Last updated: November 28, 2019
What is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce platform for business owners of all sizes. Catering to every type of online shop owner, WooCommerce provides a fully customizable, flexible, and extendable online shop platform, completely free of charge.
Developed to work on WordPress websites, this e-commerce platform comes as an easy-to-setup WordPress plugin, which once installed and activated on your self-hosted WordPress website, allows you to sell digital and physical products, manage inventory and shipping, collect secure payments for products or services, and calculate correct taxes no matter where in the world your customers come from.
How WooCommerce Works with WordPress
As mentioned above, WooCommerce is designed to work on the content management system WordPress and comes in the form of a WordPress plugin. It is the most popular e-commerce solution for WordPress to date, powering 42% of all E-Commerce sites.
To use WooCommerce you must first have a self-hosted WordPress.org website. This means you will need a unique domain name, a WordPress hosting provider, and the WooCommerce plugin, which is easily found in the WordPress Repository.
You can install and activate WooCommerce directly from your WordPress dashboard, download it from the WordPress Repository, or get it form the official WooCommerce website.
The WooCommerce plugin provides a Setup Wizard, taking you step-by-step through the following online shop setup procedures:
- Define the location and currency of your online shop and the type of goods you plan to sell
- Configure your payment gateway options
- Choose your shipping zone and shipping units
- Install and activate the exclusive WooCommerce theme, Storefront
- Enable automatic tax calculations
- Activate the Jetpack plugin to enhance your e-commerce shop
After all of that is complete, you will be able to create your first e-commerce shop product.
Why Choose WooCommerce?
There are definitive reasons why WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce solution right now. Let us take a look at the most compelling:
- WordPress Compatibility
- More Than an Online Store
- Sell it All
- Open Source = Customizable
- Developer Friendly
WordPress Compatibility: There is no denying that the fact WooCommerce is built on WordPress immediately gives its reputation for being reliable, trustworthy, and flexible a boost. Not to mention WordPress is extremely secure at its core, so your online shop is always safe from outside attack.
More Than an Online Store: WooCommerce is more than a simple online shop platform. Built on a solid blogging platform, you can sell products and services, publish consistent and valuable blog content, and market your business, all from one place.
Sell it All: There are some serious e-commerce platform competitors on the market. However, WooCommerce is always one-step ahead, in that it allows you to sell anything, including physical products, services, digital downloads, and content. It even allows you to take appointments.
Open Source = Customizable: Since WooCommerce is 100% open source, you maintain complete control over everything on your website and own it all. You can add unlimited products and users and process unlimited orders. Plus, if you are tech-savvy, you can change and customize anything you want.
Support: WooCommerce has a large following that adds to the already established WordPress community. Anytime you need online shop inspiration, technical support, or have an idea of your own, you can get in touch with WooCommerce users from all over the world.
Developer Friendly: WooCommerce is known for being one of the most user-friendly e-commerce solutions around. That said, WooCommerce also has developers in mind so those with advanced knowledge can take advantage of this plugin as well. For instance, you can utilize over 400 official WooCommerce extensions, contribute your ideas on GitHub, use the REST API, and access documentation on every filter, hook, API endpoint, major release, and extension.
WooCommerce Design and Functionality
WooCommerce comes with plenty of customization options and built-in functionality to make your online store stand out from the competition. Branding your business, marketing what you have to offer, and providing customers a seamless shopping experience is what WooCommerce is all about.
WooCommerce Design Options, Including a List of Top WooCommerce Themes
WooCommerce is designed to work with countless WooCommerce compatible WordPress themes. This way, you can design your site to be unique, personalized, and exactly how you want it to look.
Edit any element on your site, publish killer blog content, and add stunning product images to encourage site visitors to make purchases. Guide your site visitors through your sales funnel with landing pages, mega menus, and categories, and tags.
Include any number of image galleries to your website to showcase your company's best, add unlimited products and services, let your customers sort and filter based on pre-defined attributes such as price, rating, and popularity, and even create multiple variations of products so your customers can buy the exact product they need.
While you can use WooCommerce's exclusive Storefront theme to build your e-commerce shop, the truth is, there are hundreds of unique themes to choose from that will get the job done.
To start, take a look at some of Storefront's best features:
- Fully compatible with WooCommerce
- Responsive design
- Schema markup for optimal SEO performance
- Clean and simple layouts with products taking center stage
- No additional plugins built-in - you add what you need and nothing more
- Flexible CSS grid for advanced customizations
- Translation-ready for reaching a global audience
- Adherence to accessibility rules so all site visitors can enjoy your website
And, if anything you need is missing, you can be sure the Woo team has created an extension for it that you can easily install on your website.
