E-commerce business owners are stretched pretty thin these days. Between launching a massive endeavor like an online store and managing merchandise, how do they have time to think about anything else? Considering how important their store’s performance and product optimization is in terms of their business’s success, this is one detail they’ll need to make time for.
In fact, there are a number of high-quality store builder options for e-commerce site owners to choose from. According to Builtwith, WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce platform available today. And what makes it such a popular choice, with 28% of all e-commerce-enabled websites currently using it?
To understand the answer to that question, let’s take a closer look at what WooCommerce is, how it works, and what it offers to its users.
- Company Background
- WooCommerce: The Basics
- Configuring WooCommerce
- Sitebuilder Tools and Templates
- WooCommerce Store Settings
- WooCommerce Extensions and Plugins
- Migrating from Shopify
- Customer Service and WooCommerce Documentation
- Managed WooCommerce Hosting
- Is WooCommerce Right for You?
WooCommerce was created by two developers, Mike Jolley and James Koster. They worked on a fork of an existing e-commerce plugin called Jigoshop, and the result was the first release of WooCommerce in 2011.
WooCommerce and WooThemes were both purchased by Automattic, the same company behind WordPress itself, in 2015. Automattic is now the active developer for WooCommerce, which is used by over 300,000 online retailers, including some fairly large and high-traffic sites.
Users like WooCommerce for several reasons, chief among them the fact that it is relatively easy to install and configure, which is always a bonus for busy new digital retailers.
WooCommerce: The Basics
The first thing to understand is how WooCommerce works on a broad, basic level.
For starters, it isn’t a standalone site builder. Rather, it’s an open-source WordPress plugin. This means that instead of signing up for a single hosting-to-checkout platform, WooCommerce works as a third-party integration within the greater scheme of WordPress.
- First, customers need to acquire hosting services from a web hosting provider.
- Next, they install and configure WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system (CMS).
- After building out the web design using a theme and boosting performance, security, and features with plugins, the user then installs and configures WooCommerce to handle the e-commerce function of the site.
In other words, WooCommerce only functions as a builder for the e-commerce part of the site.
But what you can build with it is pretty impressive as it works with both physical and digital goods. You can also sell products with multiple variants and configurations, and offer instant access via download to digital items. You can even use WooCommerce with an affiliate marketing model.
As of now, the base WooCommerce plugin is absolutely free to use. For additional functionality and flexibility, users can install plugins and other add-ons to the platform, most of which are not free. However, as an online store expands, those plugins often become necessary in order to improve the e-commerce experience for customers (and the shop owner), so the additional costs are something to consider.
In addition to the supporting market of extensions and plugins that’s grown up around WooCommerce, the WordPress development community has also embraced the plugin through the active development of several WooCommerce-compatible themes.
Together, the WooCommerce market offerings can help customers create a WordPress-based e-commerce site that can rival any of the major players in the digital marketplace.
Once activated, the plugin will need to be configured for your products. This is a fairly straightforward process.
If you’re familiar with how the WordPress dashboard presents plugin and theme controls, you’ll be able to find the submenus and options you’re looking for and navigate around the WooCommerce settings fairly easily.
You’ll notice immediately two new labels on your sidebar menu, WooCommerce (for the plugin’s general settings) and Products (where you add and configure new product items for sale).
Creating a new product is simple.
- Choose Products → Add Product
- Create a title
- Write a short description of the product
- Choose whether it’s virtual and downloadable
- Add price data
- Specify any sales price (and the duration of the sale).
If you want to customize stock management options, click the Inventory tab. There you can manage quantities, choose to display information as to whether the product is in stock or out of stock and indicate whether a customer can place an item on backorder.
You can also manage upsells and cross-sells in the Linked Products tab and provide further details about your products in their Additional Information tabs. That’s an effective place for additional persuasive copywriting that will appear on the product page.
Other optional features include:
- specifying menu orders
- tagging and categorizing products
- adding short taglines for product images
- enabling or disabling reviews for specific products.
