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Wide flexibility and low cost of ownership make WordPress a great choice for building an online store.

The pivot to online shopping that began in 2020 has shown no signs of letting up, and as eCommerce activity continues to surge, online store owners are increasingly looking for more cost-effective, flexible solutions to keep up with their digital demands.

An increase in online shoppers has indeed meant higher revenues for many businesses, but it’s also made the eCommerce landscape more competitive than ever. People shop online because it’s convenient, and today, sites with poor performance or less-than-deal digital experiences are quickly being abandoned for fast-loading, easy-to-use, more engaging alternatives.

While eCommerce is set to play a dominant role for years to come, there’s less of a consensus around the strategies and types of websites needed to reach online consumers with engaging digital experiences that provide them with exactly what they’re looking for, fast.

Digital storefronts built with open, flexible solutions have the upper hand here. Even though closed, proprietary eCommerce platforms host a wide range of prominent online stores, WordPress, which is open source, has come into its own right as a powerful, flexible, and cost-effective solution for quickly building and launching new eCommerce stores (or refreshing old ones).

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at:

Let’s dive in!

Why WordPress is increasingly used for eCommerce

WordPress now powers more than 40% of the web—sites built on WordPress have overtaken hand-coded sites for the first time ever— and it’s become the world’s #1 content management system (CMS) for a number of reasons.

For eCommerce, WordPress is an attractive option because it provides true ownership over a digital business. When you create a store on a closed, proprietary eCommerce platform, you don’t own that store, and more critically, you don’t own the data it produces, no matter how much you’ve invested.

The proprietary nature of closed platforms often means you’re renting your eCommerce store and your data from a vendor who can change features, functionality, data sharing, and even billing practices without much notice.

WordPress, on the other hand, flips the proprietary model on its head. Because it’s an open source framework, WordPress users don’t pay upfront or ongoing licensing fees, and they have complete ownership of whatever type of site they build.

Open source also means WordPress integrates with a massive ecosystem of plugins, themes, and other technologies from across the growing martech stack, including a wide range of tools and functionality for eCommerce (and beyond).

When you build on WordPress, you don’t just own your site and everything that comes with it, you decide when it’s time to add new features and functionality, or when it’s time to change your hosting provider.

Additionally, given WordPress’ inherent flexibility, adding new integrations is not an exorbitant cost, and it’s easy to find developers with serious WordPress experience.

From avoiding fees and vendor lock-in to standing out from the crowd by moving away from cookie-cutter site builders, the overall benefit you get with WordPress is the freedom to create and the flexibility to grow your eCommerce store alongside your business or brand.

In addition to the above, the following are some of the most common benefits associated with WordPress:

Lower cost of entry: As noted above, WordPress is open source and free from upfront licensing fees. Those savings are not insignificant, and the costs associated with getting started on WordPress are generally related to hosting and purchasing a domain, allowing for a low barrier to entry compared to closed or proprietary eCommerce (or other) platforms.

Extensibility and customization: The WordPress ecosystem is immense, and the flexibility that comes with it is a stark contrast to the world of closed, proprietary platforms. WordPress users have access to thousands of WordPress themes and more than 55,000 free plugins, and not just for eCommerce. Whatever feature, functionality, or customization you want to add to your online store, there’s probably an existing solution available.

Community support: The massive WordPress ecosystem also means it’s built on well-understood and rigorously-tested technology, maintained by an active community of professional developers. As a result, WordPress has a highly reliable update cycle that provides new features, security improvements, and other enhancements on a regular basis. The same is true for the leading eCommerce plugins.

The role of WooCommerce in successful WordPress storefronts

In addition to the flexibility and lower cost of ownership WordPress is known for, its associated eCommerce capabilities have grown significantly in recent years.

WooCommerce, the leading WordPress plugin for eCommerce, is a prime example, and it now powers more than a quarter of the top 1 million eCommerce sites in the world. This is due in no small part to the way WooCommerce mirrors much of the flexibility and functionality WordPress provides.

From existing sites with outdated, hard-to-navigate storefronts to new businesses just making their foray into the world of digital, WooCommerce provides a straightforward approach to eCommerce that’s also effective—WooCommerce-powered sites generate between $10 and $15 billion in estimated annual sales.

While some WordPress users rely on WooCommerce alone for their online stores, others take a more modular approach, adding further integrations and features that go beyond initial store setup and enhance things like search functionality or customer personalization.

ElasticPress is a great example of this type of added functionality. Given the crucial role of search in the online buyer journey —more than 40% of online shoppers use search and they’re twice as likely to buy when they find what they’re looking for—adding to the relatively basic default search capabilities of WordPress can present a significant boost for many eCommerce stores.

With added functionality like auto-suggestions and custom, weighted search results, ElasticPress can provide that boost, helping more shoppers find what they’re looking for faster, which in turn leads to stronger conversion rates, higher cart values, and growing eCommerce revenue.

While ElasticPress is available as a standalone integration, it also powers the enhanced search functionality for WP Engine’s eCommerce hosting, which combines WooCommerce, Instant Store Search, and industry-leading performance with best-in-class plugins and themes for a powerful, out-of-the-box eCommerce solution.

