When to Build an eCommerce Site Using WordPress: Best Practices & Case Studies

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If you’re even mildly familiar with the world of websites, you’ve most likely heard of WordPress. In fact, WordPress is the CMS (content management system) that drives about 40% of all websites. It’s a powerful and versatile website platform, which is why WordPress is used to build so many sites around the world.

WordPress is often praised for its advanced blog content categorization capabilities and its versatility, but it is not often seen as a go-to for eCommerce sites. Why? For starters, eCommerce isn’t exactly built into WordPress by default like eCommerce-specific website platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce. You have to add a WordPress plugin, like WooCommerce or WP EasyCart, to set up eCommerce functionality, such as product pages, a shopping cart and checkout page, and payment, tax, and shipping functions. So, can you use WordPress for eCommerce sites? Yes, absolutely. Should you use WordPress for any eCommerce site? Not exactly. We’ll dive into which CMS platform is right for your eCommerce site below. 

Should You Use WordPress for Your ECommerce Site?

WordPress might not seem the most obvious choice for an eCommerce store, but don’t count it out! Here are a few reasons you might consider WordPress for an eCommerce site:

  • You already have a WordPress site: If you already have a WordPress site, adding eCommerce functionality through a plugin like WooCommerce can be a convenient add-on option without having to rebuild your entire site on a different platform.
  • You want more flexibility than other eCommerce platforms offer: WordPress is an open-source platform with a large developer community, making it a flexible platform that can be customized to suit your specific needs. With limitless plugins and themes, you can add any feature you can imagine to your eCommerce site without extensive coding. Other eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify, are considered closed-source platforms, meaning the only plugins available to you are ones offered in Shopify’s app library, which is more limited.
  • You want to save on costs: Building an eCommerce site from scratch can be expensive, but some eCommerce platforms charge a fee for every transaction made on your website, eating into your profitsWordPress, on the other hand, is a cost-effective solution for building an eCommerce site as it has many free and paid plugins that can be used with no additional transaction fees built into the platform itself.
  • You want to integrate your eCommerce site with your content site: If you have a content-based site that you want to integrate with your eCommerce site, WordPress can be an excellent option.

When NOT to Use WordPress for Your eCommerce Site

While there are plenty of cases where you should consider WordPress for your eCommerce site, there are just as many reasons why you shouldn’t. Here are a few reasons NOT to use WordPress for eCommerce:

  • The primary function of the site is eCommerce: Platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce were built specifically for eCommerce, which means that it is specifically tailored to meet the needs of an online retailer. Default, out-of-the-box features and functionality often include things like inventory management, abandoned cart recovery, and tax and shipping calculators. While WordPress has plugins to do all these functions, it can take a lot of managing of plugins to get the job done right.
  • Ease of admin use is of utmost importance: Shopify is known for being more user-friendly and easier to set up than WordPress for beginners. Within an hour, you can have your Shopify store set up and running, whereas WordPress requires a bit more technical expertise to configure as an eCommerce site.
  • You want customer support: Since WordPress is an open-source tool, there’s no central customer support line to answer your questions. WordPress developers rely on support forums and help from paid plugin and theme developers for troubleshooting and customizations. Other eCommerce platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, on the other hand, offer built-in 24/7 customer support via phone, email, and live chat to help you through issues.
  • You want built-in hosting, payment gateways, security, and maintenance: On platforms like Shopify, hosting, security, and maintenance are built in. There are also options for built-in payment gateways, allowing you to get your eCommerce site up and running right away without the need for a third-party payment gateway, like Paypal or Stripe.

Shopify may be a better choice than WordPress for those who want a platform that is optimized for e-commerce, easy to set up, and comes with built-in payment processing and 24/7 support. Shopify is also a good choice for those who don’t want to worry about hosting and security, as these are handled by Shopify.

You’ve Decided to Use WordPress for Your ECommerce Site — What’s Next?

If you’ve decided to build your eCommerce site using WordPress, there are a few initial steps you need to take to get started.

Choose the Best Hosting Arrangement

There are three main types of WordPress hosting arrangements: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, and Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting. Each of these hosting arrangements has its pros and cons, and it’s essential to consider them when selecting the best hosting arrangement for your eCommerce site.

  • Shared hosting: Shared hosting is the most affordable hosting arrangement and is best suited for small eCommerce businesses with low traffic volume. With shared hosting, your eCommerce site is hosted on a server with other websites, which can impact site speed and performance during peak traffic periods.
  • Dedicated hosting: Dedicated hosting is the most expensive hosting arrangement and is best suited for large eCommerce businesses with high traffic volume. With dedicated hosting, your eCommerce site is hosted on a server dedicated solely to your website, which provides optimal speed, performance, and security.
  • VPS hosting: VPS hosting is a middle-ground between shared and dedicated hosting, offering a balance of affordability and performance. With VPS hosting, your eCommerce site is hosted on a virtual server that shares resources with other websites, but you have more control and flexibility over server settings and resources.

