Getting Started With E-commerce Plugins

July 31st, 2014 by

A guide to improving your buyers’ experience online…

As many of you will know, one of WordPress’ greatest merits is its open-sourced architecture. The coding for WordPress can be altered by anyone with basic programming skills, with over 30,000 plug-ins currently available to download on the website. These control everything from cache acceleration through to displaying random Chuck Norris jokes. Someone has even created an Asteroids widget that allows administrators to destroy their site’s content by shooting it with the spacebar.

E-commerce websites in particular can be hugely enhanced by the judicious use of plug-ins. A few favourites are detailed below, although the WordPress website has search functionality that will allow you to find countless other accompaniments for customer-facing websites…

Shopping Carts

No e-commerce site is complete without purchasing functionality, and many programmers have created plug-ins to manage this. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded shopping carts like Simple PayPal or Ready! E-commerce. These are capable of handling anything from wish lists to automatic purchase notification emails.

Simple PayPal gives site designers an “Add to cart” button, alongside all the necessary backroom e-commerce functionality. The shopping cart is displayed in sidebars or on each webpage, and carefully minimised coding ensures negligible slowdown on host sites. As well as physical stock, Simple PayPal can be used for selling digital data like photographs or PDF/MP3 files. Nor is its functionality all geared around front-of-house, with automated sale notification emails and discount coupon compatibility already factored in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its comprehensive portfolio of talents, Simple PayPal has been downloaded over 450,000 times to date.

Payment Gateways

The final step in converting a virtual basket into a real order involves a payment transaction. Some shopping cart widgets have PayPal functionality built in, while plug-ins like the massively popular WooCommerce provide payment portals for everything from credit cards to Amazon accounts.

With almost four million downloads, WooCommerce is clearly a market leader when it comes to checkout functionality. It accepts payment methods ranging from BACS to cash on delivery, and these can be augmented with various e-commerce extensions that provide less conventional payment gateways. Best of all, WooCommerce can itself be enhanced with additional plug-ins covering everything from custom engraving requests to table rate shipping interfaces for international orders. Now on its 15th version, this extendable e-commerce plug-in is as suitable for a sole trader as it is for an international retailer.

Contact Support

Want to provide your customers with real-time customer service? In a knowing nod to WordPress’s own installation claims, Contact Form by ContactUs boasts a setup time of less than five minutes. Data entry fields can be fully customised, with Google Analytics coding integrated into each returned form. Retailers can be notified by SMS of any contact form submissions, and there’s integration with third-party apps like MailChimp.

Contact Form’s global appeal is reflected in the choice of installation languages, which include everything from Afrikaans to Ukrainian. It also provides a good example of how a free plug-in can still earn its makers revenue, with a premium version available for less than £10. This provides six months of priority support and updates, after which users can decide whether to maintain their premium subscription or revert to the standard support infrastructure. Whichever support option is chosen, Contact Form can be enhanced with plug-ins like Captcha for spam prevention and bot rejection. Its flexibility and user-friendliness have resulted in over 18 million downloads since version 1.1 made its debut a few years ago.

Mobile Access

To avoid having to create separate mobile apps that run alongside existing e-commerce websites, the likes of Jetpack are flying to the rescue of etailers. Downloaded over ten million times, Jetpack has a mobile theme that claims to automatically streamline sites for visitors on mobile platforms. WPtouch does something similar, creating mobile versions of WordPress sites without requiring a single line of additional coding.

WPtouch boasts over 5.6 million users including global giants like CNN, Sony and Disney. Its coding automatically resizes text and media files, while a panoply of extensions manage everything from mobile caching to dedicated content for mobile visitors. The software works by identifying mobile devices prior to any data transmission, so download times are optimised, and it allows iOS visitors to save websites like an app to make them accessible with a single tap. Users can even switch back to the desktop website if they prefer, although WPtouch’s slick mobile designs make this largely irrelevant.

Spam Prevention

Few things are more annoying than endlessly receiving spam through contact forms or via email. WordPress enthusiasts have worked tirelessly to resolve this – with almost two million downloads, SI Captcha remains the undisputed champion of bot prevention and user authentication. Popular alternatives include Bulletproof Security and Spam Free WordPress, both of which can protect against the likes of XSS or CSRF hacking attempts.

Created by a sole Long Island PHP programmer, SI Captcha has been downloaded almost two million times following its launch back in 2008. Avoiding the italicised illegibility of other anti-bot plug-ins, SI Captcha uses simple and crisp alphanumeric field entries to authenticate comment or register form submissions. It can be easily activated and deactivated as required, and it can simultaneously be hidden from logged-in users or administrators while asking unregistered guests to complete a random Captcha.

Before installing any plug-ins, it’s very important to check the small print to confirm what you’re buying. It’s not unknown for free plug-ins to introduce stealth charges as their popularity grows, or to simply lose administrative support one day without prior warning. Don’t expect plug-ins to remain active and effective forever, but instead be willing to switch to new alternatives as circumstances change. WordPress is always evolving, and so should your choice of accompanying plug-ins.

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