What is Woocommerce and What Can It Do? A Beginners Guide

Woocommerce is a very powerful ecommerce module for WordPress. It has plugins for everything you could possibly want, and is super-flexible.

Introduction

If you have come across Woocommerce as an option while looking at Ecommerce platforms, this guide will help you make an informed decision about whether it is right for your next website or site migration. You will learn enough about it to decide whether it’s right for you.

We will publish more guides soon to help you learn the finer details about how it works under the bonnet and how to use it. For now, let’s take a deep look at the platform and what it is capable of so you can decide whether it’s right for you.


What is Woocommerce?

Automattic developed Woocommerce in 2011. They are the same company that built WordPress, so it is completely integrated with the WordPress platform.

Woocommerce is an extension for WordPress that enables you to sell products and services. It is the most popular ecommerce platform globally, with about 35% market share. By comparison, Shopify has about 10% market share.

Woocommerce’s popularity stems from its flexibility and robustness, as well as the general popularity of WordPress as a web platform.

No platform is perfect, and Woocommerce is no exception. However, its range of native capabilities combined with the plethora of Woocommerce premium and third-party plugins makes it highly adaptable and customizable to your needs.

Price is also a significant factor. While Woocommerce itself is free to use, you will soon require paid plugins and integrations. However, the overall price is often lower than that of higher-end systems like Magento.


What You Need to Run Woocommerce

WordPress

To host Woocommerce, you need to run a WordPress website because it is a WordPress plugin. This means that you will need to manage a website that requires software updates and security monitoring.

If you do not want to be responsible for this or pay someone else to do it, you should consider a fully-hosted solution like Shopify instead. However, keep reading because you might change your mind as you learn more about what Woocommerce has under the bonnet.

Theme

You also need a theme for your website, you can either buy a ready made theme from Themeforest, build your own with Hello Elementor using Elementor Pro as a basis, or use one of the free themes available from WordPress and develop your own styling for the sections.

Personally I use Elementor Pro and the Hello Elementor theme, because it’s the more dynamic way to build a WordPress theme without all the bloat you get with purchased themes.

Domain

This might be obvious, but you need a web address to run your store from. You can buy this from any domain registrar and point it at any web hosting service, but I would be selective over who you use based on your local region and customer reviews. Some of the big names have poor service.

Hosting

Woocommerce is a self-hosted open-source application, so you need a web hosting package. Bear in mind that web hosting ranges wildly in price and performance, and for the demands of Woocommerce you don’t want to cheap out with a $5 hosting package.

I recommend three services to my clients; Siteground Hosting, Cloudways, or Rocket.net – each slightly higher in base price, though depending upon which package you go for, there are comparable features between the three.

Personally I use Siteground Hosting because they have an all round excellent service, but some people are happy to pay a little extra and say that Rocket.net is the best around.

Payment Gateway

To take payments on your website, you need to set up a payment gateway within Woocommerce. Woocommerce offers its own gateway called Woocommerce Payments, but it is a paid feature.

You can also choose to use PayPal. Woocommerce has a PayPal gateway integration natively installed. However, if you want to include the card terminal on the page, you need to get PayPal Payments, which is a separate plugin.

There are also many third-party payment gateways available, such as Stripe and Adyen, as well as pay-later gateways like Klarna and Afterpay.


What is Woocommerce Most Notable For?

Woocommerce has a range of native features which allow it function as a fully-fledged ecommerce solutions, but it’s the power of the plugins and extensions that make it so flexible. 

Here are some of the more popular capabilities of Woocommerce and how they can be used.

Product Catalog & Browsing

Native: Add and manage products easily from within the backend

Extensions: Add features to enhance the amount of data you can apply to products

Taxonomies / Categorisations

Native: Create categories, tags and attributes which can be used to create dynamic pages

Extensions: Add custom fields to power all sorts of customisations and templated features.

Search and Filtering

Native: Your customers will be able to search for products within your catalog.

Extensions: There are add-on modules that allow you extend the capability of the search, like adding weighting to title and descriptions, or customizing the ordering of certain results pages.

