What started in 2011 as a way to help WordPress users sell products through their website has turned into the most popular ecommerce platform in the world. According to the WooCommerce website, 30% of all ecommerce stores use WooCommerce.
That’s three times as many as its next closest competitor—Shopify.
So why doesn’t WooCommerce have the brand recognition of Shopify, or even BigCommerce? Well, it’s a bit of a different product than the other major ecommerce platform providers. This could make it an ideal fit for your small business. To help you find out, we reviewed WooCommerce: What it is, how it works, and how to use it.
Keep reading to find out what WooCommerce can do for your business.
What Is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is a free shopping cart plugin designed specifically for a WordPress website. Why WordPress? Twenty-seven percent of all websites on the internet are built on the WordPress content management system, giving WooCommerce an enormous built-in market.
An ecommerce shopping cart allows users to select and virtually hold products, and processes their payments for those products. It is helpful to think of it as a pared-down version of an ecommerce platform, which is what Shopify and BigCommerce offer.
When you use WooCommerce, you will be able to create and organize a product catalogue, track inventory, provide customers with shipping options, and process payments all through your WordPress website.
Getting Started With WooCommerce
If you’re considering using WooCommerce, chances are you already operate a WordPress website. If you don’t, we highly recommend becoming familiar with WordPress before downloading WooCommerce. This is because you will operate your ecommerce store via the WordPress platform, so if you don’t like WordPress, you probably won’t like WooCommerce either (in which case we recommend using an ecommerce platform provider like Shopify or BigCommerce).
Assuming you have a WordPress website, here are the steps you’ll need to take to turn your website into an ecommerce store with WooCommerce:
Create a Domain Name
When you set up your WordPress website, you will receive a WordPress domain name. This is typically formatted as “SITE-NAME.wordpress.com.” However, if you’re going to operate your business website through WordPress, you will want to purchase your own domain name. You’ll have to pay an upfront cost plus an annual renewal fee, but having a unique domain name will provide your ecommerce store with an air of professionalism.
Set Up Your Hosting
Unlike most ecommerce platforms, WooCommerce does not offer cloud-hosting services with their product. Therefore, you, the merchant, must find a hosting solution. This means finding a web hosting provider that will store your site’s files on its servers, so anyone with an internet connection can access it.
There are many web host providers, most of whom range in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars per month, depending on your needs (websites with more traffic will have to pay more). It’s important to align with a good web host, as this will impact your site’s performance and security. One web host provider that WooCommerce recommends is DreamHost, which is optimized for WordPress.
Another thing you will have to figure out on your own is your website’s security. A lot of your security rests with your web host provider. WordPress also offers some standard security features. You can have the most impact on your security with your payment gateway (more on this later) and SSL certificate. An SSL certificate ensures secure connections from a web server to a browser, and typically costs a few dollars per month.
It is also worth noting that WooCommerce is routinely audited by the security platform Sucuri.
Photo credit: WooCommerce
Select a Store Theme
WooCommerce recommends using the free Storefront theme for your ecommerce store because it is optimized for the WooCommerce platform (this template is designed by the Woo team, which also built WooCommerce). The Storefront theme comes with 14 different child themes, which range in price from free to $39.
Storefront also comes with various extensions at an additional fee, allowing you to further customize your store by adding things like a contact section, footer bar, and product sharing icons.
If Storefront isn’t to your liking, WordPress has hundreds of other free and paid themes to choose from. You can also directly edit your theme by tweaking its design code via the theme editor function on the WordPress dashboard.
Now that we have everything in place, it is time to actually integrate WooCommerce into your WordPress website. To do so, visit WooCommerce.com and create an account. You will then be able to visit the “plugins” page on your WordPress website and install and activate WooCommerce.
Upon activating the plugin, you will be prompted by the WooCommerce Setup Wizard to complete the initial setup of your ecommerce store.
Photo credit: WooCommerce
Once WooCommerce is activated you will see a “product” option in your WordPress dashboard. From here you can add products to your ecommerce store. The format for adding products is similar to the format for writing a blog post in WordPress. You will be prompted to add a product title, description, type, SKU code, price, image, weight, dimensions, and inventory options.
When the product page is to your liking, click “Publish” to make the product live.
The Setup Wizard prompts you to input a few essential pieces of information: the location of your store and the type of currency you are doing business in. Based on this information, you will be provided with several payment options. Business in the U.S. can use PayPal, Stripe, or Square as their merchant service provider, or opt to use another third-party payment gateway from WooCommerce’s host of plugins, such as Authorize.net or Amazon Payments.
WooCommerce can also accept direct bank transfers, check payments, or cash on delivery.
Photo credit: WooCommerce
WooCommerce allows you to offer flat-rate, free, local pickup, and overseas shipping and delivery options. An automatic shipping calculator is built in, and you can set varying shipping rates by arranging shipping zones. Through WooCommerce’s application store you can also add tools that will allow you to provide real-time shipping estimates from major providers and print shipping labels.
At this point you should have everything configured to launch your ecommerce store, but to really make it function the way you want, you should take the additional step of optimizing your settings. Here is where you can configure taxes (WooCommerce offers a guide on how to do it), manage product reviews and inventory, edit product displays, tend to customer accounts, and adjust notification and privacy settings (for both you and your customers).
Once this information is tweaked to your liking, you are ready to begin selling with WooCommerce.
