Kick starting a series on WordPress e-commerce plugins, I have to start with what is undeniably the most popular one out there: WooCommerce.
Designed and maintained by the increasingly popular WooThemes, WooCommerce is a powerful and flexible plugin which is available for free.
In fact it is so powerful, that many themes actually integrate the plugin into their design allowing easy setup without too many tweaks. It doesn’t mean you can’t use any old theme, you can, but you may experience a longer setup time as you integrate it manually to fit in with the look of your site.
WooCommerce installs like any other plugin, and upon activation you are faced with a couple of lovely pink boxes advising some important information. First off you will need to click the Install WooCommerce Pages: this will auto create pages for you that the plugin uses such as Cart, Checkout etc. You don’t have to use this, but it makes your life easier so why not.
The second box will only appear if your theme isn’t specifically built for WooCommerce, it’s just a reminder and a link to an integration guide.
Why I am mentioning these are simple, WooCommerce does its best to try and simplify and guide you through the setup process.
As you would expect from the leading ecommerce plugin for WordPress, WooCommerce has a wealth of settings available to you.
If you wanted to get up and running quickly, you could just setup a Payment Gateway and currency and then go and create some products and get selling. However, it is advisable to go through each page and make sure everything is how you want it to be.
I’m not going to go through every setting, but there are a few you should know about:
General: Obviously a basic settings section, one setting that I overlooked at first is the badly worded Store Notice Text which actually puts up a message advising the store is in test mode and no orders will be fulfilled. Useful if you can’t have a maintenance mode running for any reason.
Payment Gateways: The free version comes with 5 gateways – BACSm Cheque, Cash, Mijireh and PayPal. These will cover most users who are starting out in e-commerce or only have basic needs.
More gateways can be purchased via their extensions and are either free or $79 each which is fairly reasonable.
Of course the rest of the settings cover a wide range of topics including inventory management, taxes, shipping/postage, etc etc.
WooCommerce has built in statistics which means you don’t necessarily need to tie in Google Analytics to your site to monitor sales (though having it anyway isn’t a bad idea). The stats cover sales, coupons, customers and stock and provide an excellent overview.
I was mildly surprised by the level of detail that goes into the coupons, considering this is a free plugin after all.
Not only can you discount on a per product basis or a cart basis, it has functions to enable free shipping, to be tied to categories, maximum usage limits and even an expiry date. A lot of plugins that have coupons don’t have this level of detail, even premium plugins.
WooCommerce uses Custom Posts Types with Custom Fields for its product creation which allows a huge amount of flexibility when creating a product. Firstly you have the standard WordPress post editor, so you get rich post editing and featured images.
It uses specific product categories and tags so they won’t interfere with regular post structures, but can be displayed in all the various ways you can display posts.
The Product Data section is where all the interesting stuff happens. Here you can set the price, stock quantity, shipping etc. etc. You can even mark it as a virtual item to remove the shipping section and downloadable to allow the user access to a file after purchase.
If you have used WordPress before, creating a product is quite seamless.
An important aspect of any e-commerce plugin is security. Whilst you still need to make sure the rest of your site is secure and if needed use an SSL certificate, WooCommerce has been audited by security experts Sucuri to make sure it is as secure as it possibly can be.
E-commerce sites tend to suck when it comes to SEO due to the often limited text and structure of these types of sites. WooCommerce tries to help out where it can and since version 2.0 they have included schema tags to help improve the SEO friendliness of the plugin and thus your site.
I touched upon extensions earlier, but to explain in depth, extensions are like mini add on plugins for WooCommerce that extend its functionality, beyond the core plugin. This is also how WooThemes make their money as though there are some free extensions most cost money.
This is a pretty good way of doing business in my opinion: give a high quality product away for free, and sell the bells and whistles that go with it. Basic users will get an awesome product and serious users can expand the functionality in a modular way as and when they need it.
At the time of writing there are 264 extensions available, 39 of which are free. They cover a wide range of needs as well, from different payment gateways (104 of them) such as Authorize.net and Wepay to importing/exporting products, marketing, and shipping. Pretty much whatever you need, they have made.
Prices range from free to several hundred dollars, depending on what it is, averaging about $50.
I found it hard to find negative points with WooCommerce, the only thing that wasn’t great was the integration with themes.
Unless you have a specific theme that boasts WooCommerce integration you will need to do some work, but they do provide some helpful documentation for that and really, it is expected that whatever big plugins you add to your site you will need to do some work.
Therefore I still don’t think that it’s a negative, just part of owning a WordPress website.
The fact that this free e-commerce plugin is so feature rich, stable and just all round excellent, gives credence to why this is probably the most popular WordPress e-commerce plugin on the market.
If you are just starting out, it might be overkill for your needs, but it can still be used successfully with smaller sites. If you have a lot of products or are growing, WooCommerce is definitely a plugin to check out.