It has never been faster or easier to build websites and e-commerce stores, and for the most part, that’s a great thing. There are many options when it comes to backbone tech like WordPress, Shopify, Magento, and more, and plenty of open-source code to add features and customize your site without spending big bucks on development. (Trust me, back in the oughts, it could literally cost millions of dollars for people to do anything interesting online.)
One of the most common ways of boosting the functionality on a site is to install a plugin (they’re sometimes called apps, like the Shopify app store). These lightweight off-the-shelf products can be true lifesavers, especially when you want to test out a feature before fully committing to it. But there are a couple of drawbacks you should consider before going whole hog and loading your site up with every available plugin:
- Plugins can slow down your site. A lot of plugins have scripts and code that can weigh down a page or your entire site, making it slower to load. How slow depends on your site, the plugin, and how many plugins you’re using in total. You’ll want to be sure to test your speed before you install a plugin AND after so you can compare (you can use GTMetrix or Web Page Test). This is really critical because slow sites have lower conversion rates, higher bounce rates, and poorer showing in Google search results.
- Read the fine print. Until the spring of 2019, Mailchimp had a plugin/integration with Shopify that made it the preferred Email Service Provider for stores on the platform. But then a major rift between the two companies led to an unamicable divorce and thousands of store owners scrambling to find another ESP option. At issue? Who owned the user data collected, Mailchimp or Shopify? This highlights a really important point: in many of the service terms of plugins, there are clauses about who owns or has access to things like sales figures, customer data, and more, and who they are allowed to share it with. These may seem like small details, but they can be critical business decisions, especially if you choose to part ways with the provider in the future. Be sure you review the fine print and are okay with any of these stipulations before installing it.
Plugins can be a smart, fast way to address issues that will address business or usability objectives — just be sure to vet and evaluate them the way you would other site add ons.