WooCommerce is often touted as a great solution for setting up an online storefront. However, can it really be used straight out of the box, with a bare minimum of tweaks? Many think so, but we’re not so sure — although it does depend on your overall goals.
This article will look more closely at a default WooCommerce installation, discuss what’s missing, and talk about how you can enhance the functionality of your eCommerce store!
Dumb WordPress question No. 174: What is a WooCommerce?
Joking aside, asking the above question isn’t unreasonable if you’re a newbie to WordPress. In addition, while experienced developers could be inclined to skip this section, we recommend that you stick with it to align your knowledge with ours. This will make it easier to grasp the focus of the following sections.
With that out of the way, WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress. Of course, this is an oversimplification, as given its mammoth feature set, it could arguably be described as a platform itself. In fact, there‘s so much included by default that WooCommerce provides a multi-step Onboarding Wizard to help you set up a store:
As you might know, WooCommerce is the most popular solution available for creating an eCommerce store, even if there are several alternatives sharing the market. Because of this, WooCommerce turned the heads of none other than Automatic, which resulted in the platform coming under their umbrella about three years ago.
This is important, for two reasons:
- WooCommerce will continue to gain popularity, due to the backing of WordPress’s main contributors.
- There’s arguably been more aggressive, profit-making decisions made that impact your projects.
While we won’t necessarily go into detail on these, we’ll touch on them briefly throughout the rest of the piece.
Why do people think WooCommerce is ready to go out of the box?
Quite simply, marketing. If you take a look at the WooCommerce home page, there’s a number of phrases showcasing the ability to “start selling today.” Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or even all that misleading.
The core installation provides very basic, useable functionality that’s extended through a suitable theme, plugins and coded elements.
However, while you could use the default WooCommerce installation to begin selling, you’ll be missing out on a lot of functionality users come to expect.
It’s helpful to think of WooCommerce in a similar fashion to WordPress itself. The core installation provides basic (although very useable) functionality, which is extended through a suitable theme, plugins and coded elements. The same applies to WooCommerce, and we’ll look at how this works next.
What does a live WooCommerce-powered site need?
This is the ultimate question, and it isn’t that easy to answer. That’s because each storefront will differ based on a number of different factors, such as the needs of the client, the goals of the project, the budget, and umpteen other factors.
Even so, we can offer a few suggestions based on some “global” needs that affect practically all websites:
- A way for users to access their accounts (and see what’s in their shopping cart).
- A method of payment.
- Flexible shipping options.
WooCommerce provides much of this out of the box, but many clients want more from the default functionality. For example:
- The ability to automate shipping costs based on the customer’s location, and desired courier.
- A more accurate, automated, and error-free stock calculator.
- Multiple payment options, as not offering them could negatively impact usability.
- A better way to calculate and apply sales tax (including EU-specific tax rates).
Additionally, this doesn’t include client- or store-specific functionality, such as a “Pay What You Want” system, product reservations, and much more. The sky is ultimately the limit when it comes to developing a WooCommerce store, so while we’ll talk more about the effectiveness of default WooCommerce next, it’s clear that there will always be work to carry out.
Is a default WooCommerce installation really ready for a live client site?
You may feel that we’re stating the obvious with that last paragraph, and in some respects we are. To summarize, WooCommerce will always need some work before pushing it live, as many clients want specific features that the default installation can’t provide in full.
This is always worth talking about with your client. After all, if they’ve been drawn in by the word-of-mouth recommendations and the sales talk, they could be under the impression that this stage is quick and cheap.
As such, the question is: How do you get nearer to the ideal out of the box? A good start is to choose a suitable theme as a base to work from, although custom solutions often prevail.
The functionality itself can be bolstered with extensions — either free solutions on WordPress.org (of which there are many), or premium extensions direct from WooCommerce. A marketplace such as CodeCanyon is always an option, but if you’re implementing niche features, you might find that updates are thin on the ground.
As a good middle ground, you may consider coding up a custom modular plugin. It’s going to meet the client’s needs, while letting you bill for the time. For small budgets, this is going to be the best approach. However, it’s a discussion you need to have directly with the client before taking action.
Based on the marketing spiel, many themes, plugins and other solutions might seem ready to roll right out of the box. However, if you believe this at face value, you’ll often come away disappointed.
In our opinion, a default WooCommerce installation needs a little work before it’s ready to be unleashed, although a well-chosen theme can help you get closer to the ideal. Costs could spiral rapidly for your clients if choosing to buy extensions, so the perfect situation for both of you may be to code up the additions into a dedicated plugin. That way, you get to bill for the time (and future support)!