More often than not, your online business needs are met, using a single website. Considering that most often, e-shops are targeted towards selling products in a particular category, a need for multi-site does not generally arise. But when you consider venturing into new genres, or dividing administration and services, a good option to consider is multi-site.
For example, consider you have an e-shop which sells software and e-books. You then venture onto a new business which offers web development and designing courses. Since the training business is a separate genre altogether, you can definitely consider multi-site, instead of two stand-alone sites.
Another example for a multi-site deployment, is when you want to sell to international markets. For example, say you have a main site, myexampleshop.com. When you consider expanding your business to different countries, say Australia and UK, you can use multi-site (aus.myexampleshop.com, and uk.myexampleshop.com). Having this setup, allows you to analyse your region specific consumer base, and create target promotions and offers.
Multi-sites have an advantage when it comes to maintenance and cost.
Maintenance & Cost Efficiency: Since the sites share the same database, you save on maintenance cost. Updates can be triggered from a single point. The network administrator or super admin, has full control on the functionalities available across all the sites.
Complexity & Limitations: For new users, the concept and administration might be a bit difficult to understand at first. Also, when it comes to availability of plugins, not all plugins are multi-site compatible.
Eventhough a few restrictions may be present, the advantages for an e-Commerce multi-site far outweigh the limitations.
Multi-Site e-Commerce with WooCommerce
Since the owner of the multi-site stores is a single business unit, the idea behind having multiple sites, is to segregate products based on customer preference and separate out store management. The advantages of setting up the site as a multi-site network are lost, if each site is totally independent, and does not provide any advantage to shoppers.
Below given are some advantages of setting up a multi-site network, to encourage shoppers and increase revenue. (Do note, not all features may be required for each use case, some will be specific to your individual business needs).
Single User Account Across All Sites
The advantages of having a single sign on for all sites is indispensable, when you have multiple stores. Not only is it simple for a user, but also when it comes to managing user accounts.
- The Registration and Management of User Accounts have to be managed at the Network level. By this, a user is never created on a single site, but rather registered across all the sites.
- The idea is similar to creating a ‘Global Shopper’. When a user logs in, he can access his account from any site, although the capabilities of the user will be limited, to a shopper.
Possibility to Search Across Stores
If the products you sell, or offer, are related to each other, (for example as mentioned in the above software and course material example), a common search box can be offered.
- A multi-site search option provides shoppers the advantage of finding the required products, and sellers the advantage of increasing product reach.
- Based on products being searched and purchased, related products may be suggested to the customer, either from the same site, or from other sites.
Single Shopping Cart & Single Checkout
For a single user across the sites, an advantage we can provide, is to offer a single shopping cart across all sites.
- The advantage of providing a single checkout is coupled with providing a single shopping cart.
- Instead of individual carts being created for each store, a user can shop across all stores without losing the products he had added to the carts, and eventually perform a single checkout.
- This can considerably save user time and result in improved user experience.
Although WooCommerce is multi-site compatible, it does not support a single cart or single point checkout. There are certain challenges involved in providing these options for a WooCommerce multi-site store. Since this article has given you an introduction to the fundamentals of a multi-site eCommerce setup. We will look into additional details, such as the flow of the use case, and propose an approach for the implementation, of a global cart and single point checkout multi-site store, using WooCommerce in a forthcoming article.