Now, here is a look at some of the very best WooCommerce compatible themes on the market today:
- ShopIsle PRO
Flatsome: Flatsome comes with a stunning flat design, easy-to-follow navigation menus, translation capability for building an international brand, and built-in social media integration for gaining new likes, follows, and shares. Plus, it comes with the exclusive Flatsome Page Builder, is fully responsive and mobile-friendly, and your WooCommerce products sit front and center so customers see everything for sale right away.
Divi: Divi is a multipurpose WordPress theme with seamless WooCommerce integration. It comes with the Divi Builder so you can create anything you want, lots of whitespace so customers aren't overwhelmed when searching for their favorite products, and built-in A/B testing so you can see what sells, and what doesn't, so you can make improvements and grow your business.
ShopIsle PRO: ShopIsle offers a neat and clean presentation that makes your online shop accessible to everyone. With complete WooCommerce integration, expect features like real-time editing, SEO optimization for better search engine rankings, custom backgrounds such as images, sliders, and videos, and even user-friendly mega menus for easy navigation of your website.
Shopkeeper: Shopkeeper is a fully responsive WooCommerce theme that comes with multiple product page layouts, a drag-and-drop page builder, custom header images for highlighting your best-selling products, and complete blogging functionality.
KALLYAS: Create any kind of online shop you want using KALLYAS' built-in visual page builder, 100+ pre-designed page elements, unlimited color schemes, and fully functional newsletter integration for building better relationships with your customers and enticing them to buy again from you.
Although this list is far from exhaustive, it definitely provides you a good starting point when it comes to choosing a fully compatible WooCommerce theme.
Extending Your Use of WooCommerce, Including a List of Top WooCommerce Extensions
Despite the fact that WooCommerce comes with all the pre-built functionality you could need to run an operational online store, it is important to note that for those that need a little more, there are plenty of official WooCommerce extensions catering to your needs.
- WooCommerce Memberships: Create a membership site, lock in exclusive products for paying members only, add invite-only sections to your online store, and even offer exclusive blog content to members.
- WooCommerce Bookings: Perfect for those offering service-based products, allow site visitors to book appointments. Or, if you want, sell your time, allow customers to book resources such as a caterer, and even rent items to those in need.
- Dynamic Pricing: Easily configure bulk or special discounts based on pre-determined rules such as total quantity of products, total order in cart, user role, and more. In fact, you can even offer fixed price adjustments or percentage-based discounts to those that qualify.
- Facebook for WooCommerce: Take your marketing campaign to the next level by building better customer relationships, reaching a wider audience base, and even selling directly from your Facebook page.
- Stripe: Accept payments using the popular Stripe payment gateway. Compatible with both your desktop and mobile shops, customers choosing the Stripe payment option stay on your website, instead of being redirected to another page for finalizing their transactions.
- WooCommerce Subscriptions: Sell subscription-based products to ensure you have a steady stream of income coming in each month. Create and manage products with recurring payments using this extension, and define how often payments will be collected.
- WooCommerce Google Analytics: Get basic e-commerce analytics metrics with this extension. Monitor things such as which channels drive the most traffic to your site, where in your sales funnel you are losing customers, which products are favored by customers, and which pages site visitors land on most from search engine results.
- PayPal by Braintree: Just like Stripe, PayPal is one of the most recognized and favored payment options for online shops. Available to U.S. and non-U.S. store owners, this extension accepts PayPal, credit card, and debit card payments.
- Smart Coupons: Create, issue, and manage coupons, credits, and gift cards to boost sales and reduce cart abandonment.
- Name Your Price: Allow customers to choose how much they want to pay for specific products and services in your online shop. Suggest a price, enforce minimum prices, or let your customers do it all on their own.
- Sensei: Create online courses, write lessons, and add interactive quizzes to your online shop with the Sensei extension. Plus, require user registration, set course prerequisites, and of course, charge for your content if you want.
- WooSlider: Designed specifically for WooCommerce shops, WooSlider is a responsive WordPress slider plugin that allows you to highlight your most beautiful product images, complete with various content types, transitions, layouts, and more.
Again, this list is far from exhaustive. However, every WooCommerce extension mentioned was either a top seller for 2017 or comes highly recommended by the expert team at WooCommerce.
Integrations for WooCommerce
WooCommerce now connects to Zapier, an online automation tool that connects your website to thousands of your favorite apps. For instance, connect to Gmail, MailChimp, Facebook Pages, and even WordPress itself.
Here are just some of the reasons why connecting your WooCommerce shop to Zapier apps is a good idea:
- Save time by connecting your online store to services you already use
- Let Zapier do the work for you instead of having to configure your connections every time you receive a new order
- Configure WooCommerce to trigger your connected apps so you never miss a thing, such as when a new customer subscribes to your email list
- Take a proactive approach to building your business by staying ahead of abandoned shopping carts, answering questions and concerns immediately, and sending out orders right away
- Notify members of your team when something pops up that relates to them
- Gain a better understanding of how your online shop is performing with customized reports
Better yet, if you want all of this and more, simply purchase the WooCommerce Zapier extension and get it on all the benefits Zapier has to offer WooCommerce shop owners.