WooCommerce does a solid job of enabling users to control how the store is displayed and to shape the customer’s purchasing experience.
Sitebuilder Tools and Templates
Keep in mind that WooCommerce is not itself a site builder, per se. That is, unlike hosted e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, WooCommerce won’t, by itself, enable you to create a website or style it.
Several developers offer both free and premium WordPress themes that are built specifically to integrate and play nicely with WooCommerce and its extensions and associated plugins. WooCommerce itself offers Storefront, a free WordPress theme that’s designed to integrate deeply into the WooCommerce core plugin, maximize speed and site performance, and eliminate theme/plugin conflicts.
Storefront can be used as-is, right out of the box with default settings, or you can customize it. You can also choose and install a Storefront child theme to further refine the look and appearance of your e-commerce site.
If you’re looking for a broader range of themes for your store, you can find hundreds of e-commerce themes on the official WordPress site.
Here you can choose from a selection of free and paid themes optimized for e-commerce sites.
Depending on the theme you select, most come with SEO features to make sure your customers can find your store during their online search. These WordPress themes are designed for WooCommerce e-commerce sites and most are responsive across mobile devices.
When you purchase a theme on the official WordPress website, you can also access the support forum. Some themes come with detailed support to guide you through the installation process.
There are also themes available from sites like Themify – home to thousands of themes. A quick search for WooCommerce themes produces over 7,000 results.
Themes are optimized for faster load times to increase conversions. Some will also offer hosting and setup.
WooCommerce Store Settings
Design flexibility is all well and good, but this is an e-commerce solution. So, the real question is: How powerful and flexible are the store’s settings?
The general settings menu for the WooCommerce plugin is where you’ll find extensive customization options. Here you can tailor your customer’s experience in both detailed and general ways. Everything from the checkout process to how the numbers in prices get displayed can be tweaked here.
Here are some highlights of the WooCommerce builder’s settings:
Payment options available in the core WooCommerce plugin include major credit cards, PayPal, bank transfers, and even COD. If you need more flexibility, there are over 100 payment integrations that are available, including Stripe, Amazon Payments, and more.
The Stripe Plugin for WooCommerce lets you accept payments directly in your store, instead of redirecting customers to the payment gateway’s page. WooCommerce said keeping customers on your store’s page during checkout has shown to increase conversion rates.
Stripe is fairly simple to install and there are no setup costs. It lets you accept different kinds of card credit payments in hundreds of different currencies.
Stripe is not available in every country, and WooCommerce integrates with other leading payment gateways.
WooCommerce integrates with PayPal. The extension is free and lets store owners in and outside of the United States of America accept all major debit and credit cards. You can also accept all major credit and debit cards, and get paid in several different currencies. Customers don’t need a PayPal account because all payments are processed through PayPal’s servers, this option offers a high level of security for you and your customers.
Stores in the U.S, UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan can also use Square to accept payments. It’s PCI-Compliant so it meets the industry’s card data security standards. You won’t have to wait long to get paid, funds are deposit within one to two days.
One big area of concern for e-commerce site owners is the proper collection of applicable taxes. WooCommerce gives the site owner a great deal of control over how this is implemented. You can configure settings so that tax is calculated on the shipping address, billing address, or your store location.
WooCommerce lets you select whether you want to display product prices inclusive of tax in your country, meaning that all product prices will include the base tax price in your region.
WooCommerce also allows some impressive leeway when it comes to offering coupons and discounts. In addition to restrictions on products and product types for usage, you can restrict coupons to use with a minimum purchase amount, excluding items that are already price-reduced, and even ban certain email addresses from usage.
Shipping options are fairly standard and include free, flat rate, and real-time cost calculation options. You can restrict your shipping options geographically if you choose.
You can customize and tweak all the emails your customers might receive in the purchasing process on your site in the Emails menu. Any email that WooCommerce generates, you can tailor to your preferences, including its copy and design elements.
