Optimise your online store with the power of plugins
Starting an online store and making that first sale is an exhilarating experience. But to keep those sales going and, more importantly, to get them to grow steadily, you must attend to many different aspects of your store and your marketing and communication strategies.
For instance, to begin with, your store should look professional, trustworthy, and reflective of your brand and its values. You also want to make sure that you can always talk to your customers quickly and conveniently. This will allow you to address any issues they may be having or inform them of any upcoming sales or offers. Handling shipping and returns is also something that you will have to stay on top of. And there are many more tasks that you could carry out that would improve your rate of customer acquisition and retention.
Arguably, getting your store ready to handle these tasks is also a critical part of fully building it out. The good news is that you can delegate or at least greatly simplify the handling of most of these tasks using plugins. Let’s talk about them in some more detail.
Table of Contents
- What is a plugin?
- How can ecommerce plugins help you build your website (and grow it)?
What is a plugin?
A plugin is a small bundle of software that supplements the functionalities of some existing software. What plugins allow you to do is this: they augment your store with capabilities that would otherwise be time-consuming, difficult, or almost impossible to put in place without hiring a web developer. And the best part is that you can build your website using several nifty plugins completely for free.
On some platforms, such as Shopify, they might also be referred to as ‘apps’. In this blog post, we shall refer to the plugins on Shopify as ‘apps’, but stick to the term ‘plugins’ in all other contexts.
There are plugins available for all kinds of purposes. Some of these are: changing your store’s appearance, helping minimise cart abandonment, providing shipment tracking details, and making accepting payments easier.
Let’s look at a few kinds of plugins and see how they can help you build your website for ecommerce, making it convenient, profitable, and helping you grow your business.
How can ecommerce plugins help you build your website (and grow it)?
Here are some of the main tasks where ecommerce plugins can step in to prime your website for growth:
- Designing your store
- Accepting payments
- Communicating with your customers
- Improving prospect conversion and customer retention
- Handling shipping, tracking, and returns
- Managing accounts and invoicing
- Carrying out email marketing
- Integrating social proof and reviews
- Operating your business
Let’s look at each of these tasks, along with a few examples of plugins.
Designing your website for ecommerce:
The kind of first impression that your store makes depends on its design. Ideally, every graphical aspect of your store — the fonts, colours, images, and the general layout — should reinforce your brand and make your store look professional. Doing so will increase the chances of a visitor being persuaded to go ahead and click that all-important ‘Buy’ button.
Simply put, a good-looking, well-designed store will grow your brand’s value and lead to more sales. With so much riding on it, getting the look of your store just right is essential. Thankfully, there are several ecommerce plugins that can help you do so.
A popular plugin of this kind is Elementor, which is a comprehensive website and page builder. Its easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface makes the task of creating slick-looking websites much simpler. What’s more, it includes professional design features such as hover effects, animations, etc., right out of the box. It even comes equipped with 100+ customizable templates.
Some platforms, such as Shopify, provide wonderful layout options and themes for stores right out of the box. However, you can also use Shopify apps to bring your unique creative ideas for your store to life.
A great example of such an app is LayoutHub, which provides a library of professionally designed page layouts and design blocks that you can start using with just a few clicks. You can customise a wide variety of page types, such as landing pages, product pages, FAQ pages, etc. by simply dragging and dropping blocks wherever you want them on the page. Moreover, the layouts and blocks are designed with higher conversion rates, speed, and search engine optimisation in mind.
Here are a few more design apps to help enhance your Shopify website’s look and feel.
As an ecommerce store owner, seamless payments are your lifeblood. After all, an ecommerce store that can’t accept payments is simply a run-of-the-mill website. Moreover, you have to ensure that your store provides several payment options to your customers, so that they can choose to pay in a way that they are comfortable with. In India, that translates to not just accepting several payment methods, such as debit cards, credit cards, and net banking, but also to supporting several payment processors, such as PayTM, Razorpay, PayU, etc.
Most of these payment processors provide plugins that allow their payment gateways to be integrated into most ecommerce websites. For instance, the Razorpay Quick Payments plugin, as the name suggests, allows websites to accept payments using Razorpay.
If you’re using Shopify, most payment gateway partners can be integrated into your store with integrations that are extremely straightforward, usually involving just a single click.
However, if you plan to allow customers to pay using cash on delivery (COD), the Advanced Cash on Delivery app will prove to be extremely handy. It allows you to set several COD-specific options, such as whether an extra charge should be levied for COD orders, and whether only certain postal codes should have COD enabled.
Communicating with your customers:
It is important to give your customers the ability to reach out to you whenever they need help or clarifications. Doing so will go a long way towards increasing their trust in your brand. Moreover, doing so is likely to significantly increase your conversion rate.
Three common channels that can be used for quick exchanges between you and your customers are:
- In-store live chat
- Mobile messaging
As you might expect, there are apps to handle each of those communication channels.
