8 Must-Haves When Adding E-Commerce to Your WordPress Site

WordPress has fast become an all-round solution when it comes to content management systems (CMS).

No longer just the choice for bloggers, you can now build a beautiful, responsive, and expertly functional site for your business. Plugins add to the experience, and certain plugins can take your site from being a simple one to a full-fledged online shop.

At WPMU DEV, we’ve rounded up the best ways to add e-commerce to your WordPress site and listed what’s trending in the industry. We cover plugins and other features – what to look for and how to use them. Plus, you’ll also want to know what to avoid, because, obviously.

If you’re just starting up an e-commerce business, you’ll be able to use this information and build your site from scratch. Online businesses are so successful right now, so it’s a great time to get on board and present your offering to the world through a fantastic WordPress e-commerce site. Plugins can be reasonably cheap to purchase, making the risk of starting up low, and you’re likely to get your initial payment back through your sales soon after. If you find that you’re not getting on with one plugin, it’s easy to switch to another, too.

Similarly, if you have an existing WordPress site and want to branch out into selling online, you can add a plugin really easily and start making money. You’ll need to make sure the plugin integrates into your current theme, so read on to find out what you need to consider.

Using Dynamic Content

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

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

Interactive Content

Perhaps you could create an animation or illustration of the product that clearly explains the features and benefits. For example, a sports t-shirt can look pretty on a model, but won’t show you technology that’s working 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 ground sheet onto the visual, it’ll build up a camping picture.

Product Sliders

Movement on a page catches the eye of your customer and decreases bounce rates. They’ll want to see what’s on the next slide, so 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 the content more frequently to ensure returning customers don’t get bored of seeing the same thing.

Parallax Design

Websites that scroll while showing new panes of information is the current design trend. It looks very modern and clearly shows all of the information in one place. This means customers don’t need to leave a page to find out other information, which could result in a loss of sale if they navigate away from a product. If you have a static background image with scrolling panes on top as well, 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 the products more exciting.

Using an E-Commerce Plugin

By far the quickest way to add e-commerce to your website is using a plugin. You might have an existing WordPress site that you want to add this extra dimension to, or you could be considering setting up a whole new one from scratch. Using WordPress as the CMS and adding a plugin for the selling side is a great option, as you’ll have an easy-to-use CMS that still allows you to blog, plus you’ll be part of a friendly and supportive community. So which of the plugins should you choose?

  • Your Best Plugin Choice: MarketPress eCommerce


    Our very own e-commerce plugin for WordPress is packed with features but is really simple to use for both digital and physical products. It’s 100% customizable if you know a thing or two about CSS, otherwise you’re able to pick from one of the many themes and make it your own through the widgets.

    Widgets include a drop down list of product categories and a customizable product list. There’s an unlimited amount of product variations for you to display. Products can be cloned to save you time when uploading them as well. You have a huge number of payment gateways and it supports all major currencies. The site can translate to other languages than your own, giving you an international store. You can customize your URLs, plus you’re able to link any product to an external link, which is brilliant for affiliates. Customers can easily navigate with the breadcrumbs to the checkout process. With all of these fantastic features, you’ll also receive comprehensive documentation and support. Not too shabby, right?

  • Another Popular E-Commerce Plugin: WooCommerce


    WooCommerce  has a polished admin interface, top class support, and a choice of sidebar widgets like top-rated products, recently viewed, and a price filter. Products can have ratings and reviews, giving your customers a sense of reassurance. You can enable Lightbox so that customers can view the products larger and in a zoomable window without leaving the product page. It’s the choice for many WordPress developers, meaning that there are a lot of themes that are integrated with the plugin.

    This huge selection to choose from is one of its main advantages. WooCommerce is free but extensions are available to buy to extend your site into something even bigger. The free features include shipping and tax charge control; discount codes; order, product and inventory management; and a customer account area. Your sales reports are very detailed through WooCommerce, which helps you keep track of individual product statistics and your overall store performance. You’re able to plug in Google Analytics, so you can monitor your success. ShareThis and ShareDaddy can be integrated so that any products customers like can be shared quickly across their social media channels.

  • A Quick Way to Start Up: WP e-Commerce/Get Shopped

    WP eCommerce

    Another popular choice for both WordPress users and developers is Get Shopped. It used to be named WP e-Commerce and many in the WordPress community still refer to it as such. It has all of the features you should want in an e-commerce plugin, such as the ability to offer discount codes, and shipping costs and different currency calculations. But it’s better than most because drag-and-drop shopping makes a brilliant user experience for your customers. Also, you have many checkouts that you can integrate with, including PayPal, Google Wallet, Chronopay, iDEAL, BluePay, Sagepay, Paystation, Authorize.net and FirstData/LinkPoint. On the back end, you can see your sales really easily and control your inventory through the dashboard.

    The main advantage of WP e-Commerce is that it integrates seamlessly with WordPress as both sites were made by the same developers. This also means it 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’re able to customize your site within WP e-Commerce.

