An Overview of E-commerce Plugins: What’s Right for Your Online Store?
- E-commerce plugins allow you to expand the functionality of your online store without the need for customized coding
- You may want to choose plugins with broader capabilities first and then fill in the gaps with more niche options
- There are options that come with a suite of different functions, conveniently bundled in one all-encompassing plugin
E-commerce plugins can be highly beneficial for online businesses, offering a variety of helpful tools and advanced functionality options via easy-to-install software. One kind of plugin might, for example, boost the performance of your site, while another might add new functionality—perhaps a translation tool or social integration capabilities. Others might enhance the appearance of the site to make it more appealing and engaging to prospects and customers. And, there are options that come with a suite of different functions, conveniently bundled in one all-encompassing plugin.
Before plugins were a thing (one researcher dates WordPress plugins back to 2004), people needed to have customized code created for their websites when they needed to solve a problem. Challenges with that approach included:
- It took time. Often, lots of time.
- Coders often needed to reinvent the wheel, over and over again, since there wasn’t a simple way to benefit from another person’s solution.
- Security issues could exist.
- Scalability. As the business grew, that could easily mean the need for more coding, with code upon code complicating the site.
- All of this time-intensive investment into tech wasn’t cheap.
Nowadays, you can quickly browse app stores to find plugins that solve your problem, even at no cost sometimes. Other times, there is a fee associated with downloading and installing the plugin—and/or a monthly fee for ongoing usage. Sometimes, a plugin developer might offer a pricing tier, with a free version and more robust paid versions available. The paid version might, for example, include quality support that isn’t offered with the freebie. Or, a free version might have stricter limits on the number of transactions allowable through the app.
So, how do you know whether to choose a free option or a paid one (assuming that workable solutions exist in both categories)? First, is the paid version something you can afford now? And, as with any other investment of significance in your business, calculate the ROI on its purchase and factor that into your decision. How quickly is the payback on your investment?
Then, compare what each version offers and decide if the extras in the paid tier are important to you. Can you try the free version and see if that’s enough? Is there a free trial for the paid version so you can compare apples to apples?
Whatever you do (and, yes, this goes without saying—and, yes, we’ll say it, anyhow) make sure you download the plugin from an official site for the software extension.
Choosing the Right E-commerce Plugins for Your Site
If you’re in the process of choosing a platform for your e-commerce store, it can make sense to explore which plugins are available for any of the platforms under your consideration. Being proactive now can help you to avoid a functionality snag in the future that can’t be solved with a plugin that’s compatible with your platform.
If you already have an e-commerce platform in place or your online store is already up and running and you want to boost its capabilities further, you can go about this in two broad ways (or use a combo of the two methods). You can:
- Brainstorm a list of functions that you’d like to add to your site and then explore plugins that can provide them.
- Look at what plugins exist for your e-commerce system and determine which of these would be useful for you.
Let’s explore the first route. Let’s say that you’ve been offering physical goods at your store and are now going to add digital products to the mix. What capabilities do you need to enhance your e-commerce platform in relevant ways? Do you offer products through an affiliate program? What plugins would you need for that?
Plugins can help solve for various e-commerce needs:
- Inventory management
- Sales management
- Secure checkouts
- Data backup
- Seamlessly merging functions
- And more
If you’d rather go the second route of deciding which plugins make sense, here are options for a wide range of online platforms to explore:
- BigCommerce plugins
- Shopify plugins
- Square plugins
- Stripe plugins
- Wix plugins
- WooCommerce extensions
- WordPress plugins
As you choose your plugins, make sure they’re right-sized for your business. Some may provide way more than you need—which, if fee-based, will likely cost more than you need to pay and can even be overwhelming to use. On the other hand, you’ll want to make sure the plugins are ones you won’t outgrow too quickly.
Other tips include:
- Read online reviews to see what past and current users say. No plugin will come with 100% pure praise and no criticisms, so look to see where there is more consensus.
- Ask colleagues for recommendations and insights into the plugins they use. What do they like best? What problems have they encountered? How useful is the help desk?
- As you read reviews and talk to people about plugins, find out about site speed and if the plugin tends to slow down user experiences for customers. Shoppers can be impatient and you don’t want them to abandon your cart and go to a competitor. (Site speed is also a ranking factor in Google, so that’s another reason to avoid plugins that create drag.)
- Make sure there is enough documentation for the plugin. Even if you don’t need it right now, you might, later on.
- Ideally, there is also a help desk if any problems arise, along with user forums where people can ask and answer questions and share experiences.
- Choose plugins, whenever possible, that are regularly updated to keep the technology current; if this doesn’t happen, then incompatibility issues can arise, and you’ll find yourself on the plugin hunt once again.
In general, when a plugin is being widely used for e-commerce, this can be a sign that it provides what online businesses need. This may not be universally true, but it can be another item on your checklist to consider when choosing your plugins.
After you choose the broader e-commerce plugins that will work best for your company, you can then fill in the gaps. For example, how are you controlling spam? Akismet has commercial plans that start at $5 monthly. How are you optimizing your content? Yoast SEO has a pretty robust free version as well as premium options. What other functions do you need for your site that your broader plugins don’t address, either at all or to your satisfaction? There’s likely, an app for that.
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