WordPress is not only the top content management platform in the world: it is one of the biggest eCommerce platforms.
Out of the 16 million sites using WP worldwide, over a million use WooCommerce , WP eCommerce and other WP-based eCommerce templates. That means that whether you are an eCommerce business owner or the developer he hires, there are lots of plugins, community support and documentation available for almost every eCommerce feature you could want.
So much choice makes focus important. Aside from the basic features (display, inventory, payment, shipping,) what does a site need to have?
The site exists to support the business. Its only purpose is to help the business owner do his job: acquiring and keeping customers, selling them stuff and running the business.
We decided to put together an overview of the five main principles of building a WP eCommerce site that helps the business be awesome.
There are five things every eCommerce business must do well. When you build an eCommerce site, it must do these things for the owner, as much as possible and as well as possible: customer acquisition, analytics, contact, fulfillment and reviews. Keep reading to find out how and why to build each one into your site.
1. Customer acquisition
To have an eCommerce business, you need customers. Of course, every business brings in customers through a variety of channels: pay-per-click, social networks, content creation, etc. The website itself has a major part to play: it needs to have search engine optimization (SEO) built in in order to drive visitors effortlessly.
Whatever the business is selling, people searching for it need to be able to find it. What a physical store’s location does for it, SEO does for an eCommerce website.
Since a small business has no chance of fighting its big competitors like Amazon for high-volume search phrases (“leather shoes,” for instance, with 550K searches per month,) it has to focus on having relevant content for “long tail” search phrases, where volume is low but steady and competition is manageable: for instance, “vintage shoes,” with 5400 searches per month.)
So how do you measure and improve how your site ranks for any given search phrase?
For WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin is the way to go. With over a million active installs, you know they’re doing something right. Yoast lets you set a keyphrase or several and measure how optimized a page on your site is for them. Now the site owner can, for instance, create a blog post tailored for each long tail search phrase, and instantly see how relevant it looks to search engines. Building SEO into your site from the beginning gives the site owner an edge, and makes the site itself a tool for customer acquisition.
Of course, the flip side of customer acquisition is analytics.
Every online business is constantly analyzing the important aspects of its operations: who visits it? Where do they come from? How many of them become customers? What do they buy? How often do they come back?
Based on this information, the business makes constant decisions about where to advertise, how much to spend, what to stock and how to speak to visitors and customers.
The difference between an OK eCommerce website and a great one when it comes to analytics is how good the site is at presenting the important data to its owner. Does he have to fish for the metrics for hours every day, or are they presented crisply and neatly, allowing him to see all the important ones in minutes without being distracted by irrelevant data? Does the site itself support good business decision-making?
The one-size-fits-all online analytics suite is Google Analytics. It gives you practically all the data you could want for your site. But there’s a steep learning curve involved in figuring out which data you actually need and how to get it presented in a way that supports the business owner. This video series on the Google Analytics YouTube channel is a good start.
But there is one aspect of analytics which all of the above don’t address. All of them are backwards-facing: that is to say, they can tell the business owner who came to his store and what they did there. He can then make changes to better serve similar visitors in the future. But they can’t tell him who is in his store right now.
One of the major reasons that we developed the Bontact plugin was to give WordPress site owners a real-time analytics ability. Now store owners can see who’s on their site, how long they’ve been there, what products they’re looking at, and so forth. So instead of waiting for visitors to come back, store owners can reach out and convert them to customers through customer contact. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Customer contact
As different as e-commerce stores may seem from brick and mortar shops, there’s one area in which they are exactly the same: customer contact is vital in turning visitors to buyers.
Well, the people who walk through the door fall into three groups based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.
Some are in the early awareness phase. They are thinking that perhaps they would like to buy something new, and perhaps a pair of shoes (for instance) would be nice. They are just browsing, and other than nice presentation and some informative content, your site doesn’t have a lot of leverage in converting them to buyers.
