If you have a website or blog, you may already know about the unique limitations of using WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org platforms as well as their specific e-commerce setup processes.
In essence, while a WordPress.org site offers e-commerce options through its WP eCommerce plugins, .org sites must be personally hosted and maintained as well as occasionally debugged. Knowing at least some PHP is also a benefit when dealing with a .org site.
On the other hand, WordPress.com sites are easier to set up and run but come with severe choice limitations regarding plugins and themes (among other things). WordPress.com-based sites are also incapable of being connected to online stores, severely hampering their e-commerce potential.
That is, until now.
WordPress.com now offers e-commerce
At long last, WordPress has teamed up with Ecwid, Shopify and ShopLocket to enable online shopping on its .com sites. With these aforementioned plugins, WordPress.com users can either build their e-commerce store from scratch, or they can generate a store elsewhere and add it to an existing website.
The plugins are available through a specified ‘eCommerce Plugins’ option on the WP dashboard; users simply go there to select their preferred plugin and enter their account details. All described plugins are also available for free through a “try before you buy” option (for 14 days or a limited number of products).
How do the new e-commerce plugins compare against each other?
Ecwid, or more properly, E-commerce Widget, is a small widget that is added to your website through just a few snippets of code. As such, the widget is a website add-on rather than a complete platform in its own right. Therefore, you cannot use this widget to build your entire website (should you want to).
Having said that, Ecwid packs a mighty punch for its limited code. Users can construct entire online stores with Ecwid and create catalogs of products that include photos, prices, shipping rates, etc. Users can take credit card payments via Paypal or some other payment gateway (or both). Certain Ecwid design elements can also be altered.
Ecwid is actually free to use if you have just a handful of products to sell. At up to 100 products, you pay $15/month. Unlimited products run $99/month.
Overall, the Ecwid widget is great if you already own a website and want to integrate an online store not only there but onto your Facebook page or other online locations. Ecwid does lack a bit in customization options, however; optimizing product descriptions, meta tags and keywords is not possible with this widget.
Shopify offers website and e-commerce store building tools, allowing users to create additional web pages (e.g., ‘Contact Us’) and even a blog. Digital and physical products can be featured along with their individual prices, sizes, etc.
For SEO purposes, you can add a significant amount of product description and meta data. Also, Shopify automatically calculates the shipping costs of your items based on your location, item weights and current postage rates.
Customization is very flexible- you get to pick and tweak your theme and design elements freely using the included platform controls. Paid Shopify basic plans allow you full access to the code itself should you want to tweak even further. Also, Shopify offers (paid) apps of its own for unique features like social media coupons or affiliate referrals.
Payment options are rather flexible with Shopify and include Paypal or another payment gateway.
Shopify plans start at $14/month as well as a 2% sales commission and are ideal if you have a couple of products to sell. More expensive Shopify plans are also available (of course). Likewise, Shopify allows you to purchase really slick e-commerce themes for your store that make you stand out from the digital marketplace crowd; these themes cost a minimum of $80/each.
You should definitely consider Shopify if you have no current website and want to build one around your products.
ShopLocket infuses the best of Ecwid and Shopify platforms into one simple system, enabling users to sell online without even having a website. Just like with Ecwid, your ShopLocket e-commerce store can be inserted just about anywhere, from Facebook to Etsy. ShopLocket also figures heavily on crowdfunding sites like KickStarter, aiding with hardware pre-orders and their shipping.
Just like with Shopify, your ShopLocket store can be tweaked and customized to your heart’s content. The ShopLocket platform also encodes elements that allow you to easily share your item links on social media platforms without paying any additional fee.
“Incentivizing” options are available through ShopLocket; for example, an e-book’s first chapter can be offered as a promotional freebie to encourage purchases. The preferred payment gateway is Paypal.
ShopLocket’s fee structure isn’t too bad either and works off a 2.5% sales commission.
But there’s a small catch…
While these e-commerce platforms are all great, they come with a catch: You need to be a WordPress.com Business account holder first before using them. Business accounts run $299/year; however, they also provide you with lots of perks like unlimited premium themes, customer chat support, unlimited storage, VideoPress, no ads, custom domain names, etc.
The chances are good that if you’ve chosen to use WordPress.com as your website platform, you may already be paying for and/or needing the features of a business account. And while $299 is a good chunk of money, such an investment in your business can help you sell more product and sell them quicker.
Are these e-commerce plugins worth it?
Inevitably, that answer depends on you. If you have the time and energy to tweak user-generated e-commerce plugins and sort through their potential bugs, then the free WordPress.org e-commerce options may be better suited to you.
However, if you own a business and have limited time (i.e., money) to deal with a buggy website or site upgrades/backups/code tweaks, then getting a WordPress.com Business account and using one of the above noted plugins may be best for your needs.