Combining the functionality of WooCommerce and ElasticPress with your WordPress site is just one potential use case among the many eCommerce sites built on WordPress today. That said, the combination of these two technologies in particular is already producing amazing results.

How you can use WordPress to grow your eCommerce business

If you already have a WordPress site or you’re starting your eCommerce journey from scratch, the tips and tools listed below are all immediately available to you.

If your eCommerce site is built on a different platform, you can work with a WordPress specialist agency like Coast Digital for assistance with site redesign and migration.

Get started with WooCommerce

As noted above, WooCommerce is the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress. If you’re not already using it for your online store, it’s certainly worth a look.

As you get started with WooCommerce, keep these suggestions in mind to avoid simple missteps that can have big consequences as you get your site ready for launch (or re-launch).

  • Ensure your code is up-to-date: Addressing out-of-date code, from needed plugin updates to theme compatibility, wil help ensure the long-term success of your eCommerce site. Invest time now to limit performance issues later on—make sure you test your code in a staging environment!
  • Use plugins effectively: Plugins are one of the best parts of WordPress, but too many plugins can bog down your site. There’s no magic number of plugins you should be using, but it’s important to ensure the plugins you do use are effective. It’s also important to perform regular plugin updates, or use an automated solution to help you stay on top of plugin maintenance.
  • Ditch overcomplicated, clunky themes: Themes that do more than you need, or that offer an all-in-one approach may not be the best choice for WooCommerce-powered stores. If the theme you’re using isn’t optimized for WooCommerce, it can add unnecessary weight to your site and cause slowdowns.
  • Take advantage of developer tools: WooCommerce provides access to a number of tools that make developers’ lives easier, including the WooCommerce Rest API, WP-CLI Action Scheduler, and custom-Cron. All of these dev tools can add speed and functionality to your eCommerce site—put them to use! Find out more in this on-demand webinar.

Build your eCommerce site for scale

When building or redesigning your eCommerce site, there are a few key areas you can focus on that will help you manage higher traffic, including traffic spikes due to seasonality, sales and discounts, or even a viral moment.

 

  • Testing without caching: Caching is a popular and effective method for making sites more scalable, but building an eCommerce site that’s only scalable when caching is enabled can be problematic, specifically because of the increased opportunities eCommerce sites present for caching to be disrupted (logged-in site users, for example, no longer see static page caches).

Testing your site without caching enabled will help you find issues that may have otherwise been covered up by caching, and it’s a great way to build an eCommerce site with strong foundations, or optimize an existing digital store that’s experiencing sub-par performance.

 

  • Understand how your store renders content: Slow site speed and downtime are critical issues for many websites, but they’re particularly problematic for eCommerce sites, where poor performance has a direct impact on conversions and revenue.

By understanding how your site works and how it functions at a granular level—how each feature works, how many queries each feature will execute to render a page—you’ll be able to better understand and react quickly when problems arise on your site, speeding up the time it takes to fix the issues.

Another factor to keep in mind is Google’s Core Web Vitals, and the role a site’s overall user experience will play in search rankings going forward. Check out this article to find out more.

 

  • Reduce your digital footprint: Spreading out the load of your digital footprint across multiple services can prevent performance issues and even site crashes associated with overloaded resources. Using tools like Google Tag Manager, for example, to prevent your own server from running SQL queries is one way you can help speed up your checkout pages.

Elasticsearch (which powers ElasticPress) is another tool that can reduce the strain on your site’s resources and as noted above, it’s a powerful solution for speeding up search queries and providing more relevant search results.

 

  • Remove features that aren’t increasing sales: If you’re unable to quantify how a feature on your site is increasing sales or providing customers with a better user experience, it might be time to remove it. Quantifying means identifying the feature’s true value, i.e. how is it making you money?

If the value isn’t there, remove features from your site, and if you’re building a new site, you can reduce the features initially included if they aren’t leading to an increase in sales.

Find the best solution for building or growing your eCommerce business

If you’re interested in adding search functionality and other best-in-class plugins or themes to your eCommerce site, WP Engine’s eCommerce plans include Instant Store Search (powered by Elasticsearch) and they’re packed with features designed to help you build, launch, or migrate an existing WordPress eCommerce store.

Hosted on the world’s fastest and most secure WordPress platform, eCommerce sites built with WP Engine can boost sales faster using easy store creation and Instant Store Search. Find out more here.

Fuel the freedom to create with WP Engine

WP Engine powers the freedom to create on WordPress. The company’s products, the fastest among all WordPress providers, power 1.5 million digital experiences. More of the top 200,000 sites in the world use WP Engine to power their digital experiences than anyone else in WordPress.

About WP Engine

WP Engine, the WordPress technology company, provides the most relied upon and trusted brands and developer-centric WordPress products for companies and agencies of all sizes, including managed WordPress hosting, enterprise WordPress, headless WordPress, Flywheel, Local and Genesis. WP Engine’s tech innovation and award-winning WordPress experts help to power more than 1.5 million sites across 150 countries.

 

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