If you run a WordPress site (and who doesn’t?) chances are good you’re wondering how to monetize it. There are a few options available to you, but the most popular among them is WooCommerce.
WooCommerce is a free, open source shopping cart plugin that works expressly with WordPress sites. Since its founding in September of 2001, the WooCommerce plugin has been downloaded over 19 million times. To date, WooCommerce claims to run 1.7M active stores, a staggering 39% of all eCommerce sites. You could say people like it.
Although WooCommerce is free to download, it is not totally free to actually operate a WooCommerce store. You can expect to spend a nice sum on web hosting and the extensions you’ll need to run advanced features.
Regardless of the charges that come with the platform, it’s clear why so many merchants trust WooCommerce with their online store; WooCommerce offers the features you need at a low price, and it integrates into a platform you’re probably already using.
Read on to see if WooCommerce is the shopping cart for your online store.
WooCommerce is an open source WordPress plugin that’s free to download. It does not charge transaction fees; neither does it regulate bandwidth or storage (your site’s hosting will do that).
That doesn’t mean, however, that WooCommerce is free of all expenses. First, to maintain a WooCommerce site, you must purchase hosting for your WordPress.org site. And in order to get the best use out of the platform, you’ll have to spring for various add-ons and extensions, which range in price from free to hundreds of dollars.
However, because many of these extensions are one-time purchases, you’ll probably come out paying slightly less than you would with another popular option like Shopify.
Web-Hosted or Licensed
WooCommerce is a web-hosted WordPress plugin that can be used with any WordPress.org account (WooCommerce is not currently available for WordPress.com sites).
Your WooCommerce site is self-hosted, so you have full ownership of all of your information. Check out hosting solutions for your WordPress site.
Specific Size of Business
WooCommerce is great for both small and large companies.
You should note, however, that if you’re expecting lots of traffic or plan to add thousands of products, you’ll need to find hosting that can keep up with your bandwidth usage. (WooCommerce gives a rather non-specific answer to how many products their platform can support.)
Hardware and Software Requirements
WooCommerce integrates into any WordPress.org site, although it works best when it’s paired with a WooTheme (more on this in Web Design). You should maintain a strong internet connection and an updated browser.
Server requirements are as follows:
- PHP 5.6 or greater
- MySQL 5.6 or greater
- WooCommerce 2.5 requires WordPress 4.1+
- WooCommerce 2.6 requires WordPress 4.4+
- WP Memory limit of 64 MB or greater (128 MB or higher is preferred)
Note: WooCommerce works great with Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, but it is not supported by Internet Explorer 6 or 7.
Ease of Use
WooCommerce works seamlessly with WordPress, which is great for merchants already familiar with the über-popular blogging platform. For me, WooCommerce was a little more difficult to get up and running, though it was certainly not impossible.
WooCommerce connects to your WordPress platform like any other WordPress plugin. Just click “Add New” on the plugins page and search for WooCommerce. Then, click “Install” and “Activate.”
Sounds simple, right? It is.
Honestly, a large part of my confusion had to do with the differentiation between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. I searched everywhere on my WordPress.com site, only to find that free WordPress plans do not support WooCommerce. Oh.
From there, a setup wizard will take you through the basic steps of getting started with WooCommerce. The setup wizard takes less than five minutes to go through and is simple enough, especially if you watch this video (which I wish I’d found before beginning).
From there, you can either purchase a premium WooTheme, or download the free Storefront theme, which WooCommerce highly recommends. You can do so on this web page or in your admin.
Then, you can begin adding products. Honestly, I find the product editor a little strange (adding products looks just like writing a blog), but it works just fine. You can also categorize products and add attributes on this page.
Click publish and view your changes immediately.
Additionally, you can access pending orders, shipping settings, product information, and inventory tracking from your WordPress dashboard.
WooCommerce comes with pretty decent shipping functionality right out of the box. There are options for free shipping, flat rate shipping, local pickup, and local and overseas delivery. An automatic shipping calculator is built-in, and you can set different rates based on shipping zones. With a few add-ons, you can provide shipping estimates from major carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx.
