WooCommerce Review: A new e-commerce plugin to watch

56 Comments

I have used a range of platforms during my last five years in the e-commerce industry. From initial setup and product selection to writing product specs and content for the web, I’ve nearly done it all. And in my time I’ve always been a big believer in using e-commerce platforms for e-commerce and blogging platforms for blogging.

Of course WordPress is an incredibly powerful platform in its own right, with even more on the way with WordPress 3.3 on the horizon. E-commerce is still a growing field within the WordPress community, though, and the question remains: is WordPress really a smart way to manage online shops?

WooThemes think it is, and earlier this week officially released WooCommerce, their free e-commerce plugin for WordPress. WooCommerce is a fork of Jigoshop, which has caused a bit of controversy in the community.

Irrespective of that issue, right now let’s just focus on what WooCommerce has to offer.

Getting a shop started

To start things off I’m going to use the current WordPress default theme, Twenty Eleven. It comes bundled with every downloaded copy of WordPress, so it’s common and most should recognize the theme while we test things out.

Downloading WooCommerce is a matter of visiting WooThemes and signing up for a free account. You’ll want to do this anyway, since the WooCommerce documentation will require you to login to view it.

WooCommerce Options

Upon installation, which is as simple as installation any normal plugin, you will immediately be greeted with the WooCommerce options panel.

It’s a standard WordPress tabbed interface (which Ryan would no doubt like) with a number of options. The screens live under a new top level menu called WooCommerce.

The WooCommerce main options panel gives you the opportunity to select your base country and the countries you are willing to ship to. You can select whether you want USA only, UK only, or all but a certain country, and so on.

You also have the option to allow for guest checkout, which will remove the cumbersome need for your customers to register for yet another website. Force SSL is a worthwhile addition if your store grows and you want to give customers peace of mind via an accredited SSL certificate.

The WooCommerce CSS option will add the WooThemes CSS styling to the theme you’re using. See the screenshot below to see the difference between the CSS off and the CSS activated.

Without WooCommerce CSS

With WooCommerce CSS styling

If you cannot do without social media, Woo has you covered with ShareThis. Simply sign up at ShareThis and paste in your ShareThis publisher ID to enable your potential customers to do your marketing for you. The same goes for your Google Analytics ID.

Working with Pages

The Pages tab lets you define the pages for various functions of your store. WooCommerce actually creates all of these needed pages upon installation, which is a time saver. Also next to each shop page listed is a shortcode, which can be used at will to integrate certain shop functionality into a blog post or page.

Speaking of shortcodes, I would really like to see shortcodes generated for each product created on the back end. Imagine how powerful it would be to write an informative blog post in your niche, and then hit the user with a couple of related products right in your post.

Catalog

The catalog section allows you to select whether or not you wish to display fields for SKUs and the weight for products. If enabled, these in turn show up on the product pages themselves.

Another useful feature is the “Cart redirect” option, which will redirect customers to the cart after adding a product to it. To be honest I have seen some e-commerce platforms built from the ground up that didn’t have this option. For me, this is a must have feature. Others may disagree, but I think showing end users the cart after purchase deters them from searching for more interesting items. It gives the impression that you have filled your cart, so you should pay for it and leave.

Image options are configurable here as well. The sizes here will depend on your WordPress theme; just pick something that will tie in appropriately. Other options such as currency for prices and decimal placement etc are all configurable here as well.

Inventory

The inventory options allow you to select whether or not you wish to enable tracking of stock, display notices of low stock and so forth. This won’t really be necessary if you decide to sell digital products, but if you have a shop or warehouse full of stock and you want to give notice or warning when they are low this is a must have. The option to hide products that have low stock or have reached a threshold is a nice plus that puts WooCommerce up there with some dedicated e-commerce platforms.

Shipping section

Quite simply: this section gives you the option of enabling shipping calculations, as well as a shipping calculator.

Note: The shipping calculator is a fantastic feature for any e-commerce platform, let alone a WordPress e-commerce plugin such as this. However to get the most out of it you will need to pay for an extension via WooCommerce called Table Rate Shipping.

