Practical Ecommerce

When to Avoid WordPress Ecommerce

With more than 600 ecommerce platforms, it can be difficult to choose the best one for your business. WordPress is a leading content management system, with popular ecommerce plugins. But a merchant should answer important questions before she can decide if WordPress is right for her ecommerce site.

When WordPress Can Be a Good Choice

  • Your website is primarily a blog. WordPress has a huge market share — around 60 percent of the CMS market — which means that millions of sites are already using it successfully. If you have an established site or if you have a new one that is blogging-centric, don’t change it just to sell a few products. In that case, adding on a WordPress ecommerce plugin is a good solution.
WooCommerce is a leading WordPress ecommerce plugin.

WooCommerce is a leading WordPress ecommerce plugin.

  • Limited product catalog. Many of the WordPress ecommerce plugins like WP e-Commerce and WooCommerce advertise that their platforms can hold thousands of products. While that may be true, a WordPress plugin will generally not perform as well as a dedicated ecommerce platform.

If your product catalog is limited and straightforward, a WordPress store can be a good fit. Many sites just want to sell a few products to support their blogging efforts, or they are a brick-and-mortar store that wants to sell a few items online. In these cases, WordPress works fine.

  • Simple products. If your products have limited variations and no customization options, then a WordPress store will function well. Examples of products requiring no customization might be small electronics or home goods that come in only one style and color. Products that require minor variations include clothing (different sizes and colors) or consumables (different package sizes).

I’ve assembled a very complex ecommerce store using WordPress — so it can be done. But other solutions should be considered when dealing with complex variations and customizations.

  • You are familiar with WordPress and need a quick store. If any of the above requirements apply – your site is primarily a blog, you have a limited product range, and your products are simple — then adding a WordPress ecommerce plugin is a good way to quickly get your store live. But even if you’re familiar with WordPress, you will still need to learn the intricacies of the plugin to integrate with your site.

When to Avoid WordPress Ecommerce

  • You don’t have a reliable developer. If you’re an ecommerce owner and you don’t have your own developer and you’re not a developer, it will be difficult to keep your WordPress ecommerce store running long-term. Although the store might be running fine after the initial setup, there are frequent updates to stay on top of.

Some other hosted ecommerce solutions could be a better fit than your WordPress store at this point. With these software-as-a-service platforms, you’ll pay monthly for hosting and running your ecommerce shop, but the platforms update themselves, and often come with tech support.

  • Complex products. WordPress ecommerce plugins like WooCommerce and Jigoshop are good for quickly adding simple products with a few variations. Creating complex and variable products, however, takes significant customization. For many WordPress ecommerce plugins, you’ll need to add in additional third-party plugins to get what you want. Make sure you fully scope out your complex product needs before deciding on a platform.
  • You don’t want to manually update WordPress and the plugin. When a new version of WordPress is released with updates and security patches, you’ll want to update. In addition to keeping the WordPress core updated, you’ll also need to update the ecommerce system that you are using with WordPress. You’ll also need to update any other third party plugins that you’re using on the site and make sure those are up to date as well. Before you can actually do the upgrading, however, you’ll want to test the upgrades.
  • No time to test the upgrades. If you’re not a developer or don’t want to pay for a developer’s time when your website’s backend needs updated, WordPress might not be the best choice. Most seasoned WordPress developers know that testing the updates before going live is crucial. I have learned this the hard way myself, when I broke a website by pushing changes live before they were tested.
Joe Robison
Joe Robison
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Comments ( 12 )

  1. Andrew July 2, 2014 Reply

    Looks like practical ecommerce also failed on WordPress upgrade testing.

    You have the below error message running at the top of the page!

    “Notice: load_plugin_textdomain was called with an argument that is deprecated since version 2.7 with no alternative available. in /var/www/production/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 2724″

    Or are you just trying to illustrate the point :)

  2. Kelly July 3, 2014 Reply

    As the owner of an agency building custom WordPress sites, I agree with your assessment for the most part. One thing you don’t discuss that WordPress does very well are digital products (digital downloads). There are lots of good solutions here such as Easy Digital Downloads.

