How to Add an Online Store to a Website
Tips from choosing a vendor to hosting options
The usual digital marketing path for small and medium businesses is to build a website, then later add an online store. This is understandable, considering a website is the foundation for your online business. Whether adding an online store is an afterthought, part of your business plan or part of a new website, integrating a shopping cart is a fairly easy endeavor.
Full disclosure: Designing websites has been a big part of my business for the past two decades. I advise you first consider how your website is built before incorporating e-commerce solutions. It may be time for a change.
Different types of websites
Frankly, the days of laboriously hand-coding websites for anything but large corporations with a full IT staff is over. Web Content Management Systems (CMS) provide site authoring, collaboration and administration tools to help non-technical users create a fully custom website and manage website content. You might still need some programming assistance to set up a site with Joomla, Drupal or the most popular global platform, WordPress, but the content can then be managed by your tech savvy marketing person.
Another alternative is an “all in one” site builder such as Wix.
Both types of website construction, whether CMS or with a hosted site builder, can incorporate e-commerce. But one path is designed to grow your business while the other has some limits.
Why hosted site builder websites are limiting
If you are a relatively small business and plan to never sell more than a few pages of items, a site builder website might serve you well for the foreseeable future. You can use the built-in tools to create your store, and start selling very quickly.
However, if your business has grown, and you expect what you sell online to grow too, I would advise against proceeding with a site builder website when incorporating e-commerce and here’s why.
Let’s take the site builder Wix for example—a product I recommend to people that ask me about building a site when they are just starting a small business, or are on a shoestring budget. It’s fine for side gigs or businesses that don’t have much need for rapid online growth. The average person can set up a Wix site themselves.
The problem with such all-in-one sites is you are not really in control. Customization is limited to the features offered. Sure, you can change backgrounds, pictures, text, colors and somewhat how things are arranged on a page, but want that left column a little narrower, or a cutout image to overlap another section? Nope. Add-on features are also mostly controlled by Wix, and add costs. Pretty soon, that site that was so easy and cheap to build is suddenly costing you more each month.
Wix boasts you can have 50,000 products in your online store, but also states that the more products you add the slower your site may be to load—a death knell in the world of e-commerce. 53% of mobile website visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. For every one second delay in site load time, conversions fall by 12% according to Google. Product listings are also very limited.
You must give up control over where your site “lives” and host your site on Wix servers. If you decide to make a change in the future, you cannot take your site with you—it means starting over from scratch.
A self-managed CMS site
If you already have a WordPress site, great. WordPress holds a 62% market share for content management systems on websites with a known CMS. In fact, other platforms are not even close.
WordPress is available in two versions. WordPress.org has downloadable software that you can install on your own web server. There is also a hosted version at WordPress.com. Similar to what we discussed in the previous section; the hosted version has less customization options and is hosted on WordPress.com servers.
WordPress.org, which is what is discussed below, is open source software. This means they have allowed access to their code so that an infinite number of third parties can create all kinds of plugins—software add-ons that enhance the program—to make sites perform better, collect data, sell stuff and more. Competition in the marketplace means these apps are typically a low-cost one-time download or free.
What website platform should you use for your e-commerce store?
Choosing between a hosted site builder and custom CMS is like riding a bicycle or driving a turbo-charged Mercedes. Both will get you from point A to B, but how efficient, costly and what looks better getting there are vastly different.
Wix is an affordable all-in-one website builder that is the top choice for beginners and non-coders. If you want to keep costs at a minimum (without adding a lot of bells and whistles) and plan to do everything yourself without an initial investment in building a website or a contractor proving support for your website for the next five years, stick with Wix.
A WordPress website is built from scratch and is more powerful. It will serve a growing business better in the long run because it can be adapted and changed as needs change, and has vastly more add-ons to improve functionality. Building a WordPress site will likely mean an initial investment to hire design and build help, and is best to plan for some ongoing digital marketing help update content and maintain the site.
Since Wix and sites like it have e-commerce tools within the platform that you can add yourself, we’ll now focus on adding an online store to a custom site, using WordPress as an example.
What to look for in a WordPress e-commerce plugin for your site
There are plenty of WordPress e-commerce plugins in the market, so it’s important to consider what you will be selling and what kind of features you would need to efficiently run your online store.
Will you be selling and shipping physical products or focusing on digital downloads like eBooks, music or photos? Some e-commerce plugins are more suited toward drop shipping products.
In addition, there are some important factors you need to review when choosing an e-commerce platform.
If you are already accepting online payments, you may want to either keep your current payment gateway, or research other offerings to see if you can reduce costs. Stripe is a popular option to accept payments and manage businesses online. Your e-commerce plugin should have support for your preferred payment gateways by default or through an extension.
Design and customization
An e-commerce plugin is like a mini site within your website. It should be customizable to match your branding and have a nice appearance. Make sure there are plenty of templates and easy customization options available.
Apps and integrations
When adding e-commerce software, it is critical to check how it will work with other apps you have or want to use. Check to see if the software integrates with point-of-sale software in your brick and mortar store, if it works with your email marketing and accounting software, and any other tools already in place to run your business.
There is also connectivity to add-on apps specific to e-commerce to look for. One popular example to increase sales is shopping cart abandonment software, which automatically sends a reminder email to a customer that starts to check out of your online store but does not complete the transaction.
Make sure that there are support options available. Good support can save you a lot of money in the long run.
What you need to run an e-commerce website
Where your website data will live (hosted) is an important decision. Most small to medium companies do not have their own on-site servers for a resource-intensive e-commerce site, or an adequate backup system and security. Finding the best WordPress hosting that you can afford is important.
Bluehost is a popular budget-oriented hosting option. The e-commerce plan comes with SSL Certificate which you need to collect payments securely, dedicated IP, and a dedicated support line. They also install WooCommerce by default, which is one of the top on-line store options.
For a more complex website with a robust online store, a host that is specifically designed to manage WordPress hosting, like Arvig Media, may be a good investment. Choosing a hosting client who also provides a Firewall, Malware protection and daily backups is a great peace of mind.
Best WordPress e-commerce plugins
I am going to save you some time. If you scan through non biased review sites, most will concur these are the top three e-commerce plugins for WordPress. However, each one is targeted at a slightly different customer. I would encourage you to review each one on its own site, including reading through features, compatibility and pricing.
+ WooCommerce– Maximum control, flexibility and features with the most plug-ins, but takes a bit of tech savvy to manage.
+ BigCommerce– Outstanding flexibility, site speed and SEO along with help managing technical details. A good but limited amount of additional plug-ins.
+ Shopify– Super easy for beginners, but ultimately not as cost effective as other top options.
Each vendor will provide input and support for integrating their e-commerce plug-in into your site. Whether you plan to do everything yourself, or have some IT support, plan on time to design your store, provide assets like product images, inventory information, descriptions and prices.
E-commerce continues its rapid growth, with $4.8 trillion in retail ecommerce sales projected worldwide for 2021. It’s time to get your website connected to online sales to boost your bottom line.