The ship to billing option will only allow shipping to the billing address. This is handy if you’re concerned about fraud, but would I use it? Probably not. People like to pay for goods and have them delivered to a variety of addresses, whether it be their work place or a friend’s house as a gift. Of course it’s just an option, and it’s always good to have options.

Tax options

Tax settings, for me, will make or break any e-commerce solution. The companies I have worked for in the past have had exacting requirements on taxation. Shipping to the US, EU, UK and other countries each have their own taxation rules.

The added benefit of this section is you can allocate tax rules based on the designated country. For example US has different tax rules for different states, same as the rest of the world. This option really is one less headache; trust me I have been there and the fact this is part of the system is a great addition for anyone thinking of creating an online store with WooCommerce.

The option to display prices inclusive of or exclusive of tax is useful if you are a business to business company, since It gives them a clearer indication as to what their cost will be, and what they will get back from the tax department on business purchases.

Shipping methods

Love them or hate them, WooCommerce has a number of configurable shipping options. I for one am glad to see care has been taken with this section. Shipping methods can be a pain. Also worth noting: you do have the option of enabling free shipping as well, site wide.

So we have flat rate shipping which is useful if you have struck a deal with a delivery company or are just trying to compete with other online stores.

There is also a per order charge or per item charge (drop down selection) you can also choose whether to have your shipping taxable or not, whether to charge handling fees, etc. To get the most out of the individual producing shipping options you will need to pick up the Per Product Shipping extension from WooThemes for $50.

Method availability is an excellent feature, since if we allow everyone to have the same level of shipping then things could get messy. By clicking on method availability this opens up the drop down whereby you can select specific countries to give a certain shipping method too.

Table Rate Shipping is a commercial extension to WooCommerce @ $50.00

My reservation with the system in it’s current format is that every online retailer is different and has different needs. It would have been nice to have a way to charge different amounts depending on a locale / country by default. This is not a deal breaker though, and a paid for extension is available (see above image) called Table Rate Shipping which extends this section significantly for $50.

Payment gateways

Gateways could make or break WooCommerce; thankfully we have options. BACS payments are supporting, which can be useful for those looking to deal with business to business customers for large orders. This isn’t the first time I have seen this method, but it’s still a welcome addition. PayPal support is there, though only standard PayPal, as well as Cheque payments.

Payment methods in WooCommerce

Again, other payment options are available as commercial extensions Paypal Pro, webcash, 2checkout, Payson, Paygate and Authorize.net, each for $50 from WooThemes.

Adding products to the store

So those are the options we have. What next?

This is where the fun starts: time to add products. Adding a product is a relatively simple affair. First, we’ll add a category.

After you added a new product category it’s then on to adding a new product. This is where things get really interesting.

Clicking on Add a new product throws up a screen similar to what you will see when creating a new post on a standard WordPress install. You will, though, have a few new options.

Product Entry

I’m a bit picky when it comes to e-commerce, so this is where I got excited. It’s nice to see a useful selection of tabs and configurable options. First up is product type, which you can select from options that include Simple, Downloadable, Variable, Virtual and Grouped.

Simple quite literally means simple, or an easy-to-configure product with minimal options.

Select Downloadable and your greeted with these product type-specific options:

Product Options for Digital Downloads

Upon first review the “Upload a file” button here didn’t actually work. It has been fixed with the 1.0.1 update, however. Good thing it works now, since it will no doubt win favor with those who wish to set up a digital download store, such as (for example) selling WordPress products like themes and plugins.

Each respective product type carries its own range of options, so if you are looking to set up downloadble products WooCommerce has you covered, and if you have products with options you are also covered.

The “Up-Sells & Cross-Sells” section allows you to manually input a product and then allocate it to your current product, in a similar vein to Amazon’s “Customers who bought this, also bought this” feature. Initially this option was giving me trouble, but that problem seems to have been fixed in the 1.0.1 update as well.

Your visual store

Now let’s look at what your customers will actually see and experience. WooCommerce includes breadcrumbs for navigation as well as some rather excellent sidebar widgets like the price filter (love this), top products and a handful of others.

Product page in all it's Twenty Eleven Glory

Product pages are handled very well in the Twenty Eleven theme, and demonstrating that it can be used with this theme highlights the helpful nature of WooCommerce.