Getting started with WooCommerce was not as easy as I had expected or hoped, though it’s hard to say exactly why. I think part of the difficulty had to do with the integration of WordPress and WooCommerce. I’m used to dealing with WordPress, and I’m used to managing eCommerce admins, but I was thrown off by an eCommerce admin that looks like WordPress.
I highly recommend using WooCommerce’s tutorial videos to guide you through the beginning stages of setting up your WooCommerce store (I wish I had found them earlier).
WooCommerce offers features in a Core+Extensions model. The platform comes with all the core features you need right out-of-the-box. It’s possible to start selling immediately with the basic WooCommerce package. However, if your business requires more advanced shipping or checkout features, you are going to have to drop some money on add-ons. Here are some of the features that you get free with every WooCommerce download.
- Mobile friendly design: Both your storefront and your admin work great on mobile devices. Your customers can shop on the go, and you can manage their orders from anywhere.
- Sell digital and physical products: Just check a box to show that your digital products don’t require shipping.
- Geo-location support: Geo-location detects your customers’ addresses in order to streamline shipping and tax calculations.
- Smooth purchasing: WooCommerce comes with one-page checkout to aid conversion. Also, WooCommerce uses AJAX for their “add to cart” buttons, so pages don’t need to reload when a customer adds a new product.
- Organize your products: Group your products by category, add variations to each product, and sell affiliate products.
- Inventory management: Use WooCommerce’s built-in inventory management to track your stock level, hold stock if an order is canceled, and hide out-of-stock items from your storefront.
- Shipping options: Offer a shipping calculator on the shopping cart page, so there are no surprises at checkout. Provide separate options for customers’ shipping and billing addresses.
- Search Engine Optimization: Benefit from WordPress’s built-in SEO best practices.
- Create coupons and discounts: Make your discounts apply to only one item or all of them.
- Checkout options: Allow your customers to create an account on your site or check out as guests.
- Enable product reviews: Let customers post reviews of your products. You can even ensure that those comments come only from verified customers.
- Analytics: Use WooCommerce reports to monitor your profits and track orders, traffic, and growth trends. Integrate Google Analytics (also free) for more in-depth analytics.
There are more features available with WooCommerce. These are just the few I deem most important. But, you can also view the full list.
(Note: In Q1 of 2017, WooCommerce plans on introducing a few new features. They’ll be releasing WooCommerce 2.7, a new SaaS shipping service, and a new tool for WooCommerce developers.)
Although WooCommerce can technically be integrated into any WordPress theme, I recommend using a WooTheme for a couple of reasons: First, using a WooTheme reduces headaches involved with applying WooCommerce updates to your store. Second, WooCommerce’s web ticket support only applies to Woo products.
WooThemes are typically available from $39 to $139, though WooCommerce does provide a few free themes, including “Storefront,” which the company heavily promotes. While Storefront is not the most exciting template I’ve ever seen, it’s alright for a free theme that works smoothly with all WooCommerce updates.
WooCommerce has recently (Sept. 2016) discontinued their old Storefront visual editor tools and introduced a new Storefront Powerpack extension. This extension includes all of the tools that were included in the previous packages: Storefront Designer, Storefront WooCommerce Customizer, and Storefront Checkout Customizer. Storefront Powerpack gives you the ability to make changes to the look and feel of your Storefront site without touching any code.
If you’d prefer even more control over the look of your store, you can always add-on child themes or edit the HTML and CSS stylesheets. Because WooCommerce is open source, there are no limits to the customizations you can make to your platform, though you should be aware that you’re less likely to benefit from WooCommerce’s web ticket support if you customize your store.
Integrations and Add-Ons
As I’ve said before, WooCommerce takes a Core+Extensions approach to their platform. Any advanced features you may need come via extensions, typically at a price.
WooCommerce’s app store features almost 400 extensions. I recommend researching extensions in the same way you’re currently researching eCommerce shopping carts. Take your time and find out what you need. Then, read lots of product reviews and comparisons to find out what will serve your company best.
(Note: I’ve compiled my own list of the Top 10 WooCommerce Extensions.)