Every e-commerce site owner needs access to powerful data tracking, and WooCommerce provides that too. You can create, view, and export data in charts and graphs for a wide assortment of information, including sales, orders, shipping costs, and more. You can further customize your reports by specific product types and categories. WooCommerce also enables export of your data in CSV format for import into spreadsheets and other apps, making the data easier to work with.
WooCommerce Extensions and Plugins
The settings mentioned above are what you get with the base plugin. You can extend your site’s functionality by selecting and installing the right extensions from WooCommerce’s extensions store.
While you can start selling from your WooCommerce store without paying a cent, investing in a few key plugins can improve your store’s functionality.
Fortunately, you can select from over 400 official extensions. You can find plugins for almost any function, features designed to improve the appearance of your store, increase conversions by analyzing customer behavior on your site and help you improve your marketing efforts with email campaigns and special offers.
Free and premium WooCommerce extensions and additional plugins let you add features such as:
- Appointment bookings (Bookings are needed by a variety of small businesses including plumbing and home services, counseling, business consulting, and more.)
- Membership-only sections of your site (This could be part of your upsell strategy.)
- Recurring subscriptions for digital or physical goods (Subscriptions could include things like home maintenance services, financial newsletters, or software subscriptions.)
- Shipment tracking
- Bulk discounts
- Accept payments in-person via Square
- Manage ticket sales for events
- Manage and track EU VAT rules.
You can also find other extensions for WooCommerce on the WordPress repository site. There, you can find plugins to add more fine-tuned control over Google Analytics, invoices and packing slips, affiliate programs, and much more.
The cost of the extensions can add up quickly. To start, map out your immediate business needs and identify plugins to help you achieve those.
Depending on your immediate focus, there are several useful plugins and we’ve highlighted a few below:
One Page Checkout
To streamline the check-out process for your customers, One Page Checkout displays the product selection and checkout form on the same page. From here, customers can add or remove products from their order, and pay for their goods – all on the same, single page.
One Page Checkout said a long, complicated checkout process is one of the reasons 1 in 10 people abandon their cart, adding that a simple, quick checkout will help you reduce your store’s cart abandonment rate.
While One Page Checkout helps you reducing cart abandon rate by keeping checkout simple, WooCommerce Follow-ups lets you reach out to customers who have not completed their purchase.
Cart abandons are common and happen for a number of reasons. If you don’t have a way of addressing it, you’re losing money.
WooCommerce Follow-ups offers a broad range of services, including automated emails that follow up with customers who have abandoned their cart. You can configure the plugin to send emails according to different kinds of triggers you select.
Cart recovery should form part of your broader marketing strategy. And if you’ve just started researching marketing tactics to grow your e-commerce site, you may have learned about email marketing. And MailChimp is one of the most well-known tools for providing this service.
Along with sending cart recovery emails, MailChimp syncs your customers purchase data and – with the help of marketing automation – it sends emails to customers or showcases product recommendations, based on their behavior on your site.
You can also add discount codes to your customer emails.
MailChimp is one of several plugins offering personalized marketing by tracking segmenting your customers. Conversio is another marketing tool for your WooCommerce store. With Conversio, you can run all your marketing efforts from a single dashboard.
They’ll help you with email marketing, but you can also display product recommendations, reviews, and customer feedback. When you’re just starting to build your e-commerce site, figuring out how to manage the marketing can be daunting. Being able to access all these features from a single dashboard helps you focus on running your store.
Beeketing is another all in one marketing tool to integrate with WooCommerce. A feature-rich tool, Beeketing promises to increase your conversion rate an average order value.
Features include a coupon popup to give new users the incentive to make their purchase from your store.
To increase your store’s average order value, Beeketing will upsell and cross-sell related products. They can automate this for you, or you can do it manually. After check-out, they will upsell more products using coupons to grow repeat purchases. Upselling is a great way to boost your revenue because you’re selling to existing customers who already trust your brand. And better yet, they’re in the middle of a purchase. Another feature they use to increase your store’s revenue is to encourage your customers to purchase a certain amount to unlock a reward discount.