Product reviews

Having worked in e-commerce for a while now, and having heard various social media gurus state that sharing on social media is where it’s at, I remain old fashioned. I’m old fashioned in the sense that I believe a decent review of a product can affect the opinions of an undecided buyer.

Add a review to a product

WooCommerce has us covered in this respect, using a simple ratings system built on top of the WordPress comment system and using a handy star rating.

Reporting and figures

Everything so far is lovely. But what about the hardcore store owners? I want facts and figures. I need store reporting.

This, again, is taken care of.

If you have installed WooCommerce by now you will have noticed that on your Dashboard you have some new widgets:

  • monthly sales overview,
  • recent orders, and
  • recent reviews, which you can amend, trash, publish and so on.

WooCommerce Reporting

Beyond the widget, your WooCommerce menu also provides a link to a full reporting screen (shown below) that’s similar in structure to the WooCommerce settings pages. A tabbed interface with a number of options for each tab which gives you better granularity in terms of drilling down to what you need.

WooCommerce Reporting Tabs

From this tabbed interface we can get an overview of daily sales, monthly sales, product sales, top sellers, and top earners. All of these options can be chosen from under the sales tab.

Clicking on customers gives us better insight into total sales, as well as total guest sales. Total guest sales is a nice feature that shows all of those who have purchased without signing up. The stock tab gives you an overview of what is running low and what is out of stock.

Final thoughts

There is an awful lot to WooCommerce, and if you read this whole review you’re likely on your third or fourth coffee. By now you might have even downloaded the plugin and formed your own conclusions, which I encourage.

This is what it’s all about: feature rich for the store owner and easy to use for the customer.

The front-end user interface that WooCommerce provides is pretty darn good, with a smooth easy to use system. From a store owner’s perspective, an interface that’s easy for customers to use will lead to more sales, to a degree.

Would I recommend WooCommerce to others? Yes I would. Your store can be set up on its own or bolted to your existing blog in a relatively short period of time. It has a great user interface and above all else it’s easy for the customer to use it and make purchases. From a WordPress administrator’s point of view it is relatively easy to utilize add products and, well, administrate the shop.

In the end that’s what it’s all about: feature rich for you, the store owner, and easy to use for the customer.

Before the 1.0.1 update I would have given WooCommerce a 3, but with the update it’s a solid 4 out of 5 mints. With paid extensions and plenty of themes to choose from the first week it’s availble, it would seem that WooThemes is investing quite heavily into this side of their business. And it could end up paying dividends for them. WooCommerce is one to watch.

WPCandy rated this 4 mints

This review was completed using only the free download of WooCommerce and the Twenty Eleven theme.

56 thoughts on “WooCommerce Review: A new e-commerce plugin to watch

  1. Great review here Ben. This definitely showcases how easy it is for both the consumer as well as the developer. I did have a hard time figuring out how to get digital downloads working properly, since I could always hack the download url (since everything is under wp-content/uploads/).

    All in all great stuff. There should be a comparison rundown with other e-commerce plugins – especially eShop.

  2. Thanks @Paul Gibbs, @Magnus, @Michael Krapf!

    @Reji Appreciate your feedback on the review, fingers crossed I will be writing more, as far as comparisons etc, will have to wait and see.

    But thank you all for your kind comments, really do appreciate it!

  3. Interesting write up! I have been using Jigoshop for a few weeks now, and at first look, WooCommerce looks very similar to Jigoshop (which is natural considering its origins). The extensions available are also very similar (however the pricing is different). Considering WC has only been out for 3 days, this review strikes me as a little bit premature though. I have not yet seen a review of Jigoshop (or any other e-commerce plugin) on this site and considering the origins, I think it would be fair to present other solutions (as Reji hinted at).

    The choice of plugin for something like E-Commerce goes deeper than just features though. Code and support quality, as well as the ability to easily modify or change elements according to your needs are critical. Since no plugin is perfect and there will often be modifications to make, support is important. This should also be touched on in reviews of this kind. I am keen to give WC a run though and think that the increased competition in this space will benefit the WordPress community as a whole as well as both WooCommerce and Jigoshop customers.

