A helpful list of features that have become essential for running a successful e-Commerce site.
By Austin Gunter | January 10, 2013
E-commerce for WordPress has become so common that the bar for quality is very high. it’s no longer enough to simply have a well-functioning site; in order to remain competitive in your business and increase conversions and functionality, your eCommerce sites built on WordPress should also incorporate the right plugins and features.
In the last two years, WordPress has officially become a complete solution to develop large-scale and feature-rich eCommerce sites. Prior to this, using WordPress for eCommerce meant quite a bit of customization. From hacking together a theme with custom fields to optimize for e-Commerce, to 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, the extra work was daunting. But not anymore.
Now there are an abundance of plugins and apps that make WordPress for e-Commerce an easy choice.
Below is a helpful list of features that have become essential for running a successful eCommerce site, all of which are available either with an individual plugin, or as an add-on to an e-Commerce app.
Payment Checkout Solutions
Perhaps the most important element of your eCommerce site, these plugins make checkouts possible. An eCommerce theme like WooThemes does not come bundled with PCI compliant servers where you can transact business with your customers. But you still have to be able to process transactions, so finding the right payment checkout plugin is necessary.
When you accept payment information, the servers that accept it must meet a set of security standards to protect customer data, called PCI Standards. These standards are as stringent as you might expect, and while most managed WordPress hosts will have redundant security measures validated by a 3rd party, a payment checkout solution is the most secure way to protect the data—and protect your company from liability—when you accept payment onto your site.
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 process, seamlessly. Both are gaining traction over PayPal with their robust features and ease of use.
Tracking customer behavior, in order to optimize the site accordingly, is always a lynchpin of every successful website project. As you view trends of customer behavior, you can learn how important certain actions are—like adding an item to a cart, viewing similar items, and adding things to a wish list. 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 useful app that does session-specific tracking rather than group-statistical tracking that Google does. You can use Clicky to measure heatmaps and effectively track all your campaigns. KISSMetrics will also track every user, as well as their respective actions on your site historically.
Have you ever shared the full URL of a bestseller on Amazon? Probably not. The URL can take up several lines of an email, and will completely blow out the 140 character limit for Twitter. Long links are a detrimental barrier for people who want to share your products on social media. There’s as easy fix, though. Just 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.
However, you can’t cache everything on a site, and there are exceptions that your developer can tell you about. But, in general, 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.
Pinterest is one of the best things that ever happened to eCommerce sites, particularly those with consumer products. The hugely popular 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. 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.
Table Rate Shipping
Sometimes people need to have their order as soon as possible, 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.
Lastly, it’s also important to consider that 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.
If any of you know of any useful hacks or optimizations that were not mentioned above, please feel free to share in the comments section below.