This is the third installment of a series in which I describe my decision to leave the Magento platform, and test WooCommerce. In “part 1,” I explained my disillusionment with Magento, which began the process of seeking an alternative. In “part 2,” I reviewed the process of installing and testing WooCommerce. In this “part 3,” I continue uploading products and testing various plugins, all of which will help me decide to stick with WooCommerce, or not.
I see an ecommerce site as the hub of my marketing and selling. It is the foundation of my customer-facing systems and a stable basis for the back end administration. The current marketing trend for ecommerce is more concentration on social media rather than the traditional email newsletter approach.
In building a new site with WooCommerce, I am looking to create a site that integrates well with Facebook and the other social media platforms — where new arrivals can be announced, planned pre-releases reviewed, and rare items highlighted. I seek a blog that can be published on both the website and Facebook simultaneously, so that customers can like my items and promote them on Facebook. I also need a site that interfaces with Ebay, and easily loads products onto Ebay.
All these and more can be done with both Magento and WooCommerce. I have, however, found it much better and cheaper with WooCommerce.
Both platforms have many extensions and plugins. But WooCommerce plugins are much cheaper than their Magento equivalents. Indeed, many WooCommerce plugins are free.
WooCommerce plugins are easy to install. They can be uploaded and installed directly within WordPress. Then they can be activated and deactivated by clicking on the “activate” link. If anything, the process is too easy. There is a temptation to use too many plugins, which I should resist. Another problem is the huge choice of plugins. It can be difficult and time consuming to find the right plugin. I have spent more time looking at plugins than actually installing and testing them.
A point to be wary of is that the more plugins I install, the slower my site could be — especially if I install resource-hungry plugins. So, every time I install a plugin, I should check to ensure that my site remains fast enough for reasonable use. If it slows down too much, I will reconsider that last plugin addition.
Once I have the WooCommerce site up and running, I’m going to trim the plugins further. Any I am not using on a day-to-day basis I will deactivate and delete. I did this already for many of the plugins I first loaded, when I was first experimenting with WooCommerce.
I even deleted the very useful WP Import and its WooCommerce extension, because after the site was loaded I did not need it. If I need to load more products, it is a matter of minutes to reinstall the plugin. In the meantime it is not there to potentially slow down the system. With the extreme ease of installing WordPress plugins, it is a very real option to delete idle ones and reinstall them only when needed. This slims down your day-to-day system.
The plugins I am currently running are as follows — in no particular order.
- Custom Related Products for WooCommerce. This allows you to select what products you want to show as related to the selected product, and, more importantly, show nothing if you have not set any related products. This is important because without this WooCommerce will select products at random in the same first level category to show as related. Thus, if, like me, you have at least two menu levels, the related products are not really related, and look very wrong.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com. This brings in all the Facebook and social media integration. It offers much more than I have used. Best of all, it’s free. It walks you through the integration of Facebook and all the other social media sites. It was easy to set up.
- Limit Login Attempts. Whilst I am still building the site and not taking orders, this is the bare minimum security precaution. Once I go live, I will tighten security even more and additional plugins and strategies will be implemented.
- WooCommerce. Obviously.
- WooCommerce Grid-List toggle. This is a little plugin that allows a visitor to toggle between a grid product view and a list view. It’s not essential, but I like to give the option.
- WooCommerce Points and Rewards. This is a cheap ($10) plugin that gives me a loyalty scheme. I can set the number of points given per $1 spent and I can set the redemption values to say how many points to the dollar on checkout. I can even reward customers on each approved product review they write and give an introductory bonus for each new customer.
- WooCommerce PrePurchase. This is a straightforward pre-order module. It allows me to set a release date on pre-order items. It allows money to be collected on order, or when the items arrive. It has an option to send emails to all customers who have ordered an item to say, for instance, that it has been delayed, or it has come in early.
- WP-Lister for Ebay. This lets me select and list products on Ebay from WooCommerce. It is both easier to use than the Magento equivalent and more powerful, which is a surprise since Ebay owns Magento. I have the free version that lists the products (including their images, which the feature comparison on the developer’s website implies is only on the paid version) and lets me change the products easily. One especially nice feature is the ability to add a prefix or suffix to the product titles when uploading to Ebay. This was useful because it allows me to add keywords that are superfluous on my website but needed on Ebay, due to the vast range of products there.
- WP Super Cache. Adding a caching program to a WordPress site is essential. It allows pages to be saved in HTML and delivered up much faster than having them generated every time. This free plugin works well with WooCommerce and gives good results with the default settings. A few additional tweaks (marked as “recommended” in the settings) make it even better. One of the nice things is that it is clever enough to spot the mini cart at the top of the page and not cache it. Thus, when items are added to the cart, the updated cart information is shown on the pages even if the rest is cached. There are cache plugins that cost money that may be better. But this free one will do well until the site starts getting lots of visitors.
- YITH WooCommerce Zoom Magnifier. This plugin came with my theme. It adds a zoom function to the displayed images.
Those are all the plugins I have installed. There is one more that I will install, which is the Linnworks Integration with WooCommerce. This is a specialist interface that most WooCommerce sites will not need. But I use Linnworks for my inventory control and order management. Thus, I need this plugin to facilitate. Unfortunately it looks like a complex installation and, once installed, its documentation says that I must never physically delete a product. So I am holding off until I complete the creation of all my products, in case there are some that need deleted.
One of the most important but labor-intensive tasks in creating a new site is creating the product data — crafting your own unique product descriptions, uploading all the images, getting the initial inventory correct, and populating all the necessary fields. I am a long way from completing this, but the site is taking shape and beginning to look good.
So far I have some 350 products loaded; most need a bit of tweaking. The final site will have about 500 products.
What the current load has demonstrated is that WooCommerce works for me. I have therefore decided to stick with it. Once I have finished setting up this site I will migrate my existing sites onto WooCommerce from Magento.
Finishing this site will mean tidying up the products, securing it properly, and introducing it to Google and the other search engines. I may use an SEO plugin to assist in this. The migration from Magento to WooCommerce will be the real challenge. I know I can create a good empty skeleton, but can I extract the existing data and move it successfully? Can I maintain the SEO rankings?
It’s an interesting challenge, which is soon to come.