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Beyond an Online Store: What Else WooCommerce Offers Users
One of the reasons WooCommerce is so great is that it goes beyond a simple e-commerce platform.
In fact, up until now, we have simply focused on shop design, functionality, and selling products. However, there is more to WooCommerce than that.
Maintaining PCI Compliance
If you store, process, or transmit credit card data on your website, no matter what size your business is, you must host your website with a PCI compliant hosting provider.
These security standards are in place to protect the sensitive data that is transferred between your customer's browser and your website during a payment transaction.
That said, anyone processing payments using a gateway that has its own servers to take payments, such as PayPal Standard, does not have to follow PCI compliance since customer data is already protected and compliance is taken care of by the gateway being used.
PCI compliance is the responsibility of the merchant. And, while WooCommerce does not come PCI compliant by default, they do offer a number of payment gateway extensions that will handle this serious issue for you.
Securing Your Online Store with SSL Certificates
In order to secure data that is being sent between a customer's browser and their website's server, online shop owners should have an SSL certificate placed on their website.
Here are just some of the reasons you should consider securing your e-commerce website with an SSL certificate, though it is not mandatory:
- In order to protect the personal and financial information of your customers, as well as yourself
- To secure site logins and signups
- To comply with any privacy and security requirements in your country
- To establish trust amongst potential customers looking to buy from you.
Not unlike PCI compliance, WooCommerce itself does not provide SSL certificates.
However, most WooCommerce hosting providers sell SSL certificates and help install them on your website.
In fact, some even provide free SSL certificates, leaving online merchants no excuse for not securing their online shops.
Available Payment Gateways for Finalizing Transactions
All online shops require a payment gateway so customers can pay for their goods and services.
When choosing a payment gateway, it is important to consider things like cost, location, security, and support.
We have briefly touched upon some of the available payment gateways for WooCommerce - PayPal and Stripe.
That said, the versatile WooCommerce platform offers online shop owners over 100 payment gateways so that merchants all over the world can easily accept payments on their online shop.
These are some of the most popular:
- Amazon Pay
All of these are the most popular official WooCommerce payment gateway extensions in use by WooCommerce shop owners to date. However, this barely scratches the surface when it comes to choices.
Hosting Your WooCommerce Website
Now that you know everything there is to know about WooCommerce in terms of design and functionality, it is time to look at how you can host your WooCommerce store on your WordPress website.
Hosting Your WooCommerce Website
Remember, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin installed on your WordPress website. In short, this means that so long as you have a reliable WordPress hosting provider, you can operate your online shop just fine.
That said, for those that take their online store very seriously, are expecting to scale exponentially, or just want the best hosting services they can get, you might want to consider looking into WooCommerce specific site hosting.
Here are some features your chosen hosting provider must have in order for you to run the most successful online store possible:
- Database Calls
- External Calls
Caching: It is not enough to install a WordPress caching plugin on your site and call it a day. Though there are some very effective caching plugins on the market, it is best to enlist a hosting provider with powerful caching capabilities so your online shop is always cached properly.
For instance, Cloudways offers WooCommerce users an intensive caching system. After all, you don't want your shop's cart to stay cached while someone is trying to add their own items to the cart.
Database Calls: Your e-commerce shop will experience many database queries throughout the day. For instance, for each product that is viewed, order that is stored, and customer data that is collected, a database call goes out.
If you run a busy e-commerce shop, a low-end hosting provider will not be able to handle all of these calls and your site could experience serious downtime. That's why using a hosting provider like Kinsta is a good idea. Focusing on website speed, you can trust your site will always perform.
External Calls: Calls made to tax calculators, external payment gateways, and shipping partners can wreak havoc on your site's resources. Again, how well your server handles such behavior is going to make or break your customers' experience.
Support: Support is crucial when it comes to running a successful online store.
You need to make sure you can get in touch with your hosting provider day and night, like you can with Liquid Web hosting, should you experience any issues, no matter how minor. Plus, the support team should be knowledgeable about WooCommerce, not just WordPress.
As you can see, the hosting provider you choose to host your WordPress website with, and thus your WooCommerce site on, will make all the difference when it comes to user experience, downtime, and support needs.
VPS Hosting for WooCommerce
The truth is, there are plenty of different options when it comes to WooCommerce hosting. For example, shared, managed, and even dedicated hosting are all viable options. However, when it comes to reliability and affordability, VPS WooCommerce hosting reigns supreme.
VPS WooCommerce hosting utilizes a Virtual Private Server to store your e-commerce site's data on. You are allotted a specific amount of resources that cannot be accessed by anyone else, much like what would happen on a dedicated server, though you don't have to rent any physical hardware, thus saving you money.