Cart and Checkout Customisation

Native: You can adjust the fields that are shown at checkout, and add different payment methods.

Extensions: You can build a one page checkout, or fully redesign the layout of the checkout.

Taking Payments

Native: PayPal Standard and simple card payment gateways can be applied by default.

Extensions: Through add-ons you can add features like pay later and Apple Pay.

Shipping Options

Native: WooCommerce offers three types of shipping methods by default: flat rate shipping, free shipping, and local pickup. You can ship items to your buyers at a flat or standard rate per item, order, or shipping class using flat rate shipping.

Extensions: Third-party add-ons can be used to add flexible shipping methods with custom rate tables with shipping groups to apply different shipping to different product lines. You can also integrate third-party services like ShipperHQ.

Order Management

Native: Orders and customers will appear in the Woocommerce admin area natively, and you have a bunch of fields and statuses that you can use to manage your orders.

Extensions: You can build integrations to export orders and customers to external systems like a CRM or OMS so you can run your orders through existing systems your company uses using extensions.


How Easy is Woocommerce to Use?

This all depends upon your existing WordPress skill level. If you have experience with WordPress, it will be fairly straightforward for you to get started with Woocommerce.

But if you are a complete newbie to WordPress, and even web design in general, then I won’t sugarcoat it – you’re going to go through a fairly steep learning curve.

Setup

Installation, category set up, product creation and even payment gateway setup are relatively simple, but as soon as you need to customize something you are going to hit a bit of a wall.

Fortunately, there is a great community supporting Woocommerce and practically anything you need an answer for is already out there, you just need to know what to ask.

Learning

YouTube and sites like this are your friends. I personally have been in website and Ecommerce development for over 15 years, and not only did I learn everything I know through Google and YouTube, but on every project I work on new challenges appear and I have to look at the community to find answers.

Woocommerce is a great system with a simple but effective interface and very robust tools and architecture once you understand how to use the platform and get past the fundamentals.

There’s more on learning later on in this guide.


Who is it Suitable For?

Short answer: just about anybody because it is so modular and customizable. If you are a small to medium sized business looking to trade online, then you can’t go far wrong with Woocommerce.

Where it is perhaps not as well positioned is with digital selling. Whilst you can sell digital products and customize Woocommerce to sell things like memberships, there are simpler systems that can deal with that a lot better.

Woocommerce is best suited in its true Ecommerce capacity: selling products.


What is Woocommerce Limited By?

Every platform has limitations, and you will have to generally work within the bounds of the platform. I cannot really list out detailed limitations here, because they will be very specific to your operations. 

Though there are roughly two different types of limitations:

  1. Limitations you cannot get past
  2. Limitations that can be worked around

Some limitations in the core platform can be worked around, but adding workarounds is not always a good idea. Whereas some limitations just cannot be solved within the platform.

Customization Limitations

While WooCommerce offers a number of plugins and themes to change the look and feel of your store, there are still limitations to what you can do. This can be a problem if you want your store to stand out from the competition.

Tip: This can be mitigated by using a page builder like Elementor Pro.

No customer support 

WooCommerce does not offer customer support itself. If you run into any problems with your store, you will need to find help from the community or hire someone to help you fix the issue.

Tip: This can be aided by joining good communities (like ours).

Lack of scalability

WooCommerce can be a great platform for small to medium-sized businesses, but it can lack scalability. If your business starts to grow quickly, you may need to look for a more robust eCommerce platform that can handle increased traffic and sales.

Note: Improving hosting can only go so far, at some point you can outgrow Woocommerce.

Dependence on WordPress

WooCommerce is not an independent eCommerce platform, but a WordPress plugin. If you don’t use WordPress, you won’t be able to use WooCommerce.

Note: There is no way out of using WordPress with Woocommerce.

Potential security and functionality flaws

Both setting up a store and ongoing maintenance are quite complicated so poor coding can expose security and functionality flaws in the site. 

There’s more on security considerations later on in this guide.

Tip: Using good security tools with hosting like Siteground can mitigate these risks.