  • An Old Trusted Favorite: Jigoshop


    Jigoshop has been used for a long time by WordPress developers and can be downloaded for free with some premium themes. As well as the usual control over discount codes, shipping costs, and tax options, it allows customers to have their own account area and for you to track inventory and manage orders really easily. There are the options to display similar products and for customers to search for products, too.

  • A Plugin Loaded With Extra Features: eShop


    This is another great plugin that’s stood the test of time so far. It’s packed with features like having multiple payment gateways, several shipping methods, and tax options. You’re able to create products within WordPress posts and pages and it’s compatible with custom post types. You can offer downloadable products for your customers.

    This could be used as an incentive to sign up to the site, which is easy to do too. There are automatic emails sent on successful purchases and the configurable email templates that are available can help you here. There are also multiple ways to list your products, allowing you to customize the site to you. The inventory management and stats and sales data makes it incredibly easy to manage your shop.

  • The Developer's Dream: Shopp


    With Shopp, you’re able to add an e-commerce element to your website in minutes. You don’t even need to worry about security add-ons as it comes with its own secure cart. You can set up customer accounts plus manage your catalog of products and display them in either list or grid view. There’s a discount feature and multiple image options. Most impressively, it has a responsive design, so is able to be seen clearly across all-sized devices. It’s also SEO-friendly, partly because it’s designed for high-speed.

    There are various options to try based on your experience, including a Go Pro version that comes with developer access. But even for beginners, it’s so simple to use that you can easily see why the catchphrase is, “Publish with WordPress. Sell with Shopp.”

  • Thinking Outside the Box: WPdeposit


    This is another plugin that’s specific to a certain type of online shop. WPdeposit allows you to sell credits that customers can then use to make purchases. It’s a premium plugin, but worth the investment if this is your business.

    Good uses for this credit-based system are for customers to buy advertisements or subscriptions. There are tools available for admin to control the credits, for example by issuing a refund. Plus, customers of the site can issue credits to each other. Customers can see their credit deposit history and there are widgets and shortcodes available to show the customer’s balances. WPdeposit is more for the advanced WordPress user but it does come with a full developer guide to create your own module.

Considering E-Commerce Alternatives

Of course we’re going to be an advocate for WordPress as it’s so simple to use, has a plethora of themes and plugins to choose from, and an awesome community. But there are other options out there to build an e-commerce site from scratch. These include Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce. Why do we suggest going with WordPress over these options?

Choosing a WordPress theme that’s already established will allow you to build a professional-looking site without the associated costs of having an e-commerce site designed and developed. You’ll have more control over your site, particularly if you have some CSS and HTML knowledge. You still have the flexibility to produce blog posts and other pages as WordPress isn’t just an e-commerce platform. As WordPress usually requires one-off payments, you don’t need to worry about the monthly and transaction fees that you get with other e-commerce options.

The alternative is to download an app for the other sites and integrate it into your WordPress site.

  • Shopify


    For Shopify, for instance, you’ll need to copy and paste product URLs from your Shopify site into WordPress and the app makes the product image, details, and price appear automatically. It’s more of a hassle to set this up, but it can be a good option for those who already have an existing WordPress site and Shopify shop. And the benefits of using Shopify? There are many the same as 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 your website. It also lets you choose from over 100 professional themes and present your shopping cart as mobile or tablet-ready.

  • BigCommerce


    The same principle applies to BigCommerce. This plugin allows you to link to your BigCommerce products from within your WordPress site and embed your store’s images. BigCommerce is a good option for a standalone e-commerce site if you’re not too familiar with CSS and HTML. It 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 and you’ll get a CRM to communicate with your customers.

Ramping Up Security 

Security is paramount for an e-commerce site, even in this digital age where many people shop online. Your customers trust you to keep their payment details secure, so you must adhere to this. This maintains your reputation, but is also a legal requirement. Some plugins offer security as a feature, since payments are processed through them in the cloud. Otherwise, you’ll need to obtain your own SSL certificate and make sure you’re PCI compliant. If you’re not sure how to proceed with this or simply want your shop up and running as quickly as possible, then choosing a plugin that does this will take the hassle away.

  • Cart66


    Cart66 requires an investment of at least $25/month, so this cost might not be in your budget if you’re just starting out. However what you get with it is worth it. Their USP is that you don’t need to worry about SSL certificates or being PCI compliant if you’re handling credit card payments. Everything is handled through the cloud, so you can use their expertise for handling security.

    Cart66 allows you to add products within WordPress posts, so you can sell products from any page or post.

    You can pay a bit less with their Pro version at $149 as a one-off payment. This will get you all of the features of the plugin but without the cloud support. So you’ll have to get your own SSL certificate, plus there are no customer accounts with their order history.

Optimizing for Digital Downloads

As the digital world expands into more homes, selling digital downloads is a lucrative business. If you have one such business, rather than selling physical products, you could require a more specialized plugin. Options like being able to re-download a digital file and downloading multiple files are a must if your digital download store is to be a success.