When selecting a hosting arrangement for your eCommerce site, consider the size of your business, your budget, and your website’s traffic volume. Shared hosting is an excellent option for small eCommerce businesses with low traffic, while dedicated hosting is ideal for large eCommerce businesses with high traffic. VPS hosting is a flexible option that can provide good performance at a lower cost than dedicated hosting. It’s essential to choose a reputable hosting provider that can provide the level of service and support you need for your eCommerce site.

Utilize Plugins and Themes Made for eCommerce Sites

It’s important to utilize the extensive library of plugins and themes available through WordPress to create a robust and customized online store. Here are some ways to leverage WordPress plugins and themes for an eCommerce site:

  • Choose an eCommerce plugin: To turn your WordPress site into an eCommerce store, you need to install an eCommerce plugin. These plugins provide essential eCommerce features, such as product management, shopping cart functionality, payment gateways, and shipping options. Popular ones include WooCommerce and WP EasyCart, although there are lots more.
  • Install a theme optimized for eCommerce: You can enhance your eCommerce site’s functionality and appearance by installing a theme optimized for eCommerce. There are numerous WordPress themes available specifically designed for eCommerce, such as Astra, Divi, and Flatsome. These themes offer features like customizable product pages, product sliders, shopping cart widgets, and payment gateway integrations.
  • Optimize for speed and security: It’s essential to optimize your eCommerce site for speed and security to provide a smooth user experience and protect your customers’ sensitive data. You can install plugins like W3 Total Cache to improve site speed and security plugins like Wordfence to protect your site from hackers and malware.

Optimize the Checkout Experience

Optimizing your eCommerce WordPress site’s checkout process is critical to reducing cart abandonment rates and increasing conversions. Here are some ways to optimize your eCommerce WordPress site for checkout:

  • Simplify the checkout process: A lengthy and complicated checkout process can frustrate customers and increase cart abandonment rates. Simplify the checkout process by minimizing the number of steps required to complete a purchase, removing unnecessary fields, and providing a progress indicator to help customers understand how far along they are in the checkout process.
  • Provide multiple payment options: Offering multiple payment options, such as credit cards, PayPal, and Apple Pay, can increase the likelihood that customers will complete a purchase. Make sure to prominently display accepted payment methods on the checkout page.
  • Display shipping options and costs upfront: Customers are more likely to complete a purchase if they know the shipping options and costs upfront. Display shipping options and costs early in the checkout process and allow customers to choose their preferred shipping method.
  • Offer guest checkout: Requiring customers to create an account before completing a purchase can be a significant barrier to checkout. Offer a guest checkout option, so customers can complete a purchase without creating an account. You can also provide the option to create an account after completing a purchase.
  • Optimize for mobile: More and more customers are using mobile devices to shop online, so it’s essential to optimize your checkout process for mobile. Ensure that your checkout process is mobile-friendly, with large buttons, easy-to-read text, and a responsive design.

Take Advantage of Categories and Tags

Categories and tags are essential for organizing and structuring an eCommerce site. This is where WordPress really shines. Categories and tags help customers find what they are looking for more easily and help search engines index and understand your content better. Here’s how you can utilize categories and tags for your eCommerce site:

Categories: Categories are broad groupings of products that share similar characteristics or features. For example, if you sell clothing, you may have categories for men’s clothing, women’s clothing, and children’s clothing. Each of these categories may be further divided into subcategories, such as shirts, pants, and shoes.

Tags: Tags are descriptive keywords that help customers find specific products. For example, if you sell shoes, you may have tags for different types of shoes, such as sneakers, sandals, and boots. You may also have tags for different styles of shoes, such as casual, formal, and athletic. Tags can also be used to filter down by material, color, and size.

When using categories and tags, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Use descriptive names for your categories and tags that accurately describe the products they represent.
  • Use a consistent hierarchy for your categories and subcategories to make it easier for customers to navigate your site.
  • Use only a few tags per product and make sure they are relevant to the product.
  • Avoid using duplicate or irrelevant tags that may confuse customers or search engines.

WordPress Can be An Excellent Choice for Your ECommerce Site

While it’s important to consider all of your options, WordPress is a reliable choice that can be used for eCommerce sites. Why? WordPress is a highly customizable platform, allowing businesses to create a unique eCommerce site that suits their specific needs. With thousands of plugins and themes available, it is easy to add features and functionality to your site as your business grows. Additionally, it’s SEO-friendly, making it easier for your eCommerce site to rank higher in search results. Lastly, it’s user-friendly, with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to manage your eCommerce site, even for those without a lot of technical knowledge.

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