WordPress is the technology driving a significant portion of small business websites, largely due to heavy promotion of the fact that it’s easy to manage and that just about anyone should be able to create a simple functioning website with it.
Hold that thought for a moment, because we’re about to slide into very different territory to anything resembling a simple website. From here we enter the murky waters of eCommerce, a dark and mysterious art that has led many to their doom. Or great prosperity. It’s all a matter of perspective.
The fundamental thing to be aware of is that eCommerce is like jumping in the deep end of the pool. If you’re not totally confident you can swim, you really ought to have somebody with experience watching over you to make sure you don’t go under.
The good news for small business operators is that plug-ins for WordPress do help to make the process of getting into eCommerce a little simpler. It’s still best to get help setting everything up unless you’re prepared to put in a lot of effort to learn techniques that you may only ever employ one time.
But once these items are properly set up, you should be able to manage your website with the same ease that you have always done under WordPress, just with the added benefit that your website can make money for you directly instead of indirectly.
Some of the best eCommerce plug-ins available currently includes:
• Ecwid – This could be one of the simplest to get up and running with, provided your sales environment isn’t overly complex itself. For a simple online store selling a small range of merchandise (either physical or digital), Ecwid fills that need perfectly, and without a steep learning curve to master it.
One thing to be aware of is that the developers of this plug-in have decided to monetise it by limiting how many products you can list on a free version, plus also restricting some features. Then the more you are willing to pay per month, the more features they’ll unlock for you and the more products you can list.
• WooCommerce – This is currently the most popular eCommerce plug-in for WordPress, but before you rush to join the hordes downloading it, hit the brakes and think for a moment. This was never a line in a Spiderman movie, but it should have been: With great popularity comes greater vulnerability.
You do need to be aware that if you use the most popular solutions for your site, there will be more people trying to hack you and greater chance that they will succeed.
Another possible drawback to WooCommerce is that you can’t just plug it into any old template and expect a good result. You really need to either have a template that was designed specifically with WooCommerce already in mind, or else be a template wrangling guru.
On the positive side, you can take some confidence from the fact that a large community of users also means easier access to support if you need it. The interface is also extendable, although that involves extra cost and effort. This is a good choice for eCommerce experts who are confident building their own systems or who regularly set up eCommerce solutions for their clients.
For the complete beginner, WooCommerce may have a little too much on offer, making it difficult to know where to start with it, although the documentation is very good.
• WPEPPA – Or as it is more properly known, WordPress Easy Pay Pay Acceptance is a plug-in that could be described as the polar opposite of WooCommerce.
Where the latter is sprawling, complex, and extendable, this plug-in does just one thing, and that is it makes you able to accept payments via PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, and depending on certain geographical factors, possibly other cards as well.
This plug-in is most suitable for those situations where your needs are simple and you don’t really want to get too fancy. You just want a simple tool that gets the job done, and this is it, provided you don’t mind PayPal’s high fees and tendency to block accounts when they think they smell a rat.
• Easy Digital Downloads – If you mostly sell digital items or things that have no physical existence (like, for example, psychic readings or prayers), the Easy Digital Downloads is a good choice. Just as with WooCommerce, it is extendable, but it’s different too because it’s actually easy to integrate into any WP theme, not just those which have been specially built for it.
While it is a little complex (the “easy” in the name means easy for your customers, not for the person setting up the shop), there is a lot of quality documentation available and for the most part it is quite intuitive. It’s suitable for beginners or experienced users, provided that the product range is essentially non-physical.
If you really know what you’re doing, it’s possible to wrangle it into selling physical goods as well, but why go to all that trouble when WooCommerce already lets you sell both types of products without having to get your hands dirty?
• Cart66 – When you want the most flexible range of payment options and the surety of having full PCI compliance without having to actually put in any of the groundwork, Cart66 is the right choice for you. This isn’t as extendable as many of the others on the list, but there are so many features built right in to the system that you probably wouldn’t find many scenarios where you’d need to extend it even further.
Cart66 deserves to be more popular than it is, but that lack of popularity is also one of its strengths, because as mentioned earlier, more popularity normally equals more vulnerability. There used to be a free version available, but today visiting the website only offers the possibility of a free trial, and thereafter pricing starts from $9.99 per month.
This plug-in is very flexible and can be used just about anywhere. It also is a lot less pedantic than many other eCommerce plug-ins, giving you more freedom to define what you sell and how you sell it.
There are plenty of others to discover
It’s never easy to compile a list of the best products, as people have greatly differing needs and there is a huge range of options out there. With the above list, you have a starting point, but you can certainly explore other options if you find that these don’t quite meet your specific needs.