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Firstly thanks for your feedback! Obviously as you know WooCommerce is fork of Jigoshop, the reason for the review is that people were keen to see what Woo had done with the Jigoshop framework.

      As I was using the free version of WooCommerce, it made sense to go it alone so to speak and muddle through. In fairness at no major point did I have to go looking for support which is a major positive.

      I have no doubt this E-Commerce system could be elaborated on, adding social logins for Facebook, Twitter etc, to streamline the sign up process these are all possible via the use of other plugins etc. This is the pleasure of working with WordPress and free plugins, it’s the tinkering and the ‘what can I make it do next’ feeling when you have altered something.

      I do appreciate your points about support and ability to modify sections etc, so will try to include these elements in future reviews. As I for one, as you also do would like to see them included.

      • Yes, that is a good point. For setting up out of the box, you would not want support. I was referring more to code/support when you go a little further and want to customise/extend various elements apart from a standard activation.

        I had half expected to see a greater contrast to Jigoshop, but I am sure the two will increasingly diverge. It may be that Woo will focus on the commerce plugin within the bigger picture of their ecosystem and Jigoshop will possibly be more suited to those not using Woo themes on their sites. But that is all just speculation. Woo seems to put a lot of care and effort into their customers and Jigoshop have been great in their support. So at this stage it does seem that WC and Jigo both have solid offerings and we as WordPress users can only benefit!

        • The more in depth you go then yes you would need to get down and dirty and speak to support use forums etc etc. I may well have a tinker around with it myself tonight to see if I can make it do a couple of ideas I have floating around.

          You’re not wrong on contrast, in their current form there is not an awful lot between them, but as you say time will tell.

          For me it will be down to how active the respective communities are for Jigoshop & WooCommerce. As good as developers are (wish I was one) you are only going to be as good as your community, active participation and ideas being pushed forward will only lend itself to an ever evolving platform.

          I for one am looking forward to see how both of these perform in the future, as a WordPress fan and geek for E-Commerce these are as they say exciting times!!!

    • Ellis,

      Would love to hear what you think, especially from another Missourian. My hometown is Rolla, MO but now live in IN. :)

      Pop us on Twitter @woothemes or via email. – info[at]woothemes.com

  4. Great review Ben, very thorough. Shipping is the greatest pain in any e-commerce system, usually through no fault of their own as shipping is usually just so complicated.

    I’m interested in how it can handle virtual and downloadable goods and also the coupon code feature is one that sounds very useful. Sounds like it’s worth a try, thanks.

    • Hi @Joel,

      Glad you liked the review, I would recommend you give it a go. Agreed shipping is the biggest pain ever, an e-Commerce platform can have all the bells and whistles in the world but if you get the shipping wrong or it lacks certain functionality, well those bells and whistles are worthless!

    • @Ryan, appreciated your comment (and thanks)

      I agree e-Commerce plugins can take a while to get through, with so many options etc it can be difficult to get through them all, but by the sound of the feedback so far it has proved useful for those looking for an e-Commerce plugin (which is what I was hoping it would do!)

  5. Hi guy’s,

    Great review and I am testing it on the moment, but have a hard time getting a customer from the paypal(sandbox) site back to a page where the digital download should reside …

    Any ideas ?

    • Hi @Patrick,

      If I were you I would perhaps (if you haven’t already) sign up on WooThemes and have a look through the support section and the WooCommerce section as there may be answers there for you.

      Cheers

      Ben

  6. Well, I thought, certainly worth giving it a look. Registered no problem, downloaded no problem. Looked around for any documentation – none as yet that I could see: only stuff for actual themes. Looked at the forum, unable to see anything because I hadn’t bought anything.
    So this solution is only free if you can manage things entirely by yourself!
    I wouldn’t ever expect to ask for help without some form of recompense, but I feel a bit lonely in a total vacuum when I just want to trial it!

      • OK, found it! I had registered, but was looking for ‘support’ rather than ‘codex’. Perhaps a slightly clearer signpost for noobs???
        Good news about an upcoming support solution – viewing other peep’s solutions is often all you need to get an idea of how to approach problems, possibilities and forthcoming features (presumably this news had already been posted in the closed forums?). Posting Q’s etc could easily be a paid feature though.
        Thanks for the speedy reply to you both though!

