What Is WooCommerce & How Does It Work?
To say that WordPress looms large over the modern-day internet would be an understatement.
Statistics compiled by w3techs.com show that 37.7% of all websites are powered by WordPress. If this includes you and your business — or if you’re looking to build a small business website using WordPress — there are a number of shopping cart integration choices. However, one choice stands out as the most popular and, arguably, the best: WooCommerce.
WooCommerce’s open-source shopping cart has been downloaded over 84 million times since its initial release in 2011.
Let’s explore how this free eCommerce plugin works and examine just what makes it such a popular service among online merchants.
Table of Contents
What Is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is a free, open-source eCommerce plugin that works exclusively with WordPress sites. However, while the software is free to download, running a WooCommerce-powered online store is not free — you will still have to pay for hosting and for the add-ons and extensions needed to make your store functional.
After you download WooCommerce, you can connect it to your WordPress site like you would with any other WordPress plugin. Just click “Add New” on the plugins page, search for WooCommerce, then click “Install” and “Activate.”
With WooCommerce, you are given a set of basic tools for free. You can later add extensions to fill in any feature gaps. That’s what makes WooCommerce such a scalable platform — if you invest in plugins to get the more advanced features, you can go from selling a few products to selling thousands of products without having to switch eCommerce platforms in the process.
What Is WooCommerce Shipping?
WooCommere Shipping is a shipping tool that you can download for free from WooCommerce’s website. Once installed, it integrates directly into your WooCommerce dashboard. The shipping tool allows you to set up and print shipping labels, manage packages, review your label reports, and more.
With WooCommerce Shipping, you can display live shipping rates from FedEx, UPS, USPS, and other carriers in your store.
What Can You Sell On WooCommerce?
What can you sell with a WooCommerce online store? Just about everything! Let’s go through the types of products WooCommerce allows you to sell:
- Physical Products: Sell clothing, trinkets, artwork, gadgets — whatever you like. You can sell physical products in multiple variants. For example, a shirt can be sold in multiple colors and sizes, and you can set different weights and prices for each product variant.
- Digital Products: WooCommerce lets you sell digital downloads of all kinds. From MP3s to event tickets, if the product is digital, you can sell it through WooCommerce.
- Subscriptions: With the WooCommerce Subscriptions add-on, you can accept recurring payments for subscription products, whether they be digital or physical. You can charge renewal payments on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis.
Of course, just as with any other eCommerce platform, there are restrictions on what you can sell with WooCommerce. WooCommerce’s terms and conditions forbid you from using the service “in furtherance of illegal activities” such as copyright infringement. Likewise, WooCommerce Payments has a list of services and product types you cannot sell, such as drug paraphernalia, firearms, and adult content. While you can always use a payment gateway other than WooCommerce Payments, other gateways are likely to have similar policies.
How Does WooCommerce Work?
We’ve established that WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin. This means that in order to install WooCommerce, you’ll need to buy WordPress hosting and install WordPress first. Once you’ve done this, you can install the free WooCommerce plugin. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have the tools necessary to build a basic eCommerce site — all for free.
The following is a partial list of what you’ll get for free:
- Mobile-Friendly Design: Because WooCommerce-powered online stores are designed to work well on mobile devices — on your end and on the customer’s end — your customers can shop on the go, just as you can manage their orders on the go.
- Geo-Location Support: Geo-location detects your customers’ addresses to streamline shipping and tax calculations.
- Organize Your Products: WooCommerce lets you group your products by category, add variations to each product, and sell affiliate products.
- Inventory Management: WooCommerce’s free package includes built-in inventory management. Track your stock level, hold the stock when an order gets canceled, and hide out-of-stock items from your storefront.
- Shipping Options: You can offer a shipping calculator on the shopping cart page, insuring there are no surprises at checkout. Let customers choose between pickup, local delivery, and shipping.
- Search Engine Optimization: Benefit from WordPress’s built-in SEO best practices.
- Checkout Options: Allow your customers to create an account on your site or check out as guests. It’s always a good idea to give your customers both options.
However, to get the functionality you’ll need to run a profitable online store, you’ll likely need to explore the many feature extensions available for WooCommerce. Many of these require a paid subscription, though you can find some decent free ones as well. You may also want to explore the many custom themes available, both free and paid.
The Benefits Of WooCommerce
WooCommerce is a supremely adaptable and scalable eCommerce platform. This is the core of WooCommerce’s appeal and goes a long way to explain the platform’s widespread popularity. You can start out with a basic free online store, and once your store finds its sea legs and/or you need a wider range of features to expand your business, the WooCommerce extension ecosystem stands ready to take your store to the next level.