As we said earlier, WooCommerce is an ecommerce shopping cart, meaning you are limited in terms of features. However, here are some things that you can expect from WooCommerce right away:
- Mobile-friendly design: Your ecommerce store is optimized for both mobile and desktop.
- Search engine optimization: Your ecommerce store can benefit from WordPress’s excellent SEO tools and plugins.
- Discounts: WooCommerce allows you to create discounts and coupons for your products.
- Analytics: WooCommerce has some built in analytics, along with what WordPress offers. You can also integrate with Google Analytics for free.
What turns WooCommerce from an ecommerce shopping cart into a tailored ecommerce solution is their array of available plugins and extensions. The WooCommerce App Store features over 300 selections, allowing you to do everything from create a subscription service to make your products available for purchase on Amazon and eBay.
Each extension is purchased on a subscription that gives you access to support and product updates. Each subscription is billed annually. Prices range from free to $299. Also remember that there are lots of additional plugins available in the WordPress app store.
WooCommerce also comes with what is known as a REST API. Without getting too jargon-y, you should know that the REST API allows those with programming experience to write various parts of WooCommerce data such as orders, products, coupons, customers, and shipping zones.
The REST API allows for an even deeper level of customization than what you would get by just adding extensions. You can access the REST API via the settings tab.
Since WooCommerce is a free open-source product, your support options are limited. There is no live chat or call option, although you can send an email with inquiries. Your support options are further limited if you are using non Woo products with your store (such as a theme other than Storefront). WooCommerce will ask you to disable third-party products before it provides support.
Your best bet is to review the robust documentation WooCommerce offers on their website. Also remember that you may need to contact WordPress if your issue is regarding something not related to ecommerce.
The price you pay for WooCommerce depends on the level of functionality you want out of it. As we mentioned previously, WooCommerce and WordPress are both free to use. However, you will pay additional fees for your domain name, web hosting, and SSL certificate, all of which come included with some other ecommerce platforms.
You can also get your theme for free, but if you want to stand out, you will likely need to invest a little bit of money. Then it becomes a question of how many additional features you need to run your store the way you want. Buying extensions is where you will spend the bulk of your money with WooCommerce, so it is important to decide beforehand if it is worth it to pay for the extensions or find a different platform where those features come included.
Given everything we have gone over, here is what we see as the perks of WooCommerce:
By virtue of being an open-source application on the WordPress platform with lots of extensions and a REST API, those with programming knowledge (or those willing to hire someone with programming knowledge) will have an extremely high level of control over every aspect of their ecommerce website.
Both WordPress and WooCommerce are free, which is a price that cannot be beat. And although you have to pay for things like hosting and security, there is really no better alternative for running an ecommerce store on a shoestring budget than WooCommerce.
The SEO features offered by WordPress and their plugins (like Yoast) are a unique feature that you won’t find on every ecommerce platform. Not to mention that WordPress offers one of the premier content management systems on the market.
Regardless of which ecommerce service you are using, creating an SEO strategy for your business can pay huge dividends in terms of exposure.
WooCommerce is lauded amongst WordPress users. On the WordPress Community Forum, WooCommerce is rated at 4.6 out of 5 stars. In particular, users pointed out the flexibility of the system, ease of use, and low cost as its main selling points.
WooCommerce isn’t without its drawbacks. Here are some things to be aware of:
Because WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it isn’t exactly the easiest system to get to learn, especially if you’ve never used WordPress before. You also have to understand more about the world of ecommerce itself in order to set up a store that works for your business, given that WooCommerce gives you limited features to start.
While an ecommerce platform will offer you a top-down solution, maintaining an ecommerce store with WooCommerce requires a bit more work. Additional responsibilities you will have to take on include web hosting, site security, and the implementation of extensions.
On the WordPress Community Forum, bad reviews (of which there were few) focus on confusion working with the API, bugs and glitches that go unaddressed, mounting costs, and poor customer support.
Who Is WooCommerce Best For
We would recommend WooCommerce to any small business owner who already operates a WordPress website and wants to get into selling online. For these people, WooCommerce offers a cheap method to turn a platform they are already familiar with into an ecommerce store.
If you are interested in launching an ecommerce business but need to do so on a tight budget, we would also recommend WooCommerce, as it is the cheapest option on the market.
Larger, more established businesses might find it easier to scale using an ecommerce platform provider, as these provide more tailored solutions for businesses of different sizes. You’ll also benefit from 1:1 support and a larger variety of built-in features.
If you find yourself interested in WooCommerce, here are some alternatives to compare it to:
WooCommerce and Shopify are at opposite ends of the ecommerce spectrum. WooCommerce will provide you with the basics, but Shopify will provide you with all the bells and whistles. When you work with Shopify you can expect a fully integrated ecommerce solution with an abundance of features, broad customization, and 24/7 customer support.
Shopify prices start at $29 per month.
If you’re looking for an ecommerce platform that won’t break the bank, Volusion is a good option for you. You can build a respectable ecommerce website on the Volusion platform that will only cost $15 per month. While you are limited in the number of products you can sell on Volusion (at least with the lower-tiered plans), all plans include marketing tools, sales analytics, 24/7 customer support, shipping logistics, customer and inventory management, and free integration with major ecommerce marketplaces.
Is WooCommerce Right for Your Small Business?
WooCommerce provides easy entry into the ecommerce market, especially for those who already operate a WordPress website. With such a low upfront cost, we recommend trying it on for size. If you find it’s not for you, there are lots of other ecommerce platforms that provide a more rounded solution.