WordPress is awesome for many things, but is eCommerce one of them?
As a WordPress developer, I get this a lot. The anxiety is justified: “Everyone knows WordPress is a blogging platform. How could it do eCommerce if it’s just meant to publish blog posts?”
And I am not denying any of it. It’s true that WordPress began, and remains to this day, a blogging tool at heart. But it has evolved into a powerful web-app development framework since then too. Put it this way: WordPress can be whatever you need it to be, and as long as you have developers who know what they’re doing, it can make a fantastic eCommerce portal too.
However your challenges as an online store owner are far from over. Here are a few you might face in the course of events:
Note: This article addresses issues faced on self-hosted online stores built on WordPress using WooCommerce. If any word in that sentence is tripping you up, ths isn’t the article for you.
1. The Theme Troubles
WordPress works on a theme-based design system. That’s all well and good for a lot of things: easier, faster development, uniformity in design, etc. but for online stores it’s a whole different kind of trouble altogether.
As an entrepreneur, you obviously want something special, unique, and beautiful for your site design; something that captures the essence of your brand’s visual identity and tells it like a gripping tale of epic proportions to every visitor that comes across it.
So you buy an awesome-looking premium theme for a few bucks, only to feel cheated once you see your site ‘wearing’ it.
Most themes are not designed for specific industry types.
Commercial themes are (usually) multi-purpose, and that widens the field so much that every other store starts to look the same. Besides, is your theme even designed for an online store?
The Simple Fix:
This is what you need in a great theme for your online store:
- Responsive (load the demo and resize your browser to see how it works on different devices)
- Fast-loading (usually themes built on a framework like Genesis or others load quick, a must for any online store which will use heavy content like images)
- SEO-friendly (no sliders, supports rich snippets)
- Industry specific (readymade themes built for niche markets will be as close to bespoke solutions as you can get without actually having to hire WordPress developers. Look for them using keywords: “real estate”, “automotive”, “hotel”, “event booking” etc.)
- WooCommerce friendly (Is it even compatible with the eCommerce plugin you have on the site?)
The form of your theme comes after the function. Remember that.
Also good to have: Internationalization-ready themes (if you intend to sell to a global audience). Make sure your theme is translation-ready with .po/.mo files, supports RTL (check for rtl.css stylesheet in theme directory), and is compatible with WPML translation plugin.
2. Store Management
Managing a store is not as easy as adding posts to a blog. There are checkout, cart, billing, shipping, etc. to take care of. The thought is enough to make anyone break out in cold sweat.
The Simple Fix:
Relax. You just need this plugin: WooCommerce Poor Guys Swiss Knife
This plugin is responsible for making the lives of thousands of WooCommerce-powered merchants easier. It has a ton of features, handily grouped in categories by Shop, Label (text), Cart, Checkout, Localization, Billing, and Shipping (so merchants don’t have to spend time learning the tech lingo).
The plugin is easy to use and very extensive: It supports all input types and data (so play with those interactive form elements as much as you like), adds a second layer of validation for increased security (like Two-Factor Authentication), can serve dynamic content to your site users across the ocean for a localized experience, and more.
There are two more versions (hilariously named ‘Rich guy’s Swiss knife’ and ‘Extra Swiss knife’) for added features. In any case, all three make day-to-day store management easier.
Poor guy’s version is free.
You can also ask your developers to extend WooCommerce using REST API with an ERP tool for super-fast/automated processes.
3. Site Maintenance
Sometimes the online retailers forget that their store is also a website, and therefore needs technical maintenance. This can be dangerous if overlooked, especially since you’re conducting transactions on your site with customers’ hard-earned money.
The ‘Simple’ Fix:
There’s no shortcut to it, but there are many plugins which will expedite the process considerably. Some things you need to keep in mind are:
- Security to make sure every person with back-end management duties has secure devices from which they are accessing the store. Use hardcore security plugins like WordFence to conduct regular scans and harden WordPress all over. Get anti-spamming tools (My favorite is WP SpamShield AntiSpam) to keep bots and spammers at bay.
- Upgrades to remain on the latest version of core, plugins, and themes
- PCI compliance! Put your IT team to work because online stores who use payment cards for transactions without caring for PCI standards have been heavily fined before.
- Backup everything from content to database, regularly. Save it on a cloud with plugins like VaultPress, BackupBuddy, etc.
Whatever you do, do NOT take security and maintenance lightly. If you get hacked, you lose more than a domain; you lose any progress you have made towards success.
4. Search Engine and Performance Optimization
People still think SEO is not related to Performance, when developers know that at this point, they might as well become one officially.
The Simple Fix:
This is where you can truly harness the power of WordPress. This is the part that makes every other obstacle worth it.
Here are some things you can keep an eye out for:
Yoast SEO: This plugin is a WordPress classic and very extensive. Make sure your developers as well as copy writers work with it to ensure maximum benefit.
Caching: The best solution I have found (especially for eCommerce websites) is W3 Total Cache. Install it, take your time configuring it, and if your estimated site traffic is high enough and spread-out across the globe, get the MaxCDN that it integrates with so easily.
Front-end and Media: Your developers need to compress and optimize every product image, every bit of CSS and JS that goes on the store’s front-end to make sure that the side loads fast. Plugins like EWWW Image Optimizer do it for you.
Back-end Optimization: Get your PHP wizards on the task to optimize server-side scripts, and especially the queries for speed with Memcached, Redis, etc.
As long as there’s a clear ‘separation of concerns’ between store management and site management your store will be fine. Keep the vending apart from code, and research UX and Conversions.