Others are in the late decision phase. They already know what they want: a size 15W pair of vintage brown Birkenstocks. Now they’re just looking for a store that has them at the lowest price and highest quality. If you do, you’ve got yourself a sale, and if not, you don’t.
It’s the group in the middle that is critical. They are in the consideration phase, looking for a pair of vintage shoes. They are not sure about the details, which shoes exactly they want, what size they should get, and so on. This is the group that you can convert to buyers by being there to answer their questions on the spot.
If you go into a brick and mortar store and have questions, you are not likely to wait more than a couple of minutes before leaving. On the other hand, if a salesperson is on hand to give you good advice, you’re quite likely to buy something after a conversation, even if you weren’t consciously thinking of buying when you first came in.
It’s no different online. The standard email contact form is not enough-by the time you answer the visitor’s questions, chances are he’s lost interest and gone elsewhere. You need instant contact. Chat is a good start, and there’s no shortage of WP chat plugins. But almost half of online purchases are made from mobile devices. People spend more time shopping from their mobile devices than PCs. And conversion rates are much lower on smartphones. So chat is not enough: you need a way for customers to contact you, and a way to contact them, through mobile-specific channels as well.
That’s why we built Bontact. We put several communication channels into one widget. Visitors to a site with Bontact installed can get answers through email and chat, but also through SMS and callback. And you can also proactively reach out to visitors who seem like they are considering their options and could use advice. This way, you can reach visitors who are in the consideration stage, and convert them to buyers effectively. Once a customer has made a purchase, you need a seamless way to deliver the product.
Whether an eCommerce shop sells digital or physical products, it needs to ensure they are delivered to customers quickly, smoothly and with a minimal overhead cost. Getting fulfillment right is part of the recipe for success used by giants like Amazon and iTunes, who leveraged their scale to get lower delivery overhead costs. Fortunately for small and medium businesses, there are good third party fulfillment solutions that let you aggregate your fulfillment functions with many other businesses in order to ensure smooth delivery on a budget.
For digital fulfillment management, I recommend using Easy Digital Downloads. It covers all of the important functions in one easy package, letting you manage licensing, payments, Amazon S3, Dropbox and tons of other integrations. There is really nothing better than EDD in the WordPress ecosystem.
For physical fulfillment management, you have several good options. Dropstream/PackageBee lets you choose from more than 40 global fulfillment providers. Their WP plugin is available here. Shipwire has a WP plugin ready to go for WooCommerce and WP eCommerce.
In general, by setting up quality 3rd party fulfillment right away, you can ensure that your products get to buyers with minimum headaches for them and for the site owners. At which point you want to close the loop back to customer acquisition by turning transactions into reviews.
A major influence in the consideration and decision parts of the customer’s journey is the availability of reviews. An eCommerce site may look wonderful and work smoothly, and the seller may be on point with answers to the customer’s questions, but there’s nothing like a review to convince a visitor to buy. The more satisfied customers have vouched for you, the more of a no-brainer it is to buy from you.
In fact, if your product is not unique and your prices are not the lowest in the market, a thick portfolio of reviews may very well be the difference between your business’ success and failure. Every satisfied customer whom you can turn into a review will bring you more customers, in a virtuous cycle. So when you set up a WordPress eCommerce site, make sure to include an automated review solicitation and posting process.
YITH is a nice WooCommerce review plugin with excellent formatting options to display reviews elegantly. Another WooCommerce plugin for reviews is the WooCommerce Review Widget. If you really want to get serious about reviews, I recommend the WooCommerce Product Reviews Pro or Yotpo Social Reviews. These are a bit pricey for my taste, though the functionality is great. Hopefully, judge.me will be offering their awesome $15/month service for WordPress soon, but as of right now, they’re only on Shopify.
Whether you’re building a WordPress eCommerce site for yourself or for a client, the site needs to work for the business, not the other way around. By including automated customer acquisition, analytics, contact, fulfillment and review functionality right off the bat, you cover all the bases and ensure the site owner spends his time managing the business, not the website. And isn’t that what WordPress eCommerce is all about?