You can try Beeketing for free with its trial, but the platform also offers limited free features.
WooCommerce Social Login
Another way to streamline your checkout process is offering new ways to check out.
With WooCommerce Social Login, customers can log in to your site using one of the social network accounts, e.g. Facebook Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter. If they have a Paypal account, they can also use those login details. This removes an extra step – creating a new account for your store.
If you’re selling to a global audience, you may benefit from having your site translated into your customers’ languages. A plugin like Woocommerce multi-lingual will translate all WooCommerce products, and send emails to your customers in their preferred language.
You’ll also be able to run your store using multiple currencies.
Depending on your business, you may want to give customers the opportunity to customize their purchase. With Product Add-Ons, your customers can engrave products or add gift messages to their purchases.
Other marketing tools do offer coupons as part of the feature-set, but Smart Coupons is dedicated to coming up with great deals for your e-commerce site.
This Smart Coupons plugin lets you bulk generate thousands of coupons and email these to customers.
To help increase upsells, and encourage repeat customers, you can offer discounts on product purchases.
WooCommerce Points and Rewards
You can’t go wrong by offering your customers points and rewards. In fact, this can end up boosting your revenue and winning over loyal customers.
Woocommerce Points and Rewards lets you set limits on how much customers need to spend before earning points they can redeem for discounts.
WooCommerce Product Table
Great deals are important, but your store has to look good and be easy to navigate too. A product table is an essential element for most online stores. This will depend on your business, but the WooCommerce Product is ideal for wholesale stores, product list views and restaurant orders.
The WooCommerce Product Table displays products in a simplified way, making it easy for your customers to search and sort through the selection.
WooCommerce Product Search
Part of providing a great customer experience is making sure your store is easy to navigate. WooCommerce Product Search is a search engine for your store. The extension promises to make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for using live search. Live search means customers can find products as they type.
This plugin also provides business insights. Statistics showing your most popular products may guide your marketing strategy.
You can also use these numbers to determine popular products you are not yet stocking and might want to include.
If you don’t want to manage your own inventory and shipping, drop shipping might be the best option for you.
WooCommerce Dropshipping sends automated emails to your wholesale dropship suppliers when your customer places an order on your site. The supplier ships the product to your customer.
If you need help setting up and customize your WooCommerce store, you can call on a WooExpert. WooExperts are verified by the e-commerce platform and listed in a directory on the WooCommerce website.
WooExperts offer assistance in site setup and customization.
Experts here are vetted by WooCommerce and are part of the program by invitation only. On its site, WooCommerce explains experts are selected after they’ve worked with them on client projects, or during interactions in the broader WooCommerce community.
Migrating from Shopify
If you’re currently using Shopify to manage your e-commerce store, some hosts will help you migrate your site.
You can also use a service like Cart2Cart. With Cart2Cart you can export your entire Shopify store, including your products and customer orders, to WooCommerce.
Cart2Cart offers two ways to complete the migration. You can either follow the step-by-step instructions in their set-up wizard or they can finish the process for you. And you don’t have to be concerned about how the migration will impact your store. It remains fully active during export.
Customer Service and WooCommerce Documentation
WooCommerce offers extensive documentation for users that covers the basics of working with the plugin. Topics include installation, initial configuration, adding products, setting up the checkout process, managing shipping options, and more.
Each topic is covered in a practical, how-to manner — short enough to help you through the process without overwhelming you with the information you don’t need in order to accomplish the task at hand.
WooCommerce also offers more than one way to conquer its relatively small learning curve. If reading documentation isn’t your preferred method of figuring things out, check out the WooCommerce Guided Tour videos.
With over 30 quick-watch videos (most of them ten minutes or shorter in length) covering a plethora of basic and more advanced topics from installation to taxation and more, you’re sure to find a walkthrough visual aid that answers your questions.