Take a look at the full list of WooCommerce’s extensions. I’m listing a few of my favorite third-party extensions below:
- Avalara AvaTax: Automatic tax calculator
- ShipStation: Cloud-based shipping solution
- Zapier: Facilitates connections with over 500 extensions
- TaxJar: Automatic tax calculator
Keep in mind that WooCommerce also comes with a REST API and lots of documentation. If you can’t find what you need, you can always pay someone to build the connection for you.
WooCommerce comes with five built-in payment gateways, but if that isn’t enough for you (and if you experience any significant growth, it won’t be), additional payment gateways are available as extensions.
Here are WooCommerce’s out-of-the-box payment capabilities:
- Direct Bank Transfer
- Check Payment
- Cash on Delivery
- Simplify Commerce (US only)
Add-on payment gateways include the following popular options:
See the full list.
Customer Service and Technical Support
As in the case with most free, open source options, WooCommerce comes with very limited personal support. You won’t be able to find support through social media, email, live chat, or phone, though you can submit a web ticket. Usually, WooCommerce replies within 48 hours.
Support options are further limited if you choose to customize your site with lots of non-Woo products. WooCommerce will ask you to disable those third-party products before they can provide any aid. Take a look at WooThemes’s support policy.
Although personal support is limited, WooCommerce lets you access lots of self-help options. These tools include:
Remember that while WooCommerce integrates with WordPress, the two are not the same. If you have any questions regarding WordPress, be sure to contact WordPress Help instead of WooCommerce.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Because WooCommerce is the force behind so many online stores, there are plenty of customer reviews available online. As a whole, those reviews tend to be positive, but there are still things even the most enthusiastic WooCommerce user would like to see improved. The following are a few of the most popular complaints:
- Extensions can add up: WooCommerce comes absolutely free, but its extensions do not. Some extensions are priced as one-time purchases; others are monthly subscriptions. Do your research.
- Limited support: You must purchase a product from WooThemes in order to access both the knowledge base and the user forums. Response to web tickets is reportedly quite slow.
- Less theme flexibility: While theoretically, you can use any WordPress theme, you probably shouldn’t. WooThemes work best with WooCommerce.
- Steep learning curve: Some disagree with this one, but personally, I found it to be true. I had a hard time figuring out how to begin.
Others less common complaints mention:
- Limited documentation: While some say there’s plenty of documentation available, a few customers claim there isn’t enough.
- Difficulties with product updates: Non-Woo themes have a hard time with Woo updates. Get a WooTheme, people!
- Messy code: (According to some developers.)
- Difficulty incorporating extensions: One customer says it’s difficult to make extensions work with the platform and with each other.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
There are lots of customers singing WooCommerce’s praises. Here’s what they discuss most often:
- Attractive themes: WooThemes offers 31 mobile responsive options, and they’re all clean and image-focused.
- One-page checkout: One-page checkout is often considered an advanced feature. It’s nice that it’s included with every WooCommerce platform.
- Scalable: WooCommerce can grow with you.
- Excellent selection of extensions: With almost 400 available, you’re bound to find the add-ons you need to run your store the way you planned.
- WordPress community: When you download WooCommerce, you join a large community of shop owners who help each other find solutions to technical issues. Furthermore, because WooCommerce is such a popular open source option, you can expect developers to be constantly adding to the pool of features and extensions.
- Free: Free is a very good price.
Here are a few less common positive reviews of WooCommerce:
- Updates: Updates occur often, and customers report that the new versions of the platform are consistently better than the old.
- Tutorials and videos: These step-by-step guides answer the most common technical questions.
Because WooCommerce is self-hosted, your site’s security rests largely upon your shoulders. Sure, WordPress comes with some built-in security features, and third-party payment gateways reduce some of your personal risk. But you’re still in charge of guarding your site against security breaches. Check out WooCommerce’s advice on security.
Are DIY projects right up your alley? If so, WooCommerce might be your kind of platform.
WooCommerce is a low price solution (if you keep your extensions reasonably priced), and it does an excellent job of harnessing WordPress’s SEO and functionality for your benefit. And, if you’re willing to work through technical issues with only some guides and forums to lean on, WooCommerce could be the right option for you.
Ready to join the WooCommerce community? Click the link below.