WordPress and E-Commerce: Better Together?

If you spend any time at all perusing the bazillion or so WordPress themes that are available, you will notice that, despite its origins as a blogging platform, WordPress can indeed take on many, if not all, functions that we would collectively call “e-commerce.” Whether it’s a simple “donate here” payment tool, a solid shopping cart, or an end-to-end shopping suite, you can put together a wide range of e-commerce features to fit your needs.

Choosing an E-Commerce WordPress Theme

As with any technology investment, you will make your life much easier by being methodical in your approach to choosing an e-commerce WordPress theme. The basic steps are:

  1. First, think about—and write down—what your e-commerce needs are. At first, don’t even think in terms of features or functions: What are your business needs? What types of products or services will you be selling online? Who will your customers be? What are your growth targets for the next few years?
  2. From these business needs, you can formulate a list of functionality that you want. You will need separate lists for you as a merchant and for your customers. Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy here—at this point, you are just brainstorming, so put down everything you can think of, not just for your immediate needs but for where you see the site going in the future. Look at other e-commerce sites (WordPress or otherwise) for ideas about what you would like to have. Once you have fairly complete lists, rank them in order of priority, or at least, classify each item as a “must have” or a “nice to have.”
  3. Finally, before you start doing any theme shopping, decide how much you want to spend on this project. This number should not be pulled out of thin air but should have some basis on your expected return on the investment.
  4. Now you can look at actual WordPress themes. Armed with your list of must-haves, search for themes that look like they will meet your needs. Look at the system requirements and reviews, and look at real e-commerce sites that are using those themes. Create a short list of likely candidates.

At this point, unless you are a PHP wizard, you will want to get your friendly neighborhood web developer involved. A web developer who is well-versed in e-commerce will be able to help evaluate your list of themes and may know about some other good candidates you haven’t considered. Because no single theme is likely to have everything you need, some customization will be required, and your web developer can help you make the right choice that will meet your needs without breaking your budget.

Implementing Your E-Commerce Solution

Once you and your web developer have decided on a theme, the real work begins. E-commerce typically requires a good deal of setup and decision-making. Depending on the breadth of your solution, prepare to answer the following:

  • Will you make a product catalog available to your customers? If so, you will need to assemble the data (catalog IDs, descriptions, prices, and so on) in a specific format for loading into the system.
  • How are your products organized—that is, what are their categories? These need to be set up in advance to make it easier for your customers to find them.
  • Are any of your products digital—that is, downloadable? These will need to be assembled for loading into the system.
  • What do you want customer-facing communications and documents to look like? These include email notifications, order confirmations, shipping confirmations, invoices, credit memos, and newsletters, to name a few.
  • How do you want to handle gift cards and promo codes?
  • What payment methods will you accept?

…you get the idea. Getting the setup right is crucial to the successful launch of your online store. And before you launch, you will want to test the system from every angle, both the merchant functionality and customer features. Don’t launch until you are confident that there will be no issues right out of the gate.

The work doesn’t stop at launch. As time goes by, you will probably want to tweak a few things, add functionality, expand your product or service offerings, and so on. Keep your web developer on speed dial for those unforeseen emergencies.

E-commerce can open up a whole world of opportunity for you. Enjoy the ride of taking your business to the next level.