I recently created a client website that needed an easy to use e-commerce solution for selling books, CDs and digital downloads of documents and audio files. On the client’s old website, she was just selling her book and CDs using a very simple PayPal link for processing and payment. It worked, but wasn’t very attractive and offered little more than credit card processing.
I use Wordpress to build client sites so I spent a couple of hours researching and testing various e-commerce plug-ins. There are several out there that are extremely popular but they all seemed unnecessarily complicated to setup and convoluted to use…not to mention buggy.
Then I found Ecwid. It’s not only a Wordpress plug-in, but also a complete e-commerce solution that can be used with literally any web authoring platform. The plugin is simple to install, and it’s hands-down the best Wordpress plugin (of any sort) I’ve ever used. What makes it so good? For starters, it just plain works, which is a nice change from the bulk of Wordpress plug-ins out there, which are typically buggy and offer little or no instructions for use. Ecwid is rock-solid, full-featured and has just about the best documentation, tutorials, and knowledge base of any product I’ve ever used. That’s a tall statement considering I bought my first computer in 1984 and have worked on all the major OS platforms at one time or another. It’s also FREE for store-fronts up to 100 products, with incredibly affordable pricing plans for stores with up to 20,000 products. Other than the product limit, the free version offers virtually the same functionality as the paid versions, minus some security and SEO features. This software is so good, my guess is that many people try the free version and gladly upgrade to the paid one.
Ecwid is powerful enough to be used for some serious e-commerce needs, but also easy enough for a part-time web programmer like me to figure out with little to no time spent reading the online manual. Interestingly, I almost didn’t even try the software after I first registered to use it. All the other e-commerce plugins I tried used the Wordpress admin back-end for entering data. Ecwid uses it’s own back-end and is tied to your site through their Wordpress API. I’m not exactly sure if that even correctly explains how it connects to your site, but that’s how I understood it.
So after I installed the plug-in, I had to log into my account from Ecwid’s website to start using it. My first reaction was, “how am I going to maintain the look and feel of my website if I’m setting up my store on a third party interface.” Well…I’m here to tell you, it integrates beautifully with your Wordpress theme. All you do is create one simple page in Wordpress and call it “Online Store,” or any other name for that matter. Then you tell Ecwid to use that page for your storefront. Next you start adding categories and products, complete with mulitple product images, comprehensive descriptions etc. Ecwid is incredibly full-featured, with options for adding tax, scores of payment processing choices and a dizzying array of shipping options that will calculate shipping costs for your clients. The features are too numerous to mention but my sense is this software will work for just about any e-commerce need, including large companies with thousands of products.
The best things about Ecwid are:
- The back-end admin interface is intuitive and extremely easy to use.
- The vast, search-able knowledge-base of information available to help when you get stuck.
- Video tutorials to help you get started.
- The fact that it just plain works!
- Its huge feature set.
- It’s FREE for stores with up to 100 products.
- Affordable pricing plans for larger stores.
The Ecwid website is also extremely well-written, easy to navigate and explains the technical mumbo-jumbo of how it works in language that I could understand. This fact is amazing considering the company that created Ecwid is based in Russia! Their site is better written that the majority of U.S. based technology websites!
Last, I love the look and feel of their storefronts and category/product layouts. They’re big and bold and cleanly designed, making the end-user’s experience a good one. There is also a tremendous amount of customization available for both the look and function of the store.
For instance, the default layout asks the end-user to sign-in to their account before proceeding to checkout. Like most online stores, Ecwid will keep a database of users’ information to speed their checkout on subsequent visits. Since this particular website only has about 25 products, and it’s unlikely visitors will return over and over, I wanted to turn this feature off completely and remove the sign-in boxes and requests. Plus, the layout and sign-in box confused me when I was doing a test purchase.
Fortunately, none of this is a problem, because with a simple code change, copied and pasted from the great Ecwid knowledge base, I turned off the user sign-in box and then completely turned off all options for client accounts. If at a later date my client wants to allow clients to sign-up, I just remove the code snippets. The Ecwid website walked me through every stage of making these changes. There are also options for changing the look and feel of the store. If you want to make major layout changes, you need to know a little something about CSS and PHP to make that happen. But for an experienced programmer, it would be pretty easy to change how the store looks and behaves.
If you need a great e-commerce solution, you owe it to yourself to give Ecwid a try. It’s truly an impressive system.