Setting up an online shop has never been easier – I should know, since I wrote our complete guide on the topic, and have developed a few of my own. So I often hear the question: “what’s the best eCommerce plugin for WordPress?” I think it’s only in the last year or so that a clear answer has emerged.
In my previous posts on 10 things to do when setting up an online shop, picking a system was number 1, so let’s take a look at some of the top choices. This is by no means an extensive list, because I’m not in the business of wasting your time by telling you about new plugins that no one uses or cares about. I’m going to assume you actually want to get on with the business of starting a shop, and you’re arriving here perhaps with a few plugins in mind already from your own research. Before we do that though, it’s time for some universal truths.
1. Plugins are expensive
If you’re used to everything being free, you’re in for a shock. Though most WordPress eCommerce platforms are free and open source, the plugins for them are certainly not. In most cases, they range from about $50 anywhere up to $150 depending on the complexity of the features you want to add. If you’re strapped for cash, make a list of absolute bare minimum features you could get by with, and consider choosing a system that includes them by default. Personally, I’ve spent a few hundred dollars on additional features and the themes for my web shops.
2. The theme makes a big difference
Typically WordPress themes are just cosmetic changes – with eCommerce packages I’ve noticed that many premium themes add in a wide variety of complex additional features. When choosing between themes, don’t assume that something you see on one is standard to all themes for that system, because it probably isn’t.
3. It’s a lot harder to tweak
If you’ve worked with WordPress themes before, you’ll have become accustomed to a standard set of template files and very well documented set of functions. The same is not true of eCommerce plugins, and you may find yourself out of your depth when it comes to making even minor visual changes, led down a rabbit of hole of obscure PHP coding.
My advice: pick a theme that you like as it is, and don’t assume you’ll be able to fix little bits here and there.
4. Problems are amplified
Wordpress is reasonably simple to fix when it goes wrong, and if you’re self hosting a blog then you’ve probably come across this at some point before. Adding a layer of eCommerce on top of that increases the complexity, making problems more difficult to fix. Then there’s the issue of lost revenue: if you can’t afford to have a site offline for a few hours while you fix something or roll back the latest update, perhaps it’s worth looking at a premium hosted eCommerce platform like Shopify instead.
5. There’s not a lot of difference in features
All three major eCommerce platforms come with basic shop functionality: things like a PayPal payment gateway, shipping and tax options, support for difference currencies, and the ability to integrate into existing themes (albeit poorly). The difference is in the level of support, reliability, documentation, and themes available.
Remember that we’re only looking at WordPress plugins here – if you don’t actually want any WordPress functionality then there’s always the option of a dedicated open source eCommerce solution like Magento. If you’re looking for a more detailed review of every available eCommerce plugin for WordPress, check out SellWithWP.
On with the round-up then!
For years, WP-eCommerce was the king – well, it was pretty much the only eCommerce platform for WordPress. At some point along the line, something went wrong. It was rebranded as GetShopped – I don’t know if it was ever any good, but reports of “it just doesn’t work” or “full of bugs” seem all too frequent in the support threads.
If you find one their listed features particularly appealing, then by all means try your luck. That seems unlikely though, since even the most basic of things like multiple product images are locked behind the $47 “gold cart upgrade”. I can’t find an awful lot of themes for this plugin, the number of premium upgrades is quite pathetic and, to be honest, the GetShopped.org website strikes me as completely amateur. The showcase page is full of broken images, presumably from sites that began using their plugin and are no longer trading. It’s not exactly a good sell.
Avoid WP-eCommerce at all costs; I’ve included in this list as a warning only.
At a base price of $75 per site license, shopp can be off-putting for most. Shopp does however integrate fairly easily with existing themes – albeit in a basic fashion. See the demo here.
Here’s a full review of the shopp system if you’re interested – I haven’t tried the system myself, because frankly I’m not prepared to pay for something I can get for free elsewhere. The one included featured I haven’t seen elsewhere is Google Checkout, in addition to the typical PayPal gateway.
At $25/month, Cart66 certainly isn’t cheap, and wouldn’t be a good match if you’re just testing the water for your product. It is however unique in it’s a cloud-hosted checkout service – removing the need for SSL certificates and PCI-compliance if you’re handling credit card payments, providing peace of mind and rock solid security.
Other than that, it’s strengths appear to be with membership based sites, like the ability to drip digital content. Products are placed within the confines of regular WordPress posts, as opposed to a new custom post types; so it’s perfect if you just have a few products you want interspersed with your blog. Cart66 themselves have written a great summary of the main differences and similarities to WooCommerce on their blog. You will be more limited in terms of customising shop functionality, but you’ll still have the WordPress backbone.
I’ve recommended JigoShop in the past, but times have changed. JigoShop began as a fork of the WooCommerce code a few years ago: that means some of the developers weren’t happy with the direction things were taking, so they took the code and started to make it their own. Functionally it’s therefore quite similar to WooCommerce – the same basic template files and core features etc – but plugins are not compatible. Though not particularly flawed – I’ve never come across any major bugs – Jigoshop is let down by an ageing interface and lack of documentation. There’s a reasonable variety of third party plugins, but the level of support for those varies.
SkyVerge offers a comparative review of JigoShop vs WooCommerce and comes to the same conclusion as I have: just use WooCommerce. JigoShop isn’t inherently bad or broken: it’s just not as good as WooCommerce is now.
My Choice: WooCommerce
Though it has grown to be rather a complex beast – in many ways as complex as WordPress itself – WooCommerce has a thriving developer community and therefore a lot of support behind it. Maybe this is just personal preference, but the admin interface seems like the most polished of any I’ve tried – and, as yet, I haven’t come across any major bugs.
On the front end, WooCommerce comes with an awful lot of “out of the box” bang for your (free) buck, such as a choice of sidebar widgets like top rated products, recently viewed and a price filter. With the backing of WooThemes, premium plugin support is also top-class and the documentation is far superior in my experience. The company has a lot of experience building their WooFramework, plugins and themes – so you know you’re in good hands.
ThemeForest has more themes listed for WooCommerce than any other WordPress-based eCommerce platform by a factor of 10, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something to your liking. Although most of these systems will integrate with existing themes, to get the best style you do really need to go for something custom built with eCommerce in mind.
This also seems like a strong indication to me that the community at large has settled on WooCommerce as the standard for WordPress eCommerce. While there may be newer plugins that come along with shiny new features, WooCommerce is established, supported, and solidly reliable. The only downside to WooCommerce is that the extensions are quite pricey (they come with 1 year of updates and support) – with all the included features, you probably won’t need that many though.
Choice is always nice, but sometimes you just want something that will work. If you’re happy with my WooCommerce recommendation, I can walk you through the complete process of setting up shop on MediaTemple Grid Service hosting, in my free guide to starting an online business, available to read online or download. It covers everything from installation, adding products, optimisation and SEO considerations.
I’m not affiliated with WooCommerce in any way: I simply choose to use them for my own shops, and like the system.
Image Credits: Quinn Dombrowski Via Flickr