WordPress eCommerce: WooCommerce Features & Benefits
In this series, we’re exploring eCommerce as a way for small business owners to expand their market share. Once you’ve decided to start an online store, you need to consider how you will manage your online presence. This includes choosing a site platform.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on WooCommerce, a plugin that adds eCommerce functionality to one of the most popular site management platforms around: WordPress.
WooCommerce and WordPress
WordPress is an open source (free to use) PHP-based platform for building websites. It’s extremely powerful, flexible, and widely used (which means well supported by an extensive community of developers). The flexibility behind WordPress comes from its ability to be extended by plugins (collections of code that add extra functionality to the core WordPress platform). This gives the ability to mold WordPress into a platform that provides everything needed.
WooCommerce is an extendable, adaptable, open-sourced (i.e. FREE!) plugin for WordPress that adds eCommerce to any WordPress site. Owned and maintained by Automattic (the company that powers WordPress), WooCommerce has grown to be one of the most popular eCommerce platforms on the web, powering over 37% of all online stores.
Why I didn’t recommend WooCommerce 5 years ago
Not all platforms are amazing the moment they are launched, and 5 years ago, the WooCommerce disadvantages would have probably led me to not recommend the platform for an extensive eCommerce website. It was in its infancy (first launched in 2011) and lacked some important features for larger stores. Granted, it was still a great platform, but it was limited and best suited for only basic stores. Since then, it has grown up. The core version supports most stores, it’s highly customizable with a great selection of premium plugins, and enjoys the support of the ever growing WordPress development community.
WooCommerce Features and Advantages?
Both WordPress and WooCommerce are open source software platforms—the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. That means anyone can download and install the software, and modifications to the software can be freely shared with the community. Yes, there are paid extensions, but we’ll talk about those in a minute.
It’s Easy to Use and Quick to Setup
On the technical side, setting up an eCommerce store with WordPress and WooCommerce is as simple as installing WordPress and then installing WooCommerce. You can use free standard themes, follow basic setup instructions, and start selling basic products within a day or two (assuming you have all of your eCommerce needs worked out…accepting payments, shipping needs, customer service protocols, brand basics, etc…).
One of the beautiful things about the web is the ability to expand. You don’t have to launch your site with all of the bells and whistles in the first go. You can expand your site slowly: start with just the basics, and then add in more time-consuming functionality after the initial launch. So, you can get set up rather quickly, and then expand your site as your budget and audience grown.
One of the great WooCommerce features is the ability to add functionality through extensions. Ranging from complex product solutions to subscriptions, or even marketing automation, you can add almost any functionality to your online store. And the best part… you don’t have to include any functionality that you won’t be using and that could bog down your site. WooCommerce has a huge selection of extensions, and a skilled developer can also build a custom plugin for any unique need as WooCommerce has a very extensive API.
Build an eCommerce site, in a weekend?
In order to test out just how far I could push WooCommerce, I decided to build out a site for myself. Being a crafter, I decided to launch a small basic brand for my soap making addiction and built out a WooCommerce site. After spending a weekend on the project, I had the ability to sell products online from my own website.
Granted, I had a few advantages over most business owners which allowed me to launch in just a weekend:
- I’m a designer so the branding was an easier task for me than most. But that just put this project on par with a company with an existing brand.
- I build WordPress sites everyday—the technical side of the process was as familiar as riding a bike. And, I was able to leverage our custom Base Theme Gridwork, to handle the site structure.
- I had products ready to go, shipping processes in place, and customer service expectations all set.
After the initial launch, I expanded the site functionality (over the course of a few months) by leveraging premium extensions and some custom functionality. You can check out the site here, and see the snazzy things I make in my free time.
One of the WooCommerce benefits is that the platform is supported by the same folks who built WordPress, and that includes the entire community of WordPress developers. If you ever need help with your site, there’s a 99.999% chance that you can find a friendly local developer to help you out. Just be sure to vet them, as with any web developer.
And, as new functionality rolls out you can be sure that WooCommerce support will be on the development roadmap.
WooCommerce is audited by Sucuri, the industry leader in plugin security, to ensure that it adheres to WordPress best practices and coding standards. It’s kept secure and up-to-date. And, standard WordPress security practices will keep your site and data secure from hackers.
It Integrates with ALL of Your Site Content
As an extension of WordPress, your WooCommerce store will play nicely with your blog and other site content. You will be able to integrate all of your marketing efforts with one platform, WordPress, which includes all of your products, sales data, and customers. This means you only have to learn the one platform, and that it happens to be one of the most widely supported platforms around.
A WooCommerce Store Can Be Anything You Want it to Be
- Sell any type of product…
Out of the box, WooCommerce supports basic product types (including downloadable products) and can be expanded to offer virtually any type of product including events, subscriptions, or even become an appointment (or rental) booking platform.
- Be an online store for YOUR brand…
WooCommerce is built on WordPress. That means you can create a custom theme that fully reflects your brand, and eliminates any risk of your competitors having a site that is identical to yours.
- With a Mobile-Friendly Experience.
By leveraging a responsive theme, your online store will be available to shoppers on any device.
What are the WooCommerce Disadvantages??
One of the things that make WooCommerce so great (flexibility via extensions) is also one the top items that makes it not so great.
- Extensions range from free to $200+ on a yearly renewal plan.
- Some functionality can only be achieved by developing a custom extension (which could range anywhere from $500 and up depending on complexity)
- Lots and lots of extensions can slow down your site
- Some extensions do not work well with other extensions
- An update to one extension could cause another to stop working or create issues
- Extensions can be built by anyone… and not all developers are created equal.
It all boils down to making informed decisions about which extensions you leverage, and testing your site for each extension you add.
All websites need to be hosted. Platforms like Shopify include the hosting cost in their monthly service fees, but WooCommerce is different. You will need a web host to supply a server where you can install WooCommerce and WordPress. Since all sites need to be hosted, this isn’t necessarily a con to WooCommerce, but it is worth noting.
Additionally, not all hosting platforms are created equal and you do get what you pay for. As long as you work with a hosting company that actively supports WordPress, and can handle the amount of traffic you expect on your site, this shouldn’t be an issue. Check out this great article from Chris Lema on choosing a WooCommerce hosting platform for more details.
With an independent platform (you’re hosting your own site), you are responsible for keeping your site updated and secure. This means being aware of what updates are available and addressing them on your site. Fortunately, WordPress and WooCommerce have a streamlined updating process, and a worldwide community testing and resolving issues all the time.
You have to do some setup
Unlike a hosted solution (like Shopify) you are not going to have a WooCommerce site at the click of a button. But, with a little bit of work, you will have a site that is more flexible, and customizable than other solutions. Keep in mind, that you will want to work with a developer that is experienced with WooCommerce and WordPress to help you with more advanced configurations and functionality.
Should you use WooCommerce for Your Online Store?
The WordPress eCommerce solution, WooCommerce, is a robust and customizable platform, and it goes hand in hand with WordPress (a stellar site management tool). Setting up and fully customizing a WooCommerce site will take a bit more effort and other platforms, but the flexibility to have a custom site is a reward well worth the effort.
If you are looking for an eCommerce solution that handles all updates and functionality for your, WooCommerce is might not be the solution for you. Subscribe to this series to explore other online eCommerce options such as Shopify and 3rd party marketplaces like Etsy, that might be a good fit for your online store.