Lack of SEO capabilities

Some of the back-end components impact SEO negatively from a technical standpoint.

Tip: Adding Yoast SEO will improve the failings in Woocommerce for SEO.


Shopify vs Woocommerce, How They Compare.

Many people will compare Woocommerce to Shopify, because they target roughly the same users, but there are some major differences between the two platforms.

Hosting

Shopify is a fully-hosted solution, meaning they host it for you and you basically ‘lease’ the software for a fee, whereas Woocommerce is self-hosted under a GPL license and you do not pay for the core software.

Security

Shopify takes care of all the security and updates, which makes it really easy to maintain, whereas Woocommerce does not and you must either run updates yourself, or set them to auto-update and periodically check your site is secure. The amount of work this entails can be minimized through good setup.

Cost

Shopify has a subscription fee, which gets higher the bigger your store gets and you will find yourself adding premium features if you want to do anything more than the fairly simple features they have out of the box. 

Whereas using Woocommerce only becomes expensive when you add expensive hosting and start adding premium customizations. In some setups Shopify might be cheaper, but in others Woocommerce might be cheaper. 

Customization

Here’s an active voice rewrite of the given text:

Customizations to the core software are required by almost all stores. Customizing Shopify can be hit and miss because you cannot get into the core code, and you can only add what is available.

With Woocommerce, you can basically do whatever you want. Of course this might come at significant cost, but because the whole framework is open to you, it’s yours to customize as you please. For many people this is the deciding factor.

Data Structure/Taxonomies

Personally I find Shopify to have a weak taxonomy structure. They do not have ‘categories’ as such, they call them collections and they cannot be nested in a hierarchy. They have a custom fields structure which is very useful, but it is quite simplistic and easily becomes overbearing.

Woocommerce however has a much more robust data structure of categories and tags, and through add-ons like Advanced Custom Fields you can really build this out to power lots of smart customizations and useful backend/frontend features.

Ease of Development

Both platforms will promote that anyone can build an online store even without experience, but in reality you need to know what you are doing if you are going to do anything other than slap a few categories/collections up and sell simple product listings.

If you attempt to change the layout of a dynamic template in Shopify, you will likely encounter difficulties because it involves using liquid code, which is not easily mastered in a short time. Nonetheless, Shopify provides a straightforward interface for managing pages, collections, and listings.

Similarly, Woocommerce operates primarily through an admin interface that is user-friendly. Yet, seeking a professional’s guidance becomes essential when you begin to delve into customizations.


Security Considerations

WooCommerce, as with any self-hosted eCommerce platform, requires consideration of several security factors. Opting for a fully-hosted solution like Shopify offers the benefit of not having to worry about many of the below-mentioned considerations.

Data Security

WooCommerce stores customer information, including products ordered, names, email addresses, phone numbers, and billing addresses, in your website host’s database. Thus, ensuring that your hosting provider implements strong security measures is crucial.

In Europe you will have to comply with the GDPR regulations, and elsewhere in California there are the CCPA regulations. Globally, other regions will have local data compliance regulation that you might need to be aware of.

Payment Security

PCI DSS compliance is essential for all companies that trade online. The level of PCI compliance that you need is dependent upon how you transact, and where you store your data.

WooCommerce does not retain customers’ credit card information. The payment gateway gives this sensitive information directly to the payment processor. However, it’s important to choose a secure and reliable payment gateway.

WordPress Security

Since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, any security matter that pertains to WordPress will also pertain to WooCommerce. This includes choosing a secure website host and hosting package.

Vulnerability attacks happen on a daily basis, so you need to make sure you have put adequate security measures in place on your website.

Updates and Patches

Updating your WooCommerce version is crucial for security. For example, when a critical vulnerability emerged in WooCommerce in July 2021, updating the WooCommerce version became the most important action to safeguard customers.

Password Security

We recommended you update the passwords for any Administrator users on your site, especially if you reuse the same passwords on multiple websites.

We always use secure passwords and store them in a password manager like Avira or LastPass.

Secure Hosting Provider

Your web host actively stores the WordPress and Woocommerce core files, along with the database and website content. Acting as the foundation of your site’s security, your host should implement measures to safeguard your files and database against hackers and malware.

As we construct Woocommerce websites, we consistently incorporate additional security layers. However, we recommend Siteground Hosting due to its inbuilt superior security feature.


What Does Woocommerce Cost to Use?

WooCommerce itself is free to use, as it is an open-source software. However, there are several associated costs to consider when setting up a WooCommerce store:

Hosting

This is necessary for your website to exist on the internet. The cost can be as low as $.95 per month and as high as $5,000. Most hosts offer an initial free or low-cost period, with discounts when you buy hosting services for two or more years.

Our recommendation is Siteground Hosting, we use them to host this website. Their shared hosting options are really good value for money considering all the added benefits, like a free SSL certificate, performance tool, and security tool.

Domain Name

This is the name of your site. Domain registration often comes at an inexpensive introductory price that rises over time, with discounts when you buy multiple years of service. Expect to pay about $15 per year for each domain name you use.

Theme

While there are free WooCommerce themes available, professional themes can range from $35 to $129. The benefit of buying a ready made theme is that it’s easier to just install demo content and replace it. The downside is ready-made themes can often be bulky and slow.

But we recommend using Hello Elementor with Elementor Pro to build a custom theme, and this way you only pay for Elementor Pro, and not the theme.

Plugins/Extensions

These are additional features that you can add to your WooCommerce store. The cost of extensions can vary greatly depending on what features you need.

Yes there will be free features, but most free plugins are ‘freemium’ in that they have free features, but all the good features require a paid upgrade.

Security

Basic security can cost around $10 per year, but more comprehensive security measures can cost between $150 and $450 per year.

With Siteground Hosting you get security inbuilt with the package.

Developer Fees

If you need custom features or functionality that isn’t available through existing themes or plugins, you may need to hire a developer. This can cost between $1,000 and $6,000.

In summary, while the WooCommerce plugin itself is free, the total cost of running a WooCommerce store can vary greatly depending on your specific needs and the scale of your website.


Learning How to Use it

As mentioned earlier on, one of the great things about Woocommerce is there are so many resources available to help you learn how to use it, and solve problems:

WooCommerce Official Learning Resources

WooCommerce provides a range of guides to help you get your online store up and running. They cover everything from installation to managing orders.

Click Here

WPBeginner’s WooCommerce Tutorial

This is a step-by-step tutorial that guides you through setting up WooCommerce. It also shares resources like the best WooCommerce themes, WooCommerce SEO tips, and other useful resources to help you grow your store.

Click here

WP101’s WooCommerce 101 Tutorial Videos

WP101 has partnered with Automattic to create 35 official video tutorials for WooCommerce. These easy-to-follow videos will teach you how to set up and configure all of the settings and options in WooCommerce.

Click Here

YouTube

There are absolutely loads of guys and girls on YouTube killing it with great tutorials on specific tasks and issues. You need to take the time to watch them, so we recommend only watching videos for issues that come up. Otherwise you will be there forever.

Remember, learning a new platform takes time and practice. Don’t be afraid to experiment and ask for help when you need it. Good luck with your WooCommerce journey!


Conclusion

Millions of businesses worldwide use Woocommerce, a powerful ecommerce platform. If you’re looking for a robust solution that you can customize with a development team, this is the right choice for you.

Congratulations on reading through this guide. You must be highly invested in getting your next ecommerce website off the ground. We hope that you now have enough information about Woocommerce to make a decision and get started.

If you found this guide helpful, please let us know in the comments below and take a look at some of our other articles. If you think we missed anything that you wanted to know, please do tell us.

Thanks for reading, follow me, please share this, and subscribe below to give me some kudos.

Chris Bradshaw

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About the author

Before switching to ecommerce I was a design engineer, so I understand the importance of having the right tools. All of the tools I recommend in Ecom Uprising are ones that I have used and would recommend to my consulting clients.

Thanks for reading, Chris

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