    I think – and this is not self-serving but experience – if you’re serious about your site and you’re not a technical person experienced with PHP and WordPress, you should want to maintain a relationship with your developer and have a budget for updates and enhancements. Your site is a living, dynamic vehicle; it’s not done when it’s launched.

    None of my clients update their version of WordPress – there’s way more to it than clicking that link. So if you have a good relationship with your site developer and are realistic about on-going costs, looking into WP ecommerce should at least be a consideration.

    • Joe July 3, 2014 Reply

      Kelly – definitely agree that WordPress is good for digital downloads and many other types of products. As a fellow builder of WordPress stores, I completely agree that clients should have a good relationship with their developer and realize that investing in your store monthly is what keeps it running in good shape.

      WP ecommerce works for many, many types of stores and products, but isn’t perfect for everyone.

  3. Beka July 3, 2014 Reply

    Scalability is sometimes an issue with WordPress, so I agree with you there (though WooCommerce does actually handle this well, and WooThemes runs it themselves). Familiarity with WordPress is also very helpful, and it can be daunting for people that have never had their own website.

    However, the idea that it’s only for simple products is totally off-base. Having used almost every WP eCommerce plugin, as well as several hosted solutions such as Bigcommerce and Shopify (which I’ve also used extensively), I can tell you that it’s far easier to sell customized products with WordPress and WooCommerce specifically.

    Need to sell products with a adaptable form? WooCommerce does it, Shopify doesn’t. Products that use measurements (i.e., tarps, flooring, etc)? WooCommerce is the *only* platform with an out-of-the-box solution – not Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento etc. You’d have to develop a custom application for these.

    Need to change inventory or pricing with add-ons or customization options? It’s virtually impossible to do this easily with hosted solutions like Shopify (there’s an app that does it, but the implementation is really messy and difficult to maintain). WooCommerce has tons of extensions to this pretty easily.

    Need custom functionality? It’s far easier to find a plugin or hire a WordPress developer to do it than it is to find someone to develop a custom Shopify or BigCommerce app. You also typically avoid monthly fees for add-ons.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right there are many times where WordPress isn’t the right choice. It’s for people that are willing to learn WordPress to manage a store, and may need some pretty custom functionality. It will scale, and can do some cool things. It’s not for novices or for people that don’t want to deal with self-hosting. However, to say it’s primarily for blogs or simple products is baseless.

    • Joe July 3, 2014 Reply

      Hey Beka

      I’m honored to have a great response from a prolific WordPress ecommerce blogger such as yourself you clearly have lots of experience and I agree completely with your whole comment.

      I would agree that the wording isn’t perfect when I say that it’s primarily for blogs or simple products, I think the spirit of the statement is that for sites that are blogs or have simple products, WordPress can almost always be the BEST option, but it’s certainly not limited to that.

      I have built and incredibly complex ecommerce store on WooCommerce and it does work fine. My goal of the article is to help those who only look through the lens of WordPress consider more options so that they don’t have headache down the road.

      I’m adding your blog to my reading list and would love to discuss WP commerce more in the future!

      • Beka July 3, 2014 Reply

        Hey Joe, thanks for the kind words and for clarifying :). Agreed that if blogging / content is primary for your site, then yes, WordPress is a great choice (and maybe even the best one), as you’re probably already familiar with it.

        And looking always through the lens of WordPress is definitely an issue – there are a lot of times where I recommend Shopify instead for people that have never managed or edited website content. WordPress certainly isn’t the go-to option for eCommerce, but one of many good options.

        My major point was that I actually look at this in reverse: if you want something easy and quick to set up, and don’t have complex products, use a hosted solution like Shopify, Bigcommerce, etc. They tend to be far easier for new eCommerce stores to manage (no hosting, updates, or major learning curve – great points you brought up), but they do have some cool apps available. If you have complex needs and can invest the time to learn or hire someone (or know WordPress already), you can do some great stuff with WordPress eCommerce plugins or customize as needed.