For in-store live chat, Tidio is a great option to go with. It allows you to bring all your communication with a given customer across multiple channels, such as chat, email, or Facebook Messenger, in a single place. Moreover, it allows you to enable chatbots so that your customers’ queries can be addressed even while you sleep.
For mobile messaging, an app like SuperLemon will do the trick: it allows you to use WhatsApp to provide support to your customers, and to send them notifications and order tracking information. It can even help you improve your abandoned cart recovery numbers.
Lastly, as far as SMS-based communication is concerned, a handy app to try is SMS Alerts India. This app features ready-made message templates, graphical reports, scheduling, and campaign reports.
There are many more such communication-related apps on Shopify, so regardless of what your requirements are, you’re likely to find an app that does a great job handling them.
Improving prospect conversion and customer retention:
Let’s say you’ve crafted a beautiful store, put out a few ads, and finally begun attracting potential customers to your store. Now, it is essential that you convert as many of them as possible into paying customers. Moreover, you also need to make sure that existing customers continue to buy from you, as you have already done the hard work of acquiring them.
There are many plugins, such as OptinMonster, that can optimise conversions and get your visitors to take the actions you want them to. OptinMonster allows you to create highly effective conversion campaigns using pop-ups, floating bars, full-screen welcome notifications, and many more kinds of graphical elements. It includes more than 50 beautiful templates that can be customised using a drag-and-drop builder, so you don’t need any coding or design knowledge to use it. The campaigns you run can be used to increase sales, generate leads, grow your email list, and much more.
As far as improving customer retention is concerned, some common techniques to do so are loyalty programmes, discounts, referral promos, first-time shopper offers, exit intent offers, etc.
A simple way to deploy most of these techniques is to use an app called Smile. This app uses your existing user base to boost sales through perks, discounts, and more. It also allows your customers to engage with your brand every time they visit your store. It has a loyalty points programme, referral programme, and even a VIP programme. It also features a customisable rewards panel that can be shown to your customers to get them to engage even further.
Yet another way to make prospects want to buy from you is by supporting causes that they care about. A no-hassle way to integrate such an approach in your store is to use the Change Commerce app, which allows customers to make donations, both small and large, to the causes of their choice.
There are many more techniques that can improve customer conversion and retention. And as you might expect, you can find a correspondingly broad range of apps that use those techniques to improve your bottom line.
Handling shipping, tracking, and returns:
Placing orders online is easier than ever before: all you have to do is go to a store, click a few buttons, and perhaps type in a credit card number. So far, so good. But behind the scenes, you’ve initiated a complex logistical dance, one that will end with you receiving your package. Making sure this dance encounters no snags is essential to ensuring a great customer experience. Thus, having a smooth process in place to handle shipping, tracking, and returns will make a huge difference to your peace of mind, as well as that of your customers. And, as you can imagine, there is a host of apps that can take on this challenge on your behalf.
For store owners selling in India, a good choice of app for these critical aspects of your business is Shiprocket.
This app allows you to choose a trustworthy delivery partner that can handle cash-on-delivery as well as pre-paid orders. It also offers insurance against your shipments getting damaged or lost, and you can even choose to have delivery personnel carry out different kinds of quality checks on shipments being returned.
Another advantage of this app is that it has its own dashboard. You can keep it synced with your Shopify dashboard, which simplifies inventory and catalogue management.
Managing accounts and invoicing:
Accounts and invoicing are an essential part of ecommerce. For store owners selling in India, there are several apps that can calculate and generate GST-ready invoices.
A great example of such an app is GST Invoice India, which automatically generates branded invoices that contain GST amounts calculated on the basis of the customers’ states. It speeds up what would normally be a lengthy and error-prone process.
Building customer relationships with automated emails:
Live chat, SMS, and mobile messaging – three channels of communication that we touched on above – are indeed absolutely essential to master and use effectively. However, the humble old email still remains a powerful tool to reach out to both potential and existing customers, and to strengthen your store’s influence. Two roles that emails are well-suited for are: enhancing customers’ post-purchase experience, and carrying out marketing.
Post-purchase emails can be of several different types, ranging from those that simply provide information, such as emails with shipping updates, to those that further your brand values and add a human touch, such as ‘thank you’ emails. On the other hand, email-based marketing, whether in the form of a newsletter, a quick peek at new products, or a simple sale announcement, remains one of the key components of a store owner’s growth toolkit.
In principle, you could run a store, perhaps even a successful one, without sending out such emails. However, they represent a relatively low-investment way to send your customer engagement, retention, and loyalty into the stratosphere, and it is thus highly recommended that you spend a fair amount of time working on them. Plus, since they have now become the mainstays of ecommerce, you want to make sure that your customers judge your store favourably compared to other stores they’ve visited!
Think of email-based service and marketing as being opportunities for you to keep talking to and delighting your customers even after they’ve gone off your store. As such, email communication should be looked upon as an extension of your brand and your willingness to go the extra mile for your customers.
