Choosing a WordPress ECommerce Plugin for an Offline Business

Selling online has become a simple process for those of us selling digital products.

Generally, the 2 biggest issues involved are automatic product delivery and download protection.

If you are using WordPress for your website, there are numerous free and paid solutions. While the details may vary, in most cases you will have a variety of options.

However, if you are selling physical products that necessitate shipping in any form, well, the situation becomes more complicated.

I have a number of clients with offline retail shops in a small niche.

Currently, I am working with 4 or 5 of them, setting up websites and teaching them to run their sites themselves. And yes, it is a small niche so they all know each other and attend the same industry trade shows. LOL

Interestingly enough, because of how they have focused their online shops, they are not directly competing with each other.

In each instance, the features they need from a shopping cart solution have differed.

Based on my recent experiences, here are some of the factors that should be considered when choosing an ecommerce solution for a WordPress site:

Inventory Control

1) How necessary is inventory control?

Needless to say, this is where selling digital products is very different from selling physical products. I have one client for whom this is a major concern since she is selling one of a kind custom pieces. Most of my other clients are selling products that they have in stock or that can be drop shipped from the manufacturer, so this isn’t an issue.

2) Does inventory sold online need to be integrated with items sold off line using a Point of Sale (cash register) solution?

I have one client concerned about this issue. She looked into a possible POS (Point of Sale) solution, but decided not to invest in it at this time. We are still discussing practical strategies for her to handle this challenge. My other clients are not concerned, for a variety of different reasons, including the amount of stock the carry in store and even, in one instance, the close proximity of a distributor.


With physical products, shipping is an ugly reality. I have one client who is including Free Shipping in her online shop’s Unique Selling Position. I have other clients who are figuring shipping in several different ways, including using PayPal to handle it.

The most important factor of shipping issues is having flexibility. In the case of choosing a WordPress eCommerce plugin, my suggestion is to find a plugin that will allow you handle shipping options on a product by product basis.

Ordering Multiples

Again, here is a major difference between digital and physical products.

The idea is to make the purchasing process as easy as possible, in this case by allowing the purchaser to choose how many items she wants to purchase. Ideally, again, this should be able to be implemented on an item by item basis.

While my clients are currently focused on selling physical products, I am encouraging them to also think in terms of creating their own unique digital offering, both as a way to expand their product lines and as a way to build a Unique Selling Position.

Product Descriptions

In my view, Product Descriptions are one of the keys to a website’s success.

I teach my clients to write comprehensive Product Descriptions on that rare presented on either WordPress pages or posts, and then write different Product Descriptions for each shopping cart item.

Some of the important Product Descriptions issues for shopping carts are as follows:

1) Ability to write Product Descriptions without a length limit

2) Ability to add simple HTML formatting

3) Ability to add thumbnails images as well as additional images, if needed

4) Ability to display product in different formats

5) Ability to display products without the thumbnail or without the description or without the price or without the Add to Cart button or any combination of the above.

For one of my clients, we have full product descriptions of a couple of products displayed without the Add to Cart button in the public area of the site. In order to actually purchase the products, the prospective purchaser must have already signed up for a online class which is being managed with an integrated membership plugin.

Product Formatting Options

1) Can a product have product specific information sent in the purchase confirmation email?

2) Can a product include a combination of physical and digital items — with the digital items provided for immediate download?

3) Can the shopping cart be integrated with the client’s autoresponder company?

NOTE – I consider this one of the most important features in choosing a shopping cart solution. Ideally, the shopping cart can be set for a default list and also have the option to tie an individual product to a specific mailing list.

Scaling Up

Does the shopping cart plugin have the option to upload products in bulk?

This may or may not be an issue. In my case, I am placing such a heavy emphasis on long, detailed and meaty product descriptions, that it may not be needed, however, I do know that the plugin I am currently using allows for this option.

Last but not least, the shopping cart solution I am currently recommending also integrates with an Affiliate Plugin and a membership plugin by the same developer.

Using an Affiliate Program for an Offline Business

Having an affiliate program is an alien notion for many offline business. While copying the online digital affiliate model is unlikely to be a good fit for an offline business, I do see potential here and I have been urging my clients to consider implementing an affiliate program of some sort.

The trick here is to think outside of the online affiliate box…

In the case of one client, we are considering offering an affiliate program that doesn’t pay out directly but does accrue the affiliate additional benefits. Our goal is to set up the affiliate program to encourage the affiliate to actually purchase more. We are still working on this, but the key is having an affiliate program that ties into the shopping cart plugin and that doesn’t necessarily pay out automatically.

Adding a Membership Component to an Online Shop

In one memorable week this summer, three of my clients asked me about offering online classes.

Using the membership and ecommerce plugin combination seems to be a pretty good solution.

However, I can see a potential problem in putting too many eggs in one basket. For two of my clients, I suggested putting up a separate domain with WordPress and using it to run the online classes, independent of the online retail shop. Of course, one client instantly agreed and the other started arguing. LOL

As it happens, both clients have reseller accounts as well as multiple online businesses, so the only expenses are the domain and possibly the plugins (not including setting up the classes, of course).

The online class site and the retail site would be linked together, but they would actually be two different entities.

Final Conclusions

So after a long winded discussion here, let me wrap things up…

Offline businesses differ from online and digital businesses, and their ecommerce requirements will be different.

An elegant plugin suitable for internet marketing may or may not be robust and flexible enough for an offline client.

Take the time to help your client assess the specific options needed, decide which are must haves and which are negotiable.

Consider the possibility of adding an affiliate program or membership area down the road. In most cases this will require educating the client and thinking creatively about how to implement these options.

The more flexible and robust the ecommerce solution, the better. Every couple of weeks, one of my clients will ask me a *Can we do this?* question, and I find myself brainstorming and problem-solving. You will be doing a lot of thinking on your feet, be sure the ecommerce solution you are using won’t trip you up!

Look for plugins with good support. I hadn’t mentioned this before now, but it is an important factor. You WILL run into problems. Good documentation, a responsive developer, and an active support forum can can save your time and your sanity

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