        Anyway, I hope that clarifies my point and apologies if it seemed too curt. I think the previous paragraph clarifies this far better than my initial comment!

        • Darren DeMatas June 5, 2015

          Beka,

          Great discussion. I am a little late to the party here, but I think you brought up a great point. Hosted solutions are more plug and play for simple products. Any complexity in variation or ordering and a custom self hosted solution is often times better.

    • Kyle Lynn December 31, 2014 Reply

      I admit I don’t have a ton of experience with this kind of thing but I’ve been learning first-hand about WooCommerce’s limitations.

      My company is selling fabric-wrapped bulletin-board-like panels.
      You can see our old store here and get an idea as to what we want to do with the new store: http://www.fabricmatestore.com/p-3-anchorage-tackboard.aspx

      The base product is the panel size: 12″ x 12″ or 36″ x 48″ etc… Each panel has 3 Variation Attributes: 3 Frame Colors, 2 Edge Profiles & 5-45 Fabric Colors

      We’re using the WooCommerce CSV Import Suite, building the products and their variations in excel and importing the csv’s. We import the variations at around 200 a time because doing more has a tendency to lock up the import process.

      These imports seem to work fine aside from the fact that we can’t do anything else with the site while it’s importing. The problem occurs when we try to go to the store and test the products.

      I’ll use our Anchorage Panels as an example of the issue. There are 14 sizes for Anchorage with 208 variations per product. If I have 8 of the 14 products published the page loads fine and the products work great but changing 1 more product from draft to published causes the page to load blank; as in not at all.
      It doesn’t matter which 8 of the 14 I publish.

      I’ve nested the panels into subcategories to try and fix the problem but there always seems to be a limit. Originally I had all of these Tackable Panels loading on one page but ran into this same problem which led me to nesting them into subcategories.

      It sounds like you’re saying WooCommerce should be able to handle this type of thing.

      • Joe Robison June 5, 2015 Reply

        Kyle – I definitely feel your pain.

        I developed a site that needed every product to be customized – for dimensions, sizes, finishings, etc. The variations were infinite! The only solution I found that made sense with WordPress was stringing together the WooCommerce Gravity Forms Products Add-On plugin along with Gravity Forms to calculate and multiple the product dimensions and increases in pricing. Seems similar to your setup.

        What I learned is the best thing to do is spend a lot of time up front really figuring out the features you need and painstakingly finding the ecommerce solution to match it. It could be one you weren’t considering. In this situation, we wished we looked at BigCommerce or some more custom solutions first.

  4. Prashan Telang July 7, 2014 Reply

    WordPress is a blogging platform and originally not developed as a ecommerce store. However few plugins are available to repurpose the WP as an e-store . Woocommerce is popular amongst them . Woocommerce has improvised on its “post “to work as “product listing”. Woocommerce+WP is popular due to its ease of use , excellent admin interface with tones of plugins.
    We successfully experimented with Woocommerce to have 100K products . The store is running efficiently however requires a powerful dedicated server to manage its massive memory needs
    Full tech details are on http://www.transpacific-software.com/blog/integrating-woocommerce-with-diamond-data-from-rapnet-or-idex/
    Demo is available on: http://goo.gl/mg2AHm

  5. Nikhil Tevatia August 25, 2014 Reply

    WordPress can be a good choice for eCommerce if your product catalog is limited and straightforward, and you don’t have a large range of products to sell (not more than a couple of dozen). But if you have large number of products then you should find a better solution like magento or shopify. Read full article on “why wordpress Isn’t a Suitable E-Commerce Platform?” at http://mobileappsglobe.blogspot.in/2014/08/why-wordpress-isnt-suitable-e-commerce.html

  6. JD Ponari March 30, 2015 Reply

    Ecommerce plugin always have a problem when updated, for another CMS, I did one product for one article, Its work fine and I ‘ll try with wordpress.

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