or otherwise – and it’s easy to see why. The analytics tool allows you to deeply understand your customers. You can learn where your best customers come from and tell you who your repeat customers are. All you need to do is install the tracking code into your WordPress site and you’ll be all set to receive actionable insights. With KISSMetrics, you can import shopping history, segment customers, and follow them from the first visit to purchase and beyond.

Must-Have #8… Social Media Integration

Think about the social media aspects of your marketing strategy. If customers see a product they like, they can share the link with friends and family hoping they’ll buy it for them.

The very act of sharing a link online means that others will see it too, which can result in a new customer. Make sure that your plugin has built-in social media features or social media integration. Also, consider using a link shortener so that links shared by customers aren’t monster-sized.

Learn more about integrating social media with WordPress.

Other Must-Haves To Consider 

As well as the must-haves listed above, here are some key things to consider and avoid when adding eCommerce to your WordPress site:

  • Planning. Because WordPress gives users unlimited flexibility and seemingly infinite options, there is no one plugin or theme that will suit every business, so invest a little time into planning your eCommerce business and research your options before setting up your shop. Avoid diving right into building an eCommerce store without first planning and researching your options.
  • Cost. If your eCommerce environment is built on a scalable platform, you can start inexpensively and add more things as your business grows and different functionality is required. A platform like WooCommerce, for example, offers a wide range of extensions, which you’ll have to pay for but it can give your customers a better user experience and help to improve your results. WordPress themes can also help you save money in areas like web design. Avoid getting locked into limited eCommerce platforms and solutions that may seem cheaper initially, but actually turn out to be more expensive when it’s time to expand.
  • Support. Think about how confident you are with the backend of WordPress. If things go wrong, can you afford to have your shop offline for a few hours while you troubleshoot and figure things out? That’s where themes and plugins that provide solid support become vitally important in your business. Avoid using ‘free’ themes and plugins for your eCommerce business, unless these are regularly updated and fully supported, which can be challenging if the developers aren’t getting paid to improve or support these.

From Must-Haves To Must-Dos

Hopefully, now you know what to look for, what you will need to add eCommerce to your WordPress site, and what to avoid. If you’re just starting up an eCommerce business, you’ll be able to use the above information to build a more effective site or an online store from scratch.

There are so many options for setting up an online shop. The one thing we strongly advise is to go with WordPress and add everything your eCommerce store needs using plugins and themes. You will be part of a supportive and passionate community, plus have a dizzying array of new themes and plugins to constantly choose from.

The last thing you want to do when setting up a business online is to be stressed by the complexity of it all. WordPress is simple and flexible, plus there’s always support—paid and free through forums and our online WordPress tutorials—to help you out.

More businesses are realizing that having an effective online presence is the key to success (and for some, even necessary for their survival), so now is a great time to get on board and present your offering to the world through a fantastic WordPress eCommerce-enabled site.

If you need help getting started, see our comprehensive guide to planning an eCommerce store with WordPress and also make sure to check out these latest eCommerce trends.

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Brenda Barron
Brenda Barron Brenda Barron is a freelance writer from Southern California. She specializes in WordPress, tech, business and founded WP Theme Roundups. When not writing all the things, she's spending time with her family.
Martin Aranovitch
Martin Aranovitch Martin believes that we can all live sustainably in a WordPress-centric digital universe and spends most of his time taking copious notes and creating epic tutorials to prove his theory. Before joining WPMU DEV, Martin authored many WordPress guides and courses for beginners.
Are there any other must-haves for setting up an online business that you consider important? Be sure to tell us in the comments section below.