Is it possible to open an eCommerce website using WordPress as the foundation? Yes it is, but it depends on your needs. The plugins fall into several groups: basic, some are broader in their features, with a few providing for a full-scale eCommerce experience.
History of eCommerce Plugins
In 2007, the choice of eCommerce plugins for WordPress was grim. My research revealed two true alternatives. The features were limited, and the options were shallow.
I was building an eCommerce website to sell flags, and because of my previous experience with WordPress, I wanted to use it to build my store. My specific needs were simple: how to apply and control Sales Tax, shipping considerations, and the price variations for each flag in my inventory.
Did I succeed? I initially launched the website using WordPress, and the WP e-Commerce plugin, but it failed to meet my needs. Within a short time, I moved the store to ZenCart, but I continued to watch WordPress for growth and maturity. Five years later, WordPress has matured, and sports a robust variety of custom plugins.
Five Years Later
With a growing demand for easier eCommerce and shopping cart websites, WordPress plugins have continued to progress, and now the plugin directory is full of options—creating another problem: which one to choose? With different feature sets and different abilities, you need to know the answer to this question before you begin. First you must examine your needs, and be prepared for extensive testing.
While testing the current crop of eStore plugins, three distinct groups emerged. Some still lack in basic requirements, while others do meet and exceed basic needs. The third group not only meet but exceed the requirements of a robust, full-fledged ecommerce website. How should you begin?
Determine Your Needs
The first step is to determine your specific needs for a store front. This is time-consuming, but necessary.
- What are your needs?
- Are you selling physical or digital products?
- How many SKUs will you market?
- What are your requirements to collect sales tax?
- How will you ship your product?
- If digital, do you need secure download pages?
- How will you handle multiple downloads?
- Do you need product variations?
- Do you need variations with different pricing?
This is not a complete list of questions, but gives an idea of what you need to consider before you make a decision about using WordPress and choosing one of the available eCommerce plugins.
Recently I started building a new eCommerce website. After reviewing the above questions, and more, I discovered three non-negotiable requirements for the website to work properly: Sales Tax, Shipping, and Variations. Here is why these were critical to me.
Flags Bay, our existing eCommerce store, is located in Texas. Flags sold in Texas are subject to sales tax. The state collects 6.25%, and local entities can add an additional 2% for a total tax rate of 8.25%.
Out-of-state customers buying our flags are not charged Texas sales taxes, so the shopping cart had to have the ability to add taxes for the appropriate customers and leave it off for the others.
Result, only a few plugins handle this easily, thus narrowing my choices.
Shipping is another issue you need to consider. A store can offer free shipping, flat rate shipping, actual cost shipping, shipping by weight, shipping by price, et cetera.
You must determine which type shipping you will use to narrow the list further.
- Will you determine the carrier or allow customer options?
- Will you allow shipping by USPS, UPS, and/or FedEx?
- How will you handle each carrier’s pricing?
- Is shipping free above a pre-determined amount?
- Will you charge for all shipping?
- How will you handle shipping zones?
These are all important decisions that must be made before choosing a eCommerce platform.
For my needs, I decided to offer free shipping on all orders over $25, and since the cheapest product was above this target price, it was easy to say “Free Shipping on all orders.”
Result. this option didn’t narrow the list of candidates for me, but it might for you.
Variations of products are colors, sizes, and other options. You need to know if these variations come with additional costs, or are included in the regular price.
As a flag seller, every variation in product results in a different price. One type of U.S flag is available in ten sizes, each with a different price. Only a few WordPress plugins have this ability in any form, and the list is smaller for ones that allow for different pricing for each variations without some type of work-around.
What is Critical to you?
You can see the importance of making these decisions before launching an online store. And choosing the right software for your needs is crucial.
However, you need to be aware of a few things concerning current eCommerce plugins for WordPress.
All of the plugins I tested are available as free downloads from the directory, but that is where the similarities end.
A few come with no strings attached. They will work with many different themes, offer access to support pages and forums, and have some kind of author support. A few plugins only work with themes they develop and the themes have a price. Some won’t allow access to their FAQ files or support documents without a fee—some one-time, some by a monthly subscription. There are a few plugins that are only tie-ins with hosted eCommerce products, using WordPress as the front-end.
None of this is bad, but it is important for you know before choosing the plugin. The prices are reasonable and allow the author to make money from his work.
Here is a short list of some of the eCommerce plugins available for WordPress.
This is only a partial list, but gives examples of most of the above references. If you go the the plugin directory at the WordPress website and type in shopping cart or eCommerce, you will get hundreds of options.
Which is the Best?
So which plugin is the best? It all depends on what you are selling, and where your market is. Each of these have compelling features, and sadly, shortcomings.
You can either download and test them all, or ask me in the comments sections. I can help direct you to the right plugin depending on your needs and circumstances.