WooCommerce is a popular WordPress plugin that adds powerful e-commerce functionality out of the box. It’s a natural fit for businesses selling physical and digital products.
Thing is, it’s risky. Not like, parents-leave-for-the-weekend-say-don’t-touch-the-sound-system risky. But the deeper you get, the more costs and constraints you discover. Committing to use WooCommerce means you have to deal with four overlooked risks.
WooCommerce Doesn’t Work with Every Theme
WooCommerce is built by WooThemes. Launched in 2011, it’s designed to work best when paired with themes from WooThemes. Even though the code is open source, themes not designed with WooCommerce in mind won’t work.
When your theme doesn’t declare support for WooCommerce, there are missing page templates and other bits of important programming. Product pages and the shopping cart look broken. There’s nothing wrong with WooCommerce. It’s just that your theme wasn’t designed for this particular e-commerce solution out of the millions available. There are two ways to fill in the missing pieces. You can switch to a design guaranteed to work with WooCommerce or pay a programmer to integrate your theme.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of themes that work great with WooCommerce. And not all of them are by WooThemes. ThemeForest has an entire WooCommerce Themes category to browse. And my favorite right now is Divi by Elegant Themes.
If selling online is a priority, the most important decision you’ll make about your website is the e-commerce system. Compare WooCommerce, Shopify and other selling tools before committing to a WordPress theme.
WooCommerce Doesn’t Keep Track of Tax Changes
Taxes give me a giant headache. The laws of each state and nation change constantly as lawmakers try to keep up with the Internet’s effect on commerce. The requirement of some states is to collect tax for citizens in the state your business is based in, but no one else. Some states still don’t tax online purchases. Others charge additional tax applied to your shipping fees. I’m not an accountant and it’s not my job to know tax law, so I can’t list all the relevant tax rates and variations.
WooCommerce out-of-the-box requires you to enter tax rates and rules on your own, you have absolute control over the way you choose to handle taxes. There are tools to import spreadsheets of rates and complete control over the way these are applied but it’s all up to you to keep up to date on the taxes you’re required to collect and make sure WooCommerce is updated to include those. Other e-commerce solutions may charge subscription fees, but they handle this complicated aspect for you.
As Spiderman’s grandma used to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” WooCommerce is designed to give website owners power over their website’s e-commerce. Just remember that you’ll carry the burden of staying compliant with state, federal (even global) tax law changes.
WooCommerce Lacks Complete Shipping Options
Every business selling goods online requires shipping options. Out of the box, WooCommerce offers pickup options and a function to let you set your own shipping rates. This is sufficient if your shipping fees are set at a flat rate or your business does the shipping itself. But what if you ship with UPS? Those rates change often and depend on weight and size. You can either check the UPS rates every morning and manually enter them, or purchase a $79 third-party extension to do it automatically.
Eighty bucks isn’t a big deal in the long run for a business. And the WooCommerce team can’t be expected to build systems for every carrier. But eighty-bucks is real money you should include in your web design budget. Other extensions let you control pickup options, creating and printing packing lists and numerous other extras to complete your shipping setup. With WooCommerce, you have the option to pay for just what you need to build your own e-commerce package.
Just remember that you need to pay one-time fees for features that subscription based e-commerce tools include as basic features.
WooCommerce Requires You to Make Friends with a Programmer
Want to have a sale? Just take 20% off the order total. It should be easy to do that somewhere in WooCommerce, but it’s not. Discounts and sales are easily applied per-product and coupons are a cinch. But just cutting a percentage off the top can require making a coupon, writing custom code to automatically apply the coupon and placing notices to awkwardly inform customers where that coupon came from and why.
This is just one scenario I’ve experienced lately. Complex pricing schemes of any kind typically require custom code to get it just the way you need it. And WooCommerce is totally open to be a customized system. But I’ve had numerous client requests that seemed simple up-front and required extensive (and expensive) custom code to make it happen.
WooCommerce is not the best fit for the company who needs to sell and ship one t-shirt to Spain tomorrow. It is a great option for highly-engaged website owners who want complete control. No other e-commerce option gives you such an amazing head start on a custom shopping experience.
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