VPS hosting is perfect for e-commerce sites running WooCommerce for a number of reasons:
- The dynamic nature of the online shop is handled seamlessly with VPS hosting
- Powerful database and object caching guarantee fast page loading
- You receive more resources than traditional shared or managed website hosting
- VPS hosting is easily scalable so your online shop can grow quickly
- There is a level of control not offered in shared or managed hosting
In the end, for those who have relatively large WooCommerce shops, a VPS hosting solution is going to be the most cost-effective and high-performing option.
WooCommerce Hosting Providers: An Overview
Though VPS WooCommerce hosting is most often preferred, it is good to know you have other trustworthy options when it comes to WooCommerce hosting.
For example, FastComet offers merchants fully managed WooCommerce cloud hosting that includes features like free Cloudflare CDN, daily and weekly backups, 24/7 WooCommerce support, free domain names, and caching and database optimization.
Additionally, WP Engine offers an exclusive WooCommerce toolkit plugin for those investing in particular hosting plans. With this plugin, you receive auto logout functionality, one-tap payments for Stripe users, and database query optimization.
And, because we love to give people the ultimate in choice selection, there are a few more hosting providers that can help you host your WooCommerce site in all the ways you might expect:
A Comparison: WooCommerce versus Shopify, Wix, and Magento
Despite WooCommerce being the most popular e-commerce platform around, it is safe to say there is some competition out there. Let's take a look at three e-commerce platform competitors and outline why WooCommerce wins every time.
WooCommerce vs Shopify
Shopify is an easy to use e-commerce platform that makes setting up shop a cinch for new merchants. That said, when compared to WooCommerce, this is where Shopify falters:
- Design: Shopify provides must-use templates, and out of the 54 available, 10 are free. Plus, customizations are limited and often need developer level skills. WooCommerce is simple to customize and has thousands of themes.
- Cost: You must pay a monthly fee to use the Shopify platform, in addition to buying a domain name and paying payment transaction fees. WooCommerce is free, minus the hosting solution and domain name.
- Ownership: Since your e-commerce shop is stored on Shopify servers, you don't own or control any of the website data like you do with WooCommerce.
- Product Variations: Unlike WooCommerce, you can only vary your products in terms of size, color, and material. No additional product variations can be created.
- Lock In: If you ever outgrow your Shopify site and want to move to another platform, you can expect serious problems. This is not the case with WooCommerce.
- Set Up: Although setting up a Shopify shop is not entirely difficult, it still requires some technical know-how. WooCommerce has an easy-to-follow Setup Wizard to guide you.
In the end, though Shopify seems like a good option on the surface, when it comes to flexibility, price, and design, it cannot beat WooCommerce.
WooCommerce vs Wix
Wix is a cloud-based e-commerce platform based on drag-and-drop technology. Let's see how Wix measures up:
- Cost: Again, Wix will cost you a monthly fee to use, whereas WooCommerce is free.
- Drag-and-Drop Design: For those not familiar with drag-and-drop technology, and building sites from scratch, creating an entire online shop using a page builder can be frustrating. WooCommerce is more intuitive and automatic.
- Extendibility: Wix is limited when it comes to extending the design and functionality of your shop. WooCommerce has tons of official extensions and WordPress plugins available.
- SEO Optimization: WordPress, WordPress themes and plugins, and WooCommerce are known for being SEO optimized. Wix is not.
- Lock In: Just like Shopify, there is no way to export your e-commerce shop from Wix to another platform.
Altogether, Wix just can't hang next to the WooCommerce plugin.
WooCommerce vs Magento
Magento is an open source e-commerce platform designed to give merchants plenty of design options and functionality in the online shop. Let's see how true this is:
- User-Friendliness: If you want to go beyond the basics in design and functionality, you will likely need a developer, whereas this is rarely the case with WooCommerce.
- Cost: There is a free version available, like WooCommerce, but it lacks in support, backend tools, and speed. The premium version, however, is going to set you back thousands of dollars.
- Speed: Unlike WooCommerce, Magento is resource heavy, which drains server resources and creates slow page load times.
The only time someone should consider using Magento over WooCommerce is if they have a large-scale shop and a huge budget.
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In the end, WooCommerce is a definite front-runner when it comes to e-commerce platforms on the market today, as statistics clearly indicate. Beyond that, however, there are several things to think about when running an online shop, such as which WooCommerce hosting provider you will employ.
It is important you evaluate your online shop's needs, your individual budget, and the hosting features that mean the most to you when choosing which one to go with. And remember, most hosting providers offer a money back guarantees, so if the one you choose isn't working for your WooCommerce shop, cancel and try another one. There are plenty of options to choose from.
However, when it comes to choosing an e-commerce platform, WooCommerce is the one I always recommend.