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WordPress E-commerce: 7 Free Plugins for Creating an Online Store

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Patrice-Anne Rutledge, author of WordPress on Demand, introduces you to seven free WordPress e-commerce plugins, and offers solid advice for choosing the best one for your business needs - both now and as your business grows.
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With numerous WordPress e-commerce plugins available, it might seem difficult to choose the perfect one for your business. To help narrow your choices, define essential features you need right now, features you want for the future, and your budget. For example, you might want to start selling physical products immediately, but plan to add digital downloads and a monthly membership program by next year. Researching which plugins offer these anticipated features can help you avoid the frustration of having to switch plugins as your business grows.

Here are some e-commerce features to consider:

  • Digital downloads—If you want to sell ebooks, software, or audio or video files, you need a secure and automated solution for delivering these downloads to your customers.
  • Payment gateways—Offering multiple ways to pay encourages sales. Although PayPal is often a standard payment option, not every customer wants to use PayPal even via a credit card.
  • Recurring payments—If you plan to provide any product or service that requires ongoing payments, this feature is essential. For example, you might want to offer a membership program, a service with recurring billing at specific increments, a product of the month, and so forth.
  • Affiliate program integration—If you want to establish an affiliate program to drive sales, look for a plugin that offers a built-in affiliate program or affiliate integration.
  • Discount coupons—Discounts also drive sales. If your customer base is one that responds well to a good deal, look for a plugin that includes coupons, discounts, customer rewards, and other special offers.
  • Product options—If your product comes in different sizes, colors, or other variations, your customers need to specify what they want.
  • Track inventory—Inventory tracking is important for businesses that sell physical products in limited quantities. There’s nothing worse than having multiple customer orders for a popular product only to discover that you’re out of stock.
  • Compatible themes—Even though e-commerce plugins usually work with most WordPress themes, many plugins offer compatible themes with specialized functionality. When selecting a theme, remember that many customers now shop on a smartphone or tablet, so choosing a WordPress mobile responsive theme is important.
  • Email integration—Keeping in touch with anyone who buys from your website is critical to repeat sales. Look for integration with popular email providers, newsletter signup on checkout, or automated email follow-up features.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce, shown in Figure 1, is a free e-commerce plugin that enables you to sell physical and digital products, offer shipping variations, and run marketing campaigns designed to encourage sales. Although the basic WooCommerce plugin can handle essential e-commerce tasks, its true power comes from its array of extensions, both free and paid, that enhance your e-commerce experience.

Figure 1 An online store using the WooCommerce plugin and the Merchant theme.

Free extensions include Pinterest Button, Product Compare, Product Video Tab, Bundle Style Coupons, and several additional payment gateways. Popular paid extensions include:

  • WooCommerce Subscriptions—Accept recurring payments for magazines, memberships, ongoing services, and more. $99.
  • Recommendation Engine—Suggest products to your customers (similar to Amazon or Netflix). $49.
  • Affiliates Pro—Increase sales by offering an affiliate program. $59.
  • WooCommerce Points and Rewards—Reward your customers for their purchases and other actions (see Figure 2). $99.
  • Figure 2 WooCommerce Points and Rewards in action.

  • Sensei—Sell online courses from your website. Works with most themes, but Woo’s Definition theme offers specific Sensei features. $99.

Although WooCommerce works with most WordPress themes, Woo offers a collection of themes designed specifically to integrate with WooCommerce. Most are paid themes, but the Artificer theme is a good choice if you’re on a tight budget (it’s free and offers responsive design).

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