WooCommerce, The Do’s, Don’ts and Should’s

WooCommerce has become the greatest e-commerce framework / platform / system for building a fast, reliabe and all around cheap web store. It’s popularity has grown very fast since the early days and even more after Automattic’s acquisition back in May 2015. What does this platform differs from the others and why did it become the number one choice for online businesses?

Today I had the opportunity to talk about WooCommerce (slides are here) at WordCamp Lisboa 2017. In fact, if all did go well, this post should be publish 20th May 2017 at 2:45pm GMT. This is my opinion around WooCommerce, where I try to tell all the experience I had personally within my company around WooCommerce, and dissert a bit on how it could become an even better platform / plugin.

The Beggining

I think it is very important to go back to September 2011 where WooThemes and two of their developers first announced WooCommerce version 1.0. This was created of the necessity to have a framework that would support multiple themes around e-commerce, that would provide them with all the tools needed to take the customer form the product page to having a purchase going through and delivering the product. So the starting point are themes, themes that would give the ability to provide with a catalog, shopping cart and checkout page. So WooCommerce, from the get go, is a plugin, born out of a theme.

The Aquisition

Automattic bought WooCommerce and all the other products done by WooThemes in May 2015, where it had by then more than 7 million downloads. It was more than time enough to proof that the platform has its potencial and all the glory to become the greatest e-commerce platform for young companies who want to put their feet for the first time into the online selling business. This would provide WooCommerce the infrastructure needed to get updated by a specilized team of developers and still maintain its democratized characteristic as an open source resource for developers to jump in and extend functionalities and non-coders to build their businesses with a solution that works out of the box.

The Present

The numbers says that if you take the 4 most sucessful e-commerce platforms, WooCommerce has the same market share as their 3 top next platforms combined. All together, it is estimated that WooCommerce owns 52% of the top 1k e-commerce sites listed by Alexa (May 2017, source: datanyze.com). Where back in 2011 Magento was the king, now WooCommerce dictates the rules and is the prefered system to go with.

What WooCommerce Does

So as of today, WooCommerce is at its major version 3. It does some pretty good things out of the box, the framework (in my point of view it is more than a plugin) is solid, mature, offers great infrastructure to extend, and solves the most important challenges a webstore can face. Emphasis on the most important challenges, there are a lot of features that in my opinion should be bundled, not disregarding the fact that some of them are offered by a high-end pricey plugin, in most of the cases, developed by Automattic itself. Business is buisness, after all, but when it comes to compiting with other frameworks, if you want to race for the pole position, you have to grind, hustle, offer more and more.

Let me state this clearly so everyone knows my opinion: WooCommerce is a gigantic work, and we should all just be thankful for the rest of our lives for the people behind all the work, not only you as an enduser that has a business and can use it for free (!), but also for us developers, who can benefit from this, financially and spiritually. But, but, it is not perfect, far from it, it has flaws, it has solved problems in a way where other platforms offer better solutions, but this is all because it is a very complex problem to solve. None of the existing online solutions are perfect. Far from it.

So with zero coding knowledge, you can setup an on-line shop for very cheap, the cheapest (taking into account service quality and existing a support team) WordPress hosting you can get is GoDaddy and costs you no more than $100 yearly. That’s “nothing”.

Breaking down into the most important features, WooCommerce offers you OOTB this:

  • product catalog (shop)
  • product categorisation
  • product review and comment
  • checkout system
  • shopping cart
  • thank you page
  • account pages (for checking
  • multiple types of product
  • upsell + cross sell
  • simple invoicing system
  • order management (status, notes)
  • simple inventory
  • simple taxing system
  • reporting
  • coupons
  • shipping zones
  • payment gateways
  • emails
  • simple bulk edit

Uau, that’s a lot, right? Having an on-line business is not easy. There is always a different need in every case, something that the shop owner thought of that would be cool to have and that differentiates its business from the competition. Although this might be the case, the above features are the result of what most, if not all, online business need.

What WooCoomerce Doesn’t Do

Taking into account that there are other services that offer some extra features comparing to the standard WooCommerce installation, the competition is definitely on and from my perspective, there are some adjustments that need to be done for WooCommerce not to loose it’s leadership, in terms of adding features.

I know, people choose WooCommerce because of it’s flexibility and ability to add a lot of extra features that overcome this situation, but as good as that is, that ’s also bad. Why? Most of these extra tools are from third party developers, that are sometimes not architect taking into consideration the norms of good coding, stability and scalability. So you’re site gets cluttered very quickly with different bits of code that in most cases do not play together vey well.

I also understand that we’re talking about open source software, free software, and that extra features should come with an extra cost, but that’s a whole different discussion. My whole point here is that WooCommerce needs to keep up with its game, and provide more solutions to more common problems.

So the following list is a list a features i think WooCommerce should bundle over the corse of the following 2 years.

Note: when I say “we use” I mean my team at hellodev. (links coming up soon).

Advanced Bulk Editing
There is the possibility to bulk edit products already, but it is limited and the UI is not optimal. This needs to be improved and have a better way to change all the existing fields. Also, there’s no support for bulk editing variable products. For this feature we use an alternative plugin called Advanced Bulk Edit. A lot of features, to much perhaps.

Import / Export
This is a big flaw in my opinion, since people use external software for creating and maintaining information about products, and there should be a quick way to import product information, being it for creating or updated.  For this feature we use an alternative plugin called WP All Import. This is a real life saver when dealing with creating stores from scratch.

Because you have to. WPML (do I really need to link this up?). There’s no way out. Sorry… If you’re not willing to install WPML at all, because you just need multicurrency, here’s what you can install: Woocommerce Multi Currency Store By Code-Ninjas or Woocommerce Currency Switcher

Analytics & Reporting
The simplest way to deal with this subject is to take the Google Analytics code and put it in your site. Done. Google Analytics is an amazing tool and there is nothing simpler to get the most info about your website than adding the code.

Bookable or Bundled Product
If you want to setup a product that is like a tour around a city, an event, or a room or an apartment, if you want to rent spaces and need a booking system, there are two plugins that we used a lot called WooCommerce Booking and Pinpoint Booking System PRO.

Promotions and Discount Rules
This is propably the most asked resource every shop manager wants for their business on-line. WooCommerce Dynamic Pricing & Discounts does the job and it feels like it is really integrated with WooCommerce, giving you the same “WooCommercy” look and feel.

Shipping Rate Methods
This is also a vey requested feature if you have to calculate the shipping rate according the shipping country and weight or size of the product. There are two plugins that solve this problem greatly: WooCommerce Table Rate Shipping and Advanced Fees for WooCommerce. This last one also allows you to create acculumating rules for the shipping process, offer shipping, discounts on shipping, etc.

What WooCommerce Should Do

What we at hellodev and up having is a sum of other requests and plugins usage that go a bit further away from what most people want. This are the topics that we’ve colloeted so far: additional gateway payments, advanced tax regulations (for portuguese companies, we’ve developed a plugin that integrates an online invoicing system called WooCommerce Billing with InvoiceXpress and another plugin to deal with the international companies called WooCommerce EU VAT Assistant), advanced inventory management (we’ve develop a plugin to solve this called WooCommerce Warehouses), subscriptions & membership systems, store credit, dynamic pricing and marketing automation.

At the end

We live the most fantastic times ever where setting up an online business is super easy and where there are a lot of online resource that we have at our disposal that are free. The competition is definitly there, and if WooCommerce wants to keep up with their competitors, benifiting from being at the top of the table, they should setup up their game and rethink what features should come bundled.