  7. Thanks for a timely review – I have just jumped into the eCommerce pool and will give this a try to see if it can help a rookie swim.

    • @doug No probs, rookie or not you should not have too many problems at all, the review was written from a mindset of a rookie so you should be just fine!

  8. Pingback: 1 week later - the WooCommerce crater - jameskoster.co.uk

    • WooCommerce is compatible with most any sort of caching, especially the two popular ones at the moment. W3 and Super Cache.

      We have some steps outlining this in our docs, unfortunately the site is non existant at the moment. If you do need help while down or when up, shoot us an email. – support[at]woothemes.com

  9. OH! Just saw that WooCommerce already provide “mfunc” for the dynamic part. Just define $wp_super_cache_late_init in WP Super Cache. Now It work perfectly.

  10. Nicely done. I was hoping someone had tried and reviewed running the plugin on a non-WooThemes theme. Perhaps I could jump in and test it out myself – but you did it. Yeah for me :-)

    The fact that this can be setup and configured without a having to dig into extensive instruction list is quite a good sign. Anticipating good things – thanks for taking time to test and share your findings here on WPCandy!

    • Thanks Tim, I do try to attack everything on an as is basis, the simplicity of WooCommerce mean’t I did not have to delve too much into instructions, pretty straight forward in fairness.

      Absolute pleasure writing this up and sharing it here, looking forward to contributing more on the reviews side, so fingers crossed, and thanks for your kind comments (it’s my first time guest posting!)

    • I would really like to see a response to this, as SEO is VERY important to me. It should be very important to anybody who’s building a site. So, it would be a shame if WooCommerce didn’t take SEO into consideration.

      Please reply as soon as you can, as I’m making a decision on an e-commerce platform in the immediate. Thanks!!!

  11. Clear and convincing review.

    Having User Reviews as a feature is an essential feature in all shops. I don’t think it’s old fashioned. It’s part of the user experience. And that’s one of the things that you don’t get out of the box from osCommerce.

  12. Hi Ben & Guys,

    I have a client who wants a site setup with no shopping carts for the moment – they want to use it as a catalog only for the time being.

    Eventually they want to “turn on” the ecommerce / cart feature per product.

    Was also asked could they have some products with cart and others without?

    Do you know if Woocommerce can do the above? If not, any recommends?

    I have found ESHOP for WordPress, this does at least allow the Cart to be turned off.

    Cheers
    Aidan

  13. Hi Ben
    I’m a Genesis theme user and Genesis now supports the Woocommerce plugin, so I’m looking round for information.

    This is a fabulous review of thev plugin and has got me well on my way to understanding how to set it up.

    Many thanks.

  14. Sorry for second comment Ben, but have you done any posts on security for ecommerce sites, or do you know of any good articles on the subject?

    I’m thinking of SSL certificate – that sort of thing.

  15. woo commerce is a rip off, its all about them making money and paying affilates to pretend its all good, if you like bad functionality and big shiney buttoons then good luck, better off going with a real shopping cart and integrating it with wordpress…ps wordpress is not the end of the world

    • WooCommerce is actually a completely free plugin, in what way does a free plugin become a rip off? A free plugin, running on a free content management system that in return lets you easily make money…

      We monetize the WooCommerce ecosystem with our WooCommerce themes and extensions though, which is perfectly understandable to most people. A business does exist to make money, right? Regardless of that, if a $29 to $99 dollar extension is too much to pay to help your shop make money, I think something else needs looked at.

      Also, what is a real shopping cart? You don’t mention what a real shopping cart is for you.

  16. Thanks for giving a great insight into WooCommerce from a rookie’s point of view. I have been using WordPress religiously lately; as I find it makes websites more manageable. I was interested in seeing how I could apply my knowledge to eCommerce and have installed both WooCommerce and Jigoshop, they are (upon first impressions) pretty much identical.

    I am just happy that I don’t now have to go into learning how to use Magento, and can make some dough out of this off the cuff. Either way I can’t go wrong, my client wants an easy to use, user friendly eCommerce solution and I feel that they both provide this.

    Hallelujah!

