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Why build an e-commerce site with WooCommerce WordPress plugin?

By Erin Hutchison
Content Marketing and Social Media Specialist

We break down the main WooCommerce features, costs and advantages and disadvantages so you can decide whether or not it’s the right platform for your online store.

What is WooCommerce and how does it work?

Want to create an online store that can be endlessly customized and tweaked to fit your vision? WooCommerce is one of the most customizable and popular e-commerce platforms out there. In fact, about 26 per cent of the top 1 million e-commerce sites are powered in some form by WooCommerce.

So, what is WooCommerce, exactly? Unlike its main competitor, Shopify, WooCommerce is not an all-in-one solution for building an online store. Instead, WooCommerce is a powerful plugin that’s designed to turn an existing WordPress site into a full-fledged online store.

Like WordPress, WooCommerce is open-source and completely free to download and install. Of course, the catch is that everything else – like your domain, web hosting, themes and tech support – isn’t included. So, in choosing WooCommerce, you’ll need to factor in a number of extra expenses depending on what’s needed for your specific site. In contrast, with Shopify or Wix, most of those features are included either at no extra cost or as part of a monthly subscription plan.

Keep in mind what you may give up in terms of convenience, you gain in freedom to customize and tweak your online store. Because WooCommerce is open source, any developer, designer (or even you) can freely alter its code.

A few of the key WooCommerce features are:

  • Strong built-in blogging functionality because of its tight integration with WordPress
  • The ability to embed products and checkout into a wide range of store page types
  • One-click refund functionality for customers
  • Nearly limitless customization to your store

How much does WooCommerce cost?

While WooCommerce itself is free, there are some costs to consider. To start, web hosting can be as little as $5 a month or as much as hundreds of dollars depending on your needs (unless you choose a free account). You will also need to register a domain name for your site. (Psst – we can help you search for and register a great .ca domain!) You can expect to pay between $10 – 20 a year for your domain.

Once your hosting and domain name are sorted, you start getting into your other additional costs, such as website themes and paid extensions (for adding additional functionality).

There are plenty of free themes and extensions to get you up and running but if you want more professional ones, you’ll have to pay up. Themes tend to be a one-time cost, whereas many extensions charge monthly or annual subscription fees that can cause costs to balloon quickly if you’re not careful.

Next, we’ll look through the main WooCommerce advantages and disadvantages.

WooCommerce advantages

It can be extremely cost-effective

If your goal is to get a site up and running as cheaply as possible, you can use WooCommerce to get going for free. What’s more, even setting up a Stripe or PayPal payment gateway is free. Should you want to add other paid premium extensions, you simply pay for what you’re going to use.

You want complete control over your e-commerce site

Unlike the “all-in-one” website builders like Shopify or Wix, WooCommerce lets you control and customize basically every setting of your online store – right down to your choice of hosting provider. And, if you want a specific set of features or are after a specific look, the open-source nature of WooCommerce allows you to go to third-party providers and designers for apps, extensions and custom code.

Fantastic flexibility to take your store where you want it

From WooCommerce’s nearly limitless customization comes flexibility. You can easily configure WooCommerce to sell all manner of physical or digital products, appointments, memberships or services. It can also grow with your business as you gain a client-base and expand on your offerings. Over 100 payment gateways and multiple shipping methods can be easily integrated to work with your store. You can also customize the way you track inventory, process refunds, manage orders and more for your e-commerce store.

It’s built on the trusted and true WordPress platform

Because WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it’s been built off the WordPress web platform, which means you’re getting something that is open source, but also reliable, secure and trusted by millions.

There’s a wealth of available themes and extensions/plugins out there

With WooCommerce, you have a massive and active community of developers out there creating stylish free and paid themes for you to use. What’s more, WordPress themes also work with WooCommerce stores which increases your potential design options.

Along with themes,  the WooCommerce plugins that have been developed allow you to add all kinds of new and custom functionality to your site – anything from SEO and security software to currency switchers and product filters. A number of these plugins are completely free, while others offer paid annual subscriptions.

WooCommerce has a massive developer community behind it

There’s a massive WooCommerce developer and enthusiast community out there that’s actively contributing new themes, code and plugins. And if you’re ever in a jam or need tech questions solved, help is just a few well-placed queries away.

WooCommerce disadvantages

You’re pretty much on your own

Unlike all-in-one website builders, you need to provide your own hosting. Plus, your chosen theme, extensions and hosting each come with different support channels rather than a central support hub. You’re also on the hook for updates and day-to-day maintenance. If you’re pressed for time or not super-proficient in the ways of web design, this fact alone may be a deal-breaker for you.

The initial learning curve can be steep

What you gain in terms of total control and customization, you lose in terms of convenience and ease-of-use. For those not super familiar with how WordPress works, WooCommerce can have a pretty challenging initial learning curve. Plus, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with the jargon and basic mechanics of building an e-commerce store, as well as source your own hosting and domain.

Costs can quickly run high if you’re not careful

While you can get a WooCommerce store up and running for free, there are other potential costs involved depending on how deep you get into adding paid extensions, themes and even paying for development and maintenance. If you’re not careful, your month-to-month costs can grow sharply.

Too many plugins/extensions can put a dent in your site’s performance

While you can add a ridiculous amount of extensions to a WooCommerce site, they sometimes don’t all play nice with each other. Installing too many extensions at once can put a serious dent in your site’s overall speed and performance.

You’re tied to WordPress

If you’ve already built a site with WordPress, this probably isn’t a major drawback. But do know that if you’re wanting to use WooCommerce, it’s all part of the same package as WordPress – like it or lump it.

Alright – we’ve done some of the legwork for you in outlining the main WooCommerce features and costs, along with a few key advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully this run-down gives you a better idea of whether or not it’s the right platform for launching your next e-commerce site.

Now, if WooCommerce is the way you want to go, guess what a great next step is? You got it – finding and registering the perfect, proudly Canadian .CA domain!

About the author
Erin Hutchison

Erin brings to CIRA a background of marketing experience in higher education and the not-for-profit sector. In 2015, she participated in ISOC’s Youth@IGF Programme and traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend the IGF. She has a Bachelor of International Business from Carleton University.