WooCommerce’s stated goal is to help users help themselves wherever possible, so in addition to the extensive video collection and documentation it offers, it also lays out a straightforward troubleshooting process to help pinpoint the cause of a problem and identify the likeliest solution.
You might also find support in the WordPress.org WooCommerce user forum. After all, one of the biggest advantages to using WordPress-based products is the active, knowledgeable, and eager-to-help user community.
If all else fails, WooCommerce also has a ticket-based support system.
Of course, this only applies to issues with the base plugin itself. If the cause of your problem is deemed to be a third-party extension, you’ll have to look to that developer for assistance.
Managed WooCommerce Hosting
While WooCommerce offers your more opportunity to customize your store, if you have little tech experience, this might be an overwhelming prospect.
Perhaps managed WooCommerce Hosting from leading hosting providers might be a better fit for your e-commerce site.
SiteGround, one of the web hosts officially endorsed by WordPress, offers managed WooCommerce Hosting.
SiteGround will take care of all the technical aspects for you, right down to installing WooCommerce and the Storefront theme.
You’ll get a Free SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. An SSL certificate secures the communication between your customer and your site. It’s advisable for all sites but when you’re dealing with your customer’s private financial data, it’s a non-negotiable.
SiteGround also makes sure your site is PCI compliant, the Payment Card Industry’s data security standards put in place to keep your customers’ card details safe.
SiteGround provides 24/7 support across phone, live chat and ticket. You also don’t have to worry about installing the latest WordPress updates. SiteGround will take care of this for you, along with daily backups.
Like SiteGround, BlueHost is officially endorsed by WooCommerce (and WordPress).
WooCommerce hosting by BlueHost comes with WooCommerce pre-installed, and all plans include an SSL certificate. You’ll also get access to a dedicated support line.
Pressable is another hosting solution recommended by WooCommerce. The entry-level plan is slightly more expensive but they’ll even take care of site migration for you if you want to move an existing e-commerce site. You’ll also get a content delivery network to deliver faster site speeds.
Liquid Web is another hosting provider offering Managed WooCommerce Hosting. But the way Liquid Web is positioning itself is not only as a host. They promise to offer online businesses an all in one e-commerce package.
When you sign up with Liquid Web you get access to 500 free and over 1000 e-commerce themes. There’s a page builder with all stores, so there won’t be a steep learning curve if you’re new to building an online store.
There are also some useful marketing features that come along with the hosting package. You can create coupons and discount codes, and include automated upsells and cross-sells.
Most e-commerce software will include plugins for product reviews, this is preinstalled in Liquid Web’s stores.
There’s also no limit to the number of products your store can sell.
Is WooCommerce Right for You?
WooCommerce is undoubtedly the most popular e-commerce solution around, and that’s due in large part to the popularity and solid reputation of the underlying WordPress platform.
So, if you’re a fan of WordPress, or even if you’re just comfortable enough with it to know how to create and maintain a site with it, WooCommerce might present you with an advantage over other platforms: the lack of learning curve or, at the very least, a minimal one.
WooCommerce also offers another significant advantage. A site built with self-hosted WordPress technologies is truly the property of the site owner, and at the mercy of … not much, really, unlike sites built with all-in-one SaaS platforms. The latter can be subject to the whims of changing terms of service, decisions to take the platform business in a “new direction,” an overnight change in permissible uses or features, or a sudden bankruptcy.
Just be aware of the costs associated with WooCommerce. Unlike a traditional site builder tool that rolls all those costs into one, WooCommerce customers must think about the costs of self-hosting (through a web hosting company), premium WordPress themes and plugins, and WooCommerce add-ons. All of which can quickly add up if you don’t pay attention to them.
One more thing to consider is that this isn’t a one-stop, one-size turnkey solution. If you’d prefer a more centralized platform offering a single source for all the required site elements, or if you’d prefer a more “done for you” approach, you might want to look into other SaaS e-commerce platforms instead of a WordPress-based solution like WooCommerce.