However, just because it’s essential doesn’t mean it needs to cost you a lot of time. Sending out emails can be automated to a large extent, with several apps being capable of doing so.
If you have a Shopify store, one of the best apps for email automation is Shopify’s own Shopify Email app. With this app, you can craft great-looking customised emails using a simple drag-and-drop process.
It also has several templates for common types of marketing campaigns, such as sales, holidays, and newsletters. Moreover, all campaigns can be completely handled from within your Shopify admin.The cherry on the cake is the fact that you can actually track the results of your campaigns, including open and click-through rates, the products added to carts, and purchases.
Integrating social proof and reviews:
It goes without saying that if a visitor to your store saw a lot of other customers interacting positively with your products, then they would be more likely to go ahead and make a purchase themselves. People like to be reassured by their peers that they’re making the right decision. You, too, can provide this sort of reassurance to your store’s visitors by making sure that you display some social proof on your store.
As an example of a plugin that can do this for you, consider TrustPulse: it shows your site’s visitors an unobtrusive notification every time someone makes a purchase on your site. Such real-time proof of other people buying your products will do wonders for your site’s credibility and trustworthiness, and assuage any concerns your potential customers might have.
Social proof can take on many more forms, including Google reviews, testimonials, and media coverage. An excellent app to help you add reviews to your store is Loox Product Reviews & Photos. Loox collects authentic text, photo, and video reviews by sending customers customisable review request emails. In addition, the Loox widget, that is, the Loox block that shows up on your store, is clean-looking, customisable, and mobile-friendly.
Operating your business:
In certain situations, plugins may be key to executing the business model that your store is based on. Two common examples of such models are dropshipping and print on demand.
Dropshipping refers to a business model that allows online stores to operate without having to hold any inventory, as they have a tie-up with a product supplier or manufacturer that ships orders out on their behalf. Starting a dropshipping business relatively easily in India has been possible for a while now, thanks to apps and services that help you deal with several key challenges of such a business.
‘Print on demand’ is a related term: it refers to a special kind of dropshipping in which a product is customised before being dispatched, usually by printing an image on it.
Dropshipping is often indispensable for store owners who don’t wish to take on the challenges and risks of buying and storing inventory. And there are plugins that can allow store owners to find products to put up in their store, secure in the knowledge that they will be delivered to buyers safely.
One of the more well-known brands in this space is Oberlo, which also has an app of the same name. Along with a huge catalogue of products to sell, it also provides robust customer support, price and inventory auto-updates, and real-time order tracking, among a plethora of other features.
Some examples of great ecommerce websites that use these ideas
Along with a great line-up of organic skin and hair care products, this store offers rewards for carrying out actions like following the brand’s page on Instagram or posting a review, and also features a referral programme.
This apparel and accessories store looks fantastic, that’s for sure. But what’s more is that this store makes excellent use of social proof, with a dedicated section featuring lots of photo and video reviews, enough to convince any visitor to go ahead and become a patron.
This apparel store uses Tidio to address any questions a customer may have. Moreover, it uses both social proof, in the form of an ‘As Featured On’ section, as well as the option of buying gift cards to increase the chances of a visitor purchasing.
Unleash the power of plugins to build your website for ecommerce
Priming an online store for growth is a challenging task, and involves many moving parts and aspects that you need to examine and optimise. However, you can make this journey a lot smoother by harnessing the power of third-party ecommerce plugins. This will allow you to focus better on the things that need your personal attention.
How to build an ecommerce website?
A great way to build an ecommerce website is by using a site building and hosting platform such as Shopify. Most of the essential functionalities that you will need, such as accepting payments and customising your store’s look, will already be provided by Shopify. If you need more functionalities related to marketing, customer communication, shipping and returns, etc., then you can turn to the ever-growing ecosystem of Shopify apps to provide them for you.
How can ecommerce sales be increased in 2021?
Ecommerce sales can be increased by doing the following, among other things:
- Making sure your online store looks professional and trustworthy
- Providing timely and pertinent support to your customers
- Implementing a marketing strategy that yields good results
- Giving potential and repeat customers incentives to buy more or refer other people to the store
- Making the customer’s journey as smooth and memorable as possible.
How do online stores attract customers?
Online store owners can attract customers by using paid ads on social media platforms, word of mouth, or by ranking high in search engine results.
Can I trust Shopify apps?
Yes, you can trust Shopify apps. Shopify has very high standards for the apps that it allows on its App Store, and regularly removes apps that do not adhere to its stringent criteria. As a consequence, you can rest assured that it is extremely likely that any given Shopify app is trustworthy, as long as you install it from the official Shopify App Store.
How can I increase sales on my website?
Sales can be increased through great marketing and ads, and by using plugins to improve traffic, conversions, and retention.
How can I improve my online business?
An online store can be improved by making it look more professional and attractive, and by ensuring that the customer experience is great throughout: right from the time when they first visit the store to the time after they have made a purchase.