    • Since writing this I have used Jigoshop and Magento quite a lot. More of Magento really. The majority of the time I’ve been using Jigoshop it’s been due to debugging and learning how it works as it is prone to bugs whenever there is an update to WordPress and subsequently an update to Jigoshop.

      The only way I have been able to fix any of the issues is by debugging and trawling their forum for answers.

      If you are not a developer then with any of these platforms you are going to need one!

    • Hey Mike,

      Hopefully your theme supports the Menu functionality built into WordPress. You just need to then create a custom menu of the pages you want to show in your navigation. You can of course remove the WooCommerce pages you don’t want in your menu.

  17. Support at anything Woo is horrid. The woo plugin is fractured into extensions. Try and set up USPS shipping today. The extension leads you to a 404 page.
    The support system for anyone who’s laid out money for their most expensive theme club (like myself) is basically a ticketing system. I haven’t heard from them in three days. I have two support tickets in. One for their themes and the other for Woocommerce.
    If your going to call something “Premium” you should be able to back it up with support, apparently they can’t.
    I’m in the process of exploring other options for WordPress and Ecommerce.

    • Hey William,

      The issue with USPS, and a few other extensions from that developer is something we’re rectifying right now. I do expect a post on it this week I believe.

      We don’t consider the plugin fractured, as at it’s core it works much the same way WordPress does. The WooCommerce plugin can run an entire, albeit basic, shop for free. We then offer extensions to help “extend” your shops functionality. Not everyone needs USPS shipping included in the core of the plugin, nor any other extension, etc…

      We’re working hard on improving our support, we’re actively in the transition to a new ticket system, a new documentation site, as well we’ve been hiring quite a bit of support members and bringing them up to speed as fast as possible.

      If you aren’t happy with the support you’ve received, contact us directly. Luckily we try to watch all blog posts for issues, but it’s always best to contact and yell at us directly! You can email me here and we’ll do our best to make any issues right for you. – support[at]woothemes.com

  18. Hi William,

    Sorry to hear you are having issues, I must say in WooThemes defence they are usually nothing but brilliant but as ever one or two things may slip the net so to speak.

    Perhaps mention something on Twitter to them if they are not responding? This may well get there attention!

    Kind regards

    Ben

  19. I’m considering using WooCommerce for a project, and I’m wondering how/if it interacts with the WP multi-site system?

    We want all of our orders to flow into our single back-end, but we need to select which products appear on which sites.

    It would also be nice to be able to select the default payment gateway and shipper as well.

  20. Woocommerce is just fabulous. Its support team is really helpful and the plugin works very well with wordpress. I have a website “www.shillcat.com “which is running with this wonderful cart. I have had a good experience with this plugin, because is dynamic, intelligent and professional. The support team replys any question really fast and you can make sure that they’ll try everything what is possible to solve any issue. I feel confident about that plugin because I know that If I have a problem I’ll have a high quality team to help me through. To get a reliable team regards your website plugins and carts is the most import thing for someone who’s starting an online business. No matter what is your issue about the woocommerce toolkit be sure that its support team will take care of it. I advise anyone to try woocommerce toolkit plugin and be surprised with its features and helpful team. Log on to my site and see by yourself how professional my cart looks like. I have no words to explain how satisfied I am with woocommerce. All the question that I had about its functionalities was really fast answered and any problem that I had was solve so fast as I was needed. The most important feature about this plugin is: it’s free. You don’t have to pay anything to get it running on your website. Its features, uploads and settings are really easy, which means that you don’t have to be an expert to use it. This harmless plugin will not disappoint you. It’s so easy to upload products and images in a manner that even a child could do it.So you don’t have to figure out every step of setting or uploading products , you just need a rapid look on the plugin to know how use it.So try it!

    • Hey Lana,

      Just wanted to say thank you very much for the kind words, it’s much appreciated. :)

      Awesome to hear and see it’s working out great for your site!

  21. We are a UK Payment Gateway and we have had countless requests from merchants wanting to use our services with WooCommerce so we are very pleased to announce that we now have a fully working plugin for WooCommerce for secure Credit and Debit card processing.

    The plugin is yet to be added on our website but if you want to take a look and have a free test account (UK merchants only) please contact [email protected]

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