  • Easy Digital Downloads

    Easy Digital Downloads

    This is a plugin designed specifically for those who want to sell digital products. As it is exclusive to this product, you won’t be presented with other options that have the potential to confuse you. It is free to use with the option to buy extensions and themes. Just like the fuller e-commerce options, Easy Digital Downloads allows your customers to input discount codes and see their purchase history. They can download multiple files, purchase bundles, and re-download files. It also lets you see your sales log to manage your business effectively.

Leveraging a Blog 

Adding a blog to your e-commerce site gives a friendly voice to what could otherwise be a faceless website. Content can include informal topics, such as what the staff have been up to or industry trends for your products. This allows your customers to get to know you as a business and develop a relationship that’ll see them returning for repeat business. Blogs are usually written, but you can also 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.

Whatever the topic, the important thing is you’re providing your customer with valuable content. When they visit your site, they’ll no longer be faced with just products and a hard sell. They’ll receive something more that they can take away and remember you by. Links from your blog can be shared with others if they find it useful, entertaining, or interesting. Sharing, as we all know, leads to more customers.

It’s this act of providing content that can be appreciated and shared that’s the basis for content marketing. 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 – and ideally to websites with high impressions. Also, if you’ve constantly got updated content on your site, Google will pick this up and put you higher up the rankings than static sites since it’s clear that you’re an active business.

So get writing and make sure it’s valuable stuff – you don’t want to 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.

Monitoring Your Analytics

Try to make sure your chosen theme or plugin can integrate with Google Analytics as this is the best—and free—way to find out what your customers are doing. You can track their journey across your site and see if there any stumbling blocks to them 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


    Another option is KISSmetrics, which will take some of your budget but you can get started with a 14-day trial. It’s a popular choice for many websites – e-commerce 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.

Integrating With Social Media 

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 in the hope they’ll buy it for them. The very act of sharing a link online means that others will see it too, which could result in a new customer. The trick here is to see if your plugin has social media links built in or can integrate with a social media plugin. Also, consider adding a link shortener so that the links shared by customers aren’t monster-sized.

  • Pinterest


    Sharing visual content is incredibly easy through Pinterest via your ‘Pin it’ button. As Pinterest profiles are open, anyone searching for the products you sell could find you on Pinterest and come to your site this way. With 70 million users, it’s a really powerful social media tool for e-commerce. The plugin means you can place ‘Pin it’ buttons throughout your site and your customers can pin it to their own Pinterest boards. You don’t need to copy and paste code throughout the site, plus you can pre-select images for people to pin. This is a good idea if you have certain product you’d like to push.

  • Shareaholic


    A plugin that includes a ‘Pin it’ button for Pinterest as well as the other major social media sites is Shareaholic. This is a plugin that’s designed for any WordPress site, rather than just for e-commerce. It allows your customers to share what they find on your site through one click. It includes support for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Google+, Pinterest, and many more. Links are shortened through Goo.gl and you can monitor the success of your shares through Google Analytics. The plugin lets you show related content on your site too, plus you can display follow buttons to grow your own social media profile.

  • Share Buttons

    Share Buttons

    A rival plugin to Shareaholic is Share Buttons. This also lets your customers share what they see on your site with their friends on social media and follow your social media profiles. It works with all the major social media and bookmarking sites, plus customers can email pages. You have a variety of options of where to place the buttons and the counters show how many times pages or posts have been shared. This plugin also benefits from being optimized for mobiles and is retina ready, so it will look fantastic on Apple products.

  • Ecwid


    This is an interesting little plugin that allows you to add e-commerce to your Facebook page as well as your full site. It also works perfectly on mobile devices. It’s basically a shopping cart that’s designed to fit any existing site. Once you’ve set up your products and checkout pages, it will automatically embed into your WordPress site and adjust itself to the page layout.

    Ecwid synchronizes the data between WordPress and Facebook, so you can have two store fronts and access a huge volume of potential customers. If you want to expand further, you can mirror your shop on other platforms, such as Google Shopping, and manage it all from one place. All of this is free but there are more premium options if you have the budget to spare.

Other Things to Consider 

Choosing the right WordPress theme is important, as you may stumble across a beautifully designed theme but it doesn’t support e-commerce, and that would be a real shame.

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 figure it out? That’s where themes and plugins with support are vital.

Put simply, your e-commerce plugin needs to offer a payment gateway (PayPal is usually a must) that works in different currencies, plus the option to add tax and shipping costs. Put even more simply, you need a plugin that can display your products, take orders, and collect your customer’s money!

Not one plugin and theme suits every single business, so the research bit is important before you set up shop. Also look into extensions, which you’ll have to pay for but will give your customers a better user experience.

There are so many options out there to set up an online shop. But the one thing we’ll strongly advise is to go with WordPress and then add the e-commerce element through a plugin. It’s a lovely, supportive community, plus new themes and plugins are being developed constantly. The last thing you want to do when setting up a business is be stressed by the complexity. WordPress is simple and flexible, plus there’s always support – paid and through the forums – to help you out.

Are you in the process of setting up an online business? What do you think of the trends noted above? Did we miss anything? Be sure to leave a note below.