Another point in WooCommerce’s favor is the fact that it is open-source. If you and/or your team has web development experience, you can edit the code to customize your store with a great degree of precision.
Finally, WooCommerce’s popularity is, in itself, an asset, as it means the WooCommerce community stands ready to help you with solutions to technical issues. Likewise, the community is continuously developing new features and add-ons to extend the functionality reach of the product.
- Free to download and use
- Lots of extensions and themes available, both in-house and third-party
- Software is open-source, making it endlessly customizable
- Scalable to accommodate your online store’s growth
- Huge WooCommerce community stands ready to help you
The Drawbacks Of WooCommerce
While WooCommerce is designed to be usable even if you’re not a tech whiz, it’s not as easy to use as some competitors and can be challenging to learn. Expect to face some degree of difficulty as you tackle the learning curve. Thankfully, WordPress has a collection of tutorial videos available to walk you through setting up your store.
Another thing to keep in mind is that WooCommerce’s active customer support is quite limited. You can submit a web ticket to WooCommerce, though it may take a full day to get an answer, and you may need to disable your third-party extensions before the company can help you. Thankfully, you can always turn to the extensive WooCommerce community for assistance.
Lastly, though the core product is free, you may end up spending more than you anticipated on feature extensions, particularly if you purchase many of them as monthly subscriptions (some are priced as one-time purchases).
- Steep learning curve
- Limited customer support
- Paid add-ons are often necessary
Who Should Use WooCommerce?
With WooCommerce being as scalable as it is, the product can easily meet the eCommerce needs of startups and mature businesses alike. Just make sure that you use a web host that can keep up with your bandwidth usage as you grow.
As for the type of business most suited for WooCommerce, the wide variety of extensions, themes, and payment processors available mean that just about any type of merchant can build a great WooCommerce-powered online store. Of course, being a WordPress add-on, it helps if you and/or your team has experience with WordPress. You’ll also be able to more easily extend your store’s functionality if your team has some web development expertise.
If you find WordPress intimidating, or if you just want a simpler eCommerce solution with an easier learning curve, an all-in-one eCommerce solution like Shopify may be more to your tastes. Shopify’s powerful SaaS platform does most of the heavy lifting for you, so those looking for a more straightforward selling platform may prefer it to WooCommerce. Of course, the flip side is WooCommerce’s open-source software gives you more flexibility and control than you’ll ever have with Shopify. So, which platform is best for your business? It all depends on your business priorities and needs.
Check out our WooCommerce VS Shopify article for a deeper look at this comparison.
How To Get Started With WooCommerce
By now, you know that you’ll need WordPress in order to use WooCommerce. WordPress comes in both a self-hosted version available from WordPress.org and a hosted freemium version available from WordPress.com (our WordPress review examines the latter version).
If you’re going to use the self-hosted version of WordPress, keep in mind that when choosing a web host for your online store, you’ll want to choose a host that specializes in WordPress hosting. This way, you’ll have hosting that is optimized for the needs of WordPress along with better technical support. Once you have a WordPress-friendly web host and you’ve bought a domain name, download and install WordPress (it’s free!).
If you’re going to use the hosted WordPress.com service, you won’t need to find a separate host, as hosting is included. You can then buy a domain from WordPress.com or connect any existing domain you already have.
Once you have WordPress, get yourself a WooCommerce-optimized WordPress theme (both free and premium themes are available) and activate WooCommerce. See WooCommerce’s installation guide for detailed instructions as to how to do this.
Once you have WooCommerce activated, you’ll have the option of adding functionality beyond what comes with the free WooCommerce package. From payment gateways to shipping to subscriptions to booking to marketing, you’ll have a seemingly endless array of options to make your online store exactly what you want it to be. Just keep in mind that while some of these feature extensions are free, many require a paid subscription, while some third-party add-ons are available for a one-time payment. Check out our article on the top WooCommerce add-ons to see some of the best extension options available.
The Bottom Line
If you want an online store that is truly yours — one that is entirely under your control and which you can customize to the nth degree — a WooCommerce-powered website is hard to beat. If your business is prepared to take on the challenge, WooCommerce’s offerings will empower you to create the eCommerce empire of your dreams.
To learn more about WooCommerce, head on over to our complete WooCommerce review. If, on the other hand, you don’t see WooCommerce working out for you, have a